Commencing university life can be exhilarating and full of possibilities, but can also be lonely, especially if you have no family and friends close by. Religious people can normally connect with their faith community, but what of the many who have no faith?
I am a Humanist. I do not believe in a supernatural god. I believe in scientific evidence, reason, community development and empathy. On Thursday afternoons, I sit in the ANU Chaplaincy Centre as a volunteer chaplain. As a recently retired psychologist/psychotherapist, the chaplaincy role encompasses my ongoing belief in the value of friendship. A student may walk into the chaplaincy space. I welcome, I wait … I have no agenda … what is the person’s agenda? A conversation commences … the ending is unknown.
Non-theist or atheist students do not normally use this type of service, a place in which to foster their identity and spiritual life. There can be spirituality without religion. The Chaplaincy Centre is a place for intellectual, emotional and spiritual support. A safe place to be yourself. We welcome all people. As a chaplain I have time to sit, time to listen ‒ to be a friend. I am offering friendship and a place of hospitality; the Chaplaincy Centre is creating an opportunity for you to find your way, not my way.
Chaplaincy is a mode of friendship whereby people can become themselves through being with another. The chaplain is being “the other”. Empathy is the key ingredient here. And friendship is about time and space. It’s like the lyrics from Carole King’s classic 1971 song “You’ve Got a Friend”.
Cicero said: “Without friendship life is no life”. A university education is remiss if it ignores life and the big questions of meaning and purpose. Chaplaincy attempts to open up a space for those questions. For me, a valid life stance needs to encompass friendship, belonging and the development of community. A place for that to evolve is vital for our wellbeing ‒ not least in universities, where the leaders of the future are being educated. And, yes, a place also to alleviate loneliness.
Are you looking for meaning and purpose? Are you struggling to live a good life? Haven’t thought about it? Or, are you just in need of a friend? Volunteer chaplains are in your university to engage with you, to sit and listen, to allow you space to develop and be.
For information on the Canberra Humanist community, see: canberrahumanistcontemplativecommunity.org