Pause/Move on.

Breathe in.

Breathe Out.

“We do not think ourselves into new ways of living, we live ourselves into new ways of thinking.”

Richard Rohr

A Space for the Imagination…

Here is September, nudging us to Autumn as the days roll by and the leaves slip into their rich auburn hues. Children safely back at school, summer clothes to the back of the wardrobe, and realities returning as reliably as the seasons turn. It is a time for starting over. A month of new things.

A strange time to begin the final stage of reflections around the closure of St Peter’s House. For in the midst of the new Semester, and the excitement and busyness of Welcome Week – our doors are closed.

It is hard to find a word for the feeling as I walk down Oxford Road this week, enfolded in the cacophony of a thousand accents and young voices – each announcing that they are ready to take on the world. The blend of bravery and vulnerability that surge the streets each September has always seemed the most poignant moment of the University year to me. 18-year-olds who a week ago had perhaps never stayed away from home now boldly stepping out, but – I remember with clarity – consumed with anxiety that their ‘newness’ is as neon as the ‘Poster Sale Today!’ signs on each lamppost.

At St Peter’s House, over the past couple of years, I feel that we’ve started to act with confidence during Welcome Week, embracing and embodying the lessons we’ve learnt throughout our years of service here. Our approach has been… Do Nothing. In the midst of the swirling activity and endless options and offers to ‘sign up’, ‘join us’, ‘find out more’ – we’ve simply done nothing but be there.

The offer has been to come in. We have believed that these young people have the answers inside them for what they need from us, and if we listen and make a space where they feel loved and welcome – they will come. Instead of saying, ‘We have all the answers’, or ‘Come here for Chaplaincy’, we have embodied Chaplaincy – listening, watching, discerning and seeking to participate in what the Spirit is already doing on campus. We’ve built relationships over time, and waited to see the fruits grow as we’ve trusted that we can sow the seeds and respond with humility as shoots unfurl at the right time. We are not the agenda setters, and so Welcome Week has been a time to simply be present.

The loops of time are strange and disorientating. Twenty years ago I was one of these students crowding Oxford Road at Welcome Week, walking straight past St Peter’s House oblivious to it’s presence. In just a year or so my son may join their number if he chooses, and I wonder what he’ll find here. Time rolls out, and we trust that within it we are drops in an ocean of grace – playing our part in the relentless unfolding of a story of hope that draws in ever-expanding circles all people to Love.

Watching the new students pass by from our now hushed building – clutching plants, dominoes vouchers, and onto groups of new and certain friends from halls (met yesterday, and possibly soon-to-be awkwardly avoided all year) – I think, as I do each year, of those sitting alone and anxious in their strange new rooms. Of those finding the campus inaccessible. Of those who can’t afford the socials or just don’t like the idea of it all. Of those who have big questions, and those who feel very small. I send a quiet message to all of them: “Listen for your own deep knowing. Watch the world carefully. Discern the whispers of wisdom. You don’t need to have all the answers. Let Welcome Week be a time to simply be. You’ll find your place to belong, but first know you belong in the community of love.” People have had different names for God throughout history, and you can be part of the Divine Dance in safety… or whatever words ring true for you.

If you pass St Peter’s House you might notice that where once we displayed a bold marker of our presence, there is now an empty frame. You can look through it and beyond it, and even step through it if you like. I can view it in two ways. A void, or an unknowing. A removal, or a pause for reflection. A reminder of fragility and – as the students pour by – a visual reminder that life flows on and seasons roll by. It frames a yet-to-be-seen, it is a space for the imagination. Amidst the flowing tide of Welcome Week’s Oxford Road, my little hope is that our strange ‘space’ is a there-but-not-there presence that invites, provokes and sparks. As St Peter’s House enters it’s final closure period, here-but-not-here, we know that we are part of this greater story of Love – a space for the imagination and playing still our role within the family of things[1].

[1] Mary Oliver, ‘Wild Geese.’ (Of course)

Photo from @OfficalUoM on X

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