Belonging and not belonging at the university

After many years of promising to give the university chaplains a proper place to work, the university administrators finally fulfilled their word. Our ramshackle fibro cottage was knocked down to make way for landscaped gardens and we moved into a new building. Desks! Air conditioning! A store room! A fire escape!

In the context of working with university staff it’s given me a surprising sense of security and belonging. Even though I still barely work from the chaplaincy offices, just knowing that there is a desk I can work from makes me feel like I belong here. Legitimately. I belong like all the people I am ministering to. I belong like all the people I am trying to share the gospel with.

I’m scared of what this sense of belonging betrays. It kind of feels like my identity as a Howie (a pastor? a missionary? a harvest worker? whatever I am.) is tied to a room with four desks that I have never actually worked from. That seems a little bit ridiculous! How would I cope if I was doing the work of my peers in France, who aren’t even allowed to be on their university campuses? Surely my sense of belonging should be tied to my identity in Christ. I should sit uneasy knowing that we are given a space to work on a campus where the majority of people hate that we are here. I should stand firm knowing that we are more than conquerors in Christ, and that nothing can separate me from his love (Romans 8). Upon reflection I remember that Jesus is a more stable and permanent reality than the chaplains’ offices at Sydney University.

Last week I walked past a woman who runs a cafe on campus on my way into work. She smiled and said hi. And today a security guard that I’ve walked past almost every day for the last year finally replied to my greeting with a friendly nod of the head, a smile and a ‘what’s up?’

This is a different kind of belonging again, the kind where people know who I am. They know I am in their buildings every day. They might not know my name yet, and they might not know what I do yet but I hope I get a chance to tell them over the next 10 months! Place is important, but it’s the relationships that should matter most to me at the moment. This year I think my challenge will be to ground my identity and my work on Jesus first, relationships with staff and students second, and the beautiful campus last.

5 thoughts on “Belonging and not belonging at the university

  1. jennigan

    While I think you are correct in saying that what matters most is your identity in Christ, I can’t help but think that materiality and space is important and can contribute a great deal to the feeling of belonging. For example, think back to our conversation at Vision Sunday, when we sat down. Church really just means a congregations of Christian, and what is the most important at St John’s every Sunday is Christ and the Holy Spirit and our identity in him and as brothers and sisters to each other. BUT I also think the place in which we express this identity is significant, and that physical space can lend meaning.

    I don’t see why this would be different in a university/work setting! Our physical spaces have a huge impact on the way that we live, feel and operate. Our desks and chairs affect how we sit, the amount of light in the space affects our vision, the number of plants and photocopiers affect the air that we breathe – and all of this then has an impact on our work.


    1. Anonymous

      “Church really just means a congregations of Christian”

      I think the church has a more objective reality to it; if church is just a congregation, than it ceases to exist when a congregation is not congregating.

    2. Alison Post author

      You are preaching to the choir my friend!! I get distracted all the time at work thinking about how the space I am in impacts on how we live and work and feel and act.
      I think the problem is that I go way too far with this and forget that people are kind of at least a little bit important too. I think am a human GEOGRAPHER, rather than a HUMAN geographer.
      I need to get the balance right and be a regular old Human Geographer. At the moment I think I need to overcompensate on the Human to get me there. Maybe you can hold me accountable if I swing too far in the other direction? 😛

      1. jennigan

        Ah, but remember what geography as well – you don’t need to necessarily make a distinction between geographer and human geography. Geography, at its core, is about people and place. Or at least, that’s how I’ve understood it – the relationship between humans and the spaces and places around them. There are overlaps with disciplines like cartography and geology, which are more focused on space, but I think when you say ‘geography’, there is always that notion of the human (even in physical geography!)

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