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.