The Southlands Methodist Trust supports a full-time Methodist Chaplaincy Community worker at the University of Roehampton, based at Southlands College, a role currently filled by Bill Topping. In this interview from the University of Roehampton newsletter, he is introduced along with Joanna Grennan, the Roman Catholic Chaplaincy Community Worker based at Digby Stuart College. Both live in Barat House, the ecumenical student community at the university
What does a typical day look like for you and what are you currently working on?
In this job it feels like there is no such thing as a typical day. The one certainty is morning prayers at 8:45am.
The bulk of our current work focuses on the community house of students on campus which we co-lead. This is also where we live so we wake up at work.
Barat House is an ecumenical intentional community. Ecumenical meaning different Christian denominations working together, in this case Roman Catholic and Methodist. Intentional meaning the students make commitments to intentionally live in a certain way, with a rhythm of life. Community meaning each individual member is committed to all the others and to the project as something bigger than ourselves. Our job is to facilitate the working of this community, hold the community members to their commitments and foster a loving, caring environment in which they can thrive academically, emotionally and spiritually.
Aside from our time in the house we are members of the chaplaincy team and help run the various chaplaincy events dotted throughout the week such as the community lunch which runs every Tuesday in The Base from 12.30-2pm – all are welcome. We are also members of the college teams of Digby Stuart and Southlands and help put on the events hosted by the colleges.
What three words would you use to describe your role?
Vocational, community-minded, rewarding
What do you like most about your job?
Jo – I enjoy the multi-faceted nature of the role, being involved in the life of the college, the chaplaincy team and our student community on campus. It means that I am an active part of many mini communities within the university and am able to learn from and engage in different types of people and environments. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to live out my faith in my work and to learn from talented and interesting colleagues and students.
Bill – The best part of this job is when we are hanging out with students, in the community, or the wider university and we are simultaneously having profound conversations and a good old laugh. To be with the students when they engage with the big questions and then get stuck in to a board game for example. Seeing the students energised while at university.
What difference can visiting the chaplaincy team or joining the Barat House community make to someone’s personal development?
For staff and students, visiting the chaplaincy team can make such a big difference. Our events and our spaces are opportunities and places for people to just be – with no conditions. For them to spend some time in quiet, to be listened to, to have some food, to pray, to meet new friends, with no expectation and no catch. The chaplaincy team offer an assurance that you are of worth just because you are you and it is always a pleasure to offer that assurance and that space.
For students who join the Barat House community it is an opportunity for them to experience an alternative way of living before entering the “real” world, a community where we hold each other up. It’s a safe space for us to be vulnerable with each other and to laugh together, a family with whom we want to spend time and from whom we get energy to do the best we can, academically, relationally and personally.
What are some of the most unknown areas of support you provide?
The Barat House community is still relatively unknown, being only in its third year. For students this is a great opportunity to experience something different and those who spend time here always learn something about the meaning of community in our modern world.
If you could choose anyone, who would you pick as your mentor?
Jo – Maya Angelou
Bill – Jean Vanier
What is your biggest achievement to date – personal or professional?
Jo – Performing at Glastonbury festival
Bill – I once carried four pints across a crowded pub.
What are you listening to / reading these days?
Jo – Listening to a lot of Big Thief and Sufjan Stevens at the moment. Reading Story of a Soul by St Terese of Liseux and anything by Flannery O’Connor.
Bill – I listen to all sorts of music in particular anything Jo recommends to me. Recent listening includes Gomez, Whitney, Mavis Staples, The Stone Roses, Buena Vista Social Club. Reading The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr.
Tell us something that might surprise us about you
We get on very well.