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The Chaplaincy and You

CHaplainThere are a number of services and people around campus who are there to help make your postgrad experience easier. In what I hope will become a series for the blog, I thought it would be a good idea to hunt out some of these folks and learn a bit more about what they do and how it can help you with your postgrad study. First up, Mike Wright, one of the University Chaplains, and EdD candidate, so in short a busy lad.

Mel: Hi Mike, thanks for stopping by for a bit of a chat about your role as a University Chaplain. Do you want to tell us a bit about your role?

Mike:  Hey Mel. Yes for sure! As Chaplains we seek to provide pastoral care and spiritual support to all students studying at the University of Otago, and to do so in a respectful, confidential, inclusive, and non-judgemental way. What does pastoral care and spiritual support include, I hear you say …

For me, pastoral care includes anything and everything that impacts on your life as a student e.g. study pressures, finances, homesickness, relationships, grief and loss, etc.

Spiritual support involves supporting the spiritual dimension of students’ lives. That includes those things that give your life meaning & purpose, or the search for those things. It’s about the source of your creativity; and your relationships and the sense of connectedness you have with yourself, with others, with the planet, and with God/Higher Power/Other…. Spirituality also includes your beliefs & values, it drives your ethical behaviours, and is your source of resilience in times of challenge.

As chaplains, we’re involved in many other things on campus, but pastoral care & spiritual support are the main aspects of what we do.

Mel: Why do you think it is important to have on campus Chaplains?

Mike: We come to University as whole people – and that includes the spiritual. While there are many spiritual people on campus – both religious and not religious, the University chaplains have an official role with respect to spirituality; to support and encourage philosophies and practices of life that lead to wholeness and well-being (hauora). We’re able to engage with and accompany students (and staff) either in one-off conversations, or in more regular on-going support for example University’s new Healthy Campus website.

Greg Hughson and I have a full-time presence on campus (here in Dunedin) and are also available by email, phone, skype, etc., to distance students and students at Otago’s satellite campuses in Invercargill, Christchurch and Wellington.

Mel: Do you think it is important for postgrad students to acknowledge their spiritual side and how can it be of benefit to their studies?

Mike:  Yes I do. Socrates (among others) once said “Know thyself”, and “The unexamined life is not worth living” – that includes the spiritual aspects of our lives.

Being a postgrad student is not just about research outputs, thesis writing, and publications. It’s also about becoming a person more fully aware, more fully alive in the midst of the challenging process of postgrad study. Spiritual exploration (either religious or secular) is an essential part of that. As chaplains we’re here to help you with that exploration.

Mel: You are currently undertaking your EdD – how do you balance your study and role as Chaplain?

Mike:  With some difficulty! Maintaining continuity of thought and focus is very challenging. At times it’s actually impossible due to the unpredictable demands of my full-time chaplaincy role. I diary ahead blocks of time for writing but these are often consumed by work issues before I can get to them. I do keep trying though, and occasionally succeed!

Remembering that there’s more to life than both work and study is important. Down time to spend with family & friends, to read an occasional novel, and to watch movies is essential. So is regular exercise. I get to the gym as often as I can. It helps to clear my head as much as anything else.

Most important, however, I have an endlessly supportive team of supervisors, and a wonderful support crew made up of family, friends, and colleagues. They keep me going with words of encouragement and remind me of how much progress I’ve already made. They’re all vitally important!

Being a doctoral student for 5 years now has enabled me to connect experientially with other postgrad students in ways I couldn’t have before. Only by going through it yourself can you really understand what it’s like for others.

Mel: Finally, Would you like to fight one horse-sized duck or one hundred duck-sized horses?

Mike: I’d go for one hundred duck-sized horses. Horses are pack animals. I’d turn the leader then have an army at my disposal.

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