Community & Belonging

It’s a long time since I was managing a university’s clearing hotline – last century, in fact! Yet I still remember clearly the feeling of the jolt of adrenalin as we switched the phone system on and calls began to arrive on results day. Today is a day of rollercoaster emotions – joy, disappointment, anxiety, relief to name but a few.

In the next few days and weeks plans for university shift from theory to reality. Accommodation plans are finalised, module options open, Whatsapp and Facebook groups help us connect with others on our course or residences. And there may well be a deluge of information via email to wade through. Exciting (and nerve-wracking!) times, as we prepare to join a new community. At my university we’re getting ready to welcome our first years – and also a high proportion of second years who have been learning remotely. There’s going to be a lot of new people around and so our communities will be re-making themselves all over again.

The tough part about being in a community is that we have to live with other people! Sometimes that’s like having a mirror held up to our own quirks and faults as we recognise them in other people. It can be quite a humbling experience to understand quite how we come across – and for our friends to still put up with us. I often wonder, for example, how often the other disciples rolled their eyes at Peter’s haplessness. But it is finding a place to belong in community that helps us become more fully human. I believe we were created to be in relationship – with God, and with others. That’s not necessarily a romantic relationship – but to be able to live and interact with others in ways that have been difficult these past months of pandemic.

Your uni institution will be made up of all kinds of smaller groups and communities and I genuinely think there’s a place for everyone to belong. Some are obvious – a faith community is a source of support if you’re a Christian student. Others form around more niche societies, or volunteering, or academic groups. And we’re often part of several, as communities form around our identity and sexuality as well as external interests. We belong at different levels – to the institution, to our department, to our residence, to our clubs, societies and friendship groups - and also, I hope, to your chaplaincy. Student life is often called a liminal time – a time we move from one thing to another. We arrive, but we know we are leaving in three or four years time – and we will leave after we change, grow, and learn more about ourselves. One aim of chaplaincy is to provide spiritual support and guidance as you navigate your way to graduation and the next chapter of life. And of course, chaplaincy is a place to find a sense of belonging – as well as peace, worship, tea and biscuits. 

A sense of belonging is a powerful thing. As you receive your results today we are praying that wherever you find yourself in September you find your place in community quickly on this new and exciting journey. Whether that is with the church, an SCM group, your chaplaincy, a society, in halls or with coursemates, may you find a sense of belonging and thrive as you are known and get to know others this Autumn. 

Written by the Revd Dr Sara Batts-Neale. Sara is Anglican Chaplain to the University of Essex.