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Clare Hayns, Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator

Written by Emily Essex, posted on Friday, September 21, 2018

Behind the scenes header image


Clare Hayns, Chaplain and Welfare CoordinatorEmily: Can you explain your job to me? What is it that you do as Chaplain and Welfare Coordinator?

Clare: I like to think of the Chaplain part of my role in terms of a parish. Most priests in the Church of England have a ‘parish’ which they are responsible for which might be a few villages or part of a city. Here, I’m the priest for the college and my ‘parish’ consists of the Junior Members (the undergraduate and graduate students), Senior Members (the lecturers and tutors) and the Staff:  around 1000 people in total.

Emily: Do you manage to see or speak to most of those people? Because that feels like a really large number.

Clare: I get to know most of the undergraduates and a good number of the graduates through being very present from Freshers’ Week onwards. I also hold a ‘Brain Strain Tea and Cake’ every week and get around 30 coming along so this is a good way to get to know people. Even though I don’t physically see all the students I communicate with them all through weekly emails. So even though I might not know them all by name they know that I’m here.

I remember once at the Dean’s drinks at the end of the year, one of the junior members saying to me ‘I’ve never met you, but it’s been really nice to know that you’ve been there’. I think that’s important.

Brain Strain Tea and Cake in the Chaplain's RoomEmily: It sounds as though you’ve got a real place in college life. Do you think that’s different to a regular parish, and if so how is it different?

Clare: Yes, I come into contact with more people on the edges of church life than I would do in parish. Much of the time in parish, the only contact you have with people who don’t come to church is through weddings, funerals…things like that.  Here I live and work amongst people who might never come to church but I often have interesting conversations about faith and life in all sorts of places, and I always appreciate those opportunities.

Emily: As you mentioned, you’re not just Chaplain but also the Welfare Coordinator. How does that play out?

Clare: As Welfare Coordinator I oversee the team that looks after the well-being of students. I also see a lot of people for 1:1 support. And I think some would like me to separate out those two parts of my role entirely: at one point being Welfare Coordinator and at the next being a Chaplain, but I can’t separate them out in that way. I’m always being a Chaplain, a Priest, but that doesn’t mean that when I’m seeing someone about a welfare concern I’m going to talk about God and faith. I never bring up God unless someone else does first, that’s my rule of thumb.

Late night College Taize service in the candlelit CathedralA large part of my role is actually just being a human being in this place. And that sounds an odd thing to say but I feel that I’m one of the few people, especially for junior members, that doesn’t expect anything from them. I’m not concerned about their grades or how they’re doing academically. For me, it’s how they are as human beings and how they are developing and growing and whether they’re flourishing; whether this place that we call a house is actually a home for them. Part of this job, and part of being a priest, is just being that person that can support people.

Emily: I’d like to talk a little bit about how you came to be here. What brought you to Christ Church?

Clare: I’ve had a few jobs. After University I did a Masters in Social Work and worked with young homeless people in particular. My job was as a resettlement worker, helping people to transition from street homelessness into accommodation; and many people found it really difficult and ended up back on the streets.

Clare and family after her ordination as priestI think transition times are the really critical times for all of us, and our Junior Members spend their time here navigating changes: from home and school into University life, from teens to adulthood, from University into the adult world of being grown-ups and getting jobs. It’s tough and so working out how to support people through transitions is something that I’ve been doing for a long time.

I was a social worker for ten years and then left when my children were young. My husband (an entertainer) and I set up an agency, so for the next ten years I was an event organiser and I booked stilt-walkers, jugglers, fire-eaters, hula hoopers, all sorts! And then I trained as a priest.

Emily: What made you pursue a vocation to the priesthood?

Clare: I came to faith in my early 20s, whilst at University, actually, and soon after spent a bit of time with a Roman Catholic community in Rome, called St Egidio. They have a beautiful prayer style and the focus is on befriending those on the edges of society. When I returned to the UK I established a little community in London along the same lines. We visited and befriended lonely elderly people, held tea parties, shared our lives with one another.

We then moved to Oxford and there came a point where my kids were a bit older and I was trying to work out what I should be doing with my life and someone suggested to me ‘what about being a vicar?' It had never occurred to me but in that moment it was like the scales fell from my eyes and I just thought ‘yes’! I love leading prayer and I love building community and being a priest just felt right.

Junior Members serving at the Advent Carol ServiceThere was something about social work where we had to be quite separate: you had to have those very firm professional boundaries, which was right for social work. But being a priest is different, it’s more about your whole life and who you are, and for me it just felt like it fitted. So I pushed the doors and the more I pushed them the more they opened. I just felt like it was what God wanted me to do.

Emily: The Cathedral is also your College Chapel and that’s a really important part of its identity. What’s that like for you?

Clare: Sometimes I feel like I’m reminding both sides of one another: reminding the Cathedral that it’s also a Chapel and asking where the College fits in; and then reminding the college that the Cathedral is theirs and they are welcome here. As the Cathedral is so busy we find the best time for us to use our chapel is early mornings or late evenings. And the students seem to value the peace and quiet.

Emily: What role, on a more spiritual level, does the Cathedral play in the life of the Chaplaincy?

Clare giving a blessing during the termly House CommunionClare: I rather think the Cathedral is kind of like the beating heart of Christ Church, there is a rhythm of daily prayer that is continuous, regular and constant, whether or not you go along, whether or not you’re aware it’s going on. It really is like your heart beating. We have a committed core Chapel community and alongside this a lot of college people will come along at certain points in the year, such as Freshers’ Evensong or Advent Carols, and they really appreciate that life of prayer that is offered.

A lot of former students who come back to get married here will say to me ‘I didn’t come along very often but I used to love popping in here when I was stressed’, so they will have a connection with the Cathedral even if they’re not going to evensong regularly. People are proud of it.

Emily: What is your favourite bit of your job?

Clare: It’s seeing young people flourishing and growing as people, in their faith, in their relationships, in confidence in who they are.  Just seeing people developing and growing and then moving on. I love that – what a privilege.


Next month I will be interviewing Robin Gibbons, Ecumenical Canon.