Insider Meets: Sarah Schofield
The Rev Preb Sarah Schofield recently took up office as the University of Wolverhampton’s new senior chaplain. She is based in the chaplaincy building next to the MX Building on Molineux Street, but plans to ensure she is out and about both on City Campus and beyond during the next academic year.
INSIDER: Welcome to the University Sarah. First of all can you tell us a bit about your background and previous positions?
SARAH: For the last 12 years I have been the vicar of All Saints’ Church in Wolverhampton, which is one of the four churches in the Parish of Central Wolverhampton. Those churches also include St Peter’s, which I know has really strong links with the University, and St John’s, which musicians may know as a concert venue. I have also worked with the three previous University chaplains as well so when this position came up, I decided to go for it!
I: What in particular attracted you to the chaplaincy role at the University?
SARAH: Having worked locally for many years I have always really liked the University. I particularly like the ethos of the University, and the welcome it gives to students from non-traditional backgrounds. I have got to know a lot of students over many years, especially some women who have come along to study who might not have previously expected to. I have always been really impressed by the University’s approach and its work. I also didn’t want to leave Wolverhampton. I am not from Wolverhampton, but fell in love with the City after I moved here. I have also carried out a lot of inter-faith work in the past, and this is an inter-faith chaplaincy, and that is very exciting.
I: Are you planning to travel around the other campuses?
SARAH: We are based in the chaplaincy building where people are always welcome but yes, I do intend to get out and about when I can. I don’t know Walsall that well, although my Dad used to work there and I have friends there. And I certainly don’t know Telford. We have part-time chaplains in each of those campuses but I will aim to have a pattern of work where I visit all the campuses regularly, including the nurses at Burton. After 12 years of being based largely around one area, I am looking forward to exploring!
I: How do you view the role of a chaplain?
SARAH: I think the nice thing about being a chaplain, whether you are at a university, a hospital, or even as a vicar, is that you are the person who hasn’t got any form of agenda. We are just there to listen, and to talk. We are open to people of every faith, or of no faith, and if someone comes to see me I will never begin by asking what their faith is. We are just there to be there, and to be a neutral place for people to come to. We can’t sack anyone, we can’t promote anyone, and we don’t mark assignments or set exams. And we are strictly confidential. If people just want to come and chat, or sit in the chaplaincy and eat their sandwiches, that is absolutely fine. Also if there are any specific religious questions, we can do that as well. Last week for example I was talking to a staff member about how best to understand the needs of the University’s Muslim students during Ramadan. I am also an academic as well, I have taught theology in the past, so hopefully that is another string to my bow which may be of benefit in this role.
I: So anyone and everyone can pop in to the chaplaincy?
SARAH: Yes. Over the summer we will be advertising specific opening times but as a general rule of thumb we’re open nine to five in term time and most mornings in the holidays. Chaplains are available even if the building isn’t open. Hospitality is such a big part of the role, making sure people feel welcome – we’re exploring options for art, games and, over the summer, if you want to catch up with Wimbledon or the World Cup we have a comfy TV lounge. Universities are institutions where you can sometimes feel a little bit lost or alone, and that is for students and for staff. As I have said, we are there, as a neutral person, who can listen.
It is also important that we have an inclusive welcome as well. I have been involved in several groups around diversity, such as Inclusive Church which advocates for LGBTI Christians, as well as those with disabilities and mental health issues. I trained alongside deaf clergy and want to understand how the Chaplaincy can meet the spiritual and pastoral needs of our deaf students and staff. A lot of my work in previous roles has centred around people who don’t feel comfortable with religion. In my past job for example, we won an award for creating a faith environment in which sex workers felt welcome. I, and my colleagues, want everyone to know that the Chaplaincy wants to work for everyone. To do this we’ll need advice from students and staff. People follow many different faiths, and many different perspectives, and our door is always open – please come and talk to us.
I: Away from the ‘day job’, what interests do you enjoy in your spare time?
SARAH: I cycle, ideally with a tent but if not just long (slow) day rides. I am currently exploring the European Cycle Network crossing Europe from the French Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea in stages. I have a specialist role as an advisor to the Bishop of Lichfield on issues faced by female clergy and am undertaking a PhD looking at how women’s understanding of work and vocation changes from their youth to their middle age.
I: Finally, what message would you like to pass on to staff and students?
Just that we are here, and we are looking to be creative! Over the next academic year we are looking to get and about on campus a bit more so please come up to us and say hello. If people have a specific query around something that may be positive about faith, or negative about faith, just get in touch. We can also arrange links for people with faith communities as well. Any creative ideas will be welcome – we won’t find any question inappropriate or unnecessary. Above all else I am really happy to be here and very excited about this new challenge.
I: Many thanks for your time Sarah, and all the best in your new role.
*Sarah can be reached on extension 2904 or at Sarah.Schofield@wlv.ac.uk.
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