Reflections from the Chaplain

Throughout the academic year 2020-2021, our College Chaplain, the Revd Anna Brooker shared a reflection in the weekly College newsletter.

MICHAELMAS TERM: Through the Chaplain’s Window


Having moved downstairs, I’m settling into my new office, with its view of the garden- towards the bins! Since my previous room overlooked the bin store, this makes me feel at home – chaplaincy is about all of life, including the rubbish bits… The best thing is that I’m now along the route to the dining room, so I see hungry students walking one way and happy ones walking back. It is fantastic to see you all: please give me a wave as you pass!

…This week I enjoyed watching Harry trim the hebe hedge alongside Cruddas…. Seeing how much it needed trimming was a reminder of the continual growth which happens in our world and our lives. We are growing together as a community, through difficult seasons as much as joyful ones.

College staff are delivering meals to those who are self-isolating…. They say an army marches on its stomach and this college is much the same! We need food for our souls too, so please make daily time for creativity, art, music, stillness, or prayer to sustain you as you go.


With further restrictions now in place, we are all spending more time in virtual conversations, with more chances to admire the distinctive college curtains of our residents!

On a more serious note, as I open and close the blind at the chaplain’s window, I call to mind Wilfred Owen’s powerful poem, Anthem for Doomed Youth, with its final line , And each slow dusk a drawing down of blinds. Owen captures the importance of remembering and farewells, which has huge relevance for our lockdown lives, as well as our Remembrance commemorations this week.


Thanks to this week’s Light Up of John’s, the Chapel windows are beautifully lit in changing colours, to catch the attention of all who pass by on the Bailey. It’s a picture of the colourful, developing life of the college, still rooted in its great traditions, building on those who have gone before, open to the needs and opportunities of the present. Our college lights have brought joy and hope in difficult days; may our lives, illuminated by the love of Christ, do the same.

…This week I’ve watched students, burdened like camels with bulging backpacks, head home for Christmas. Meanwhile others stay in college,t are formed into Christmas households where socialising can happen and friendships blossom. Thankful for all that has enriched the college this term, we look ahead with hope and confidence to a restful vacation and a peaceful, healthy new year. May we, like the magi, be guided to seek God’s new light in our lives.



I’m working mainly from home, like many of the college community…. But my door is still open, virtually, and I would love to connect with you, wherever you are…..

Walking towards Chapel for Tuesday College Worship, I was struck once more by the power of an open door, not least because the sound of joyful singing poured out along the Bailey! Thankfully, in this lockdown that we can open the chapel three times each week to live-stream services, and I hope that you will be able to join us online, especially on Tuesdays.

Our closed front door epitomises lockdown life in college. Only certain staff allowed to enter, students, visitors and contractors kept out. We know it’s vital for everyone’s safety, but it’s still hard to ring the bell and wait, rather than opening the door and entering freely. John’s reception is the hub of the college, everyone welcome, known by name. The change is stark, however much our brilliant reception team smile and greet from a distance or behind a screen.

Jesus used the image of doors when he talked about prayer. Just knock, he said, and the door will be opened to you. It can be hard when we feel shut out to believe that there’s anyone there. But Jesus has torn off the bars and locks which keep us from God: he opens the door himself when we pray. Give it a go this week, knock, enter and spend time with the God who loves you and knows you by name. You will be welcome.


I write this on Ash Wednesday and some words from today’s readings resonate especially this year. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.(Matthew 6: 6)

Jesus says this in contrast to ‘the hypocrites’ who make a show of praying publicly and already have their reward, in the admiration of others. The message for us, in the coming weeks? Let’s open the private door of prayer in our lives, settle ourselves in God’s presence and share our hearts and lives. It could be a special blessing for this year….


The smallest door in our home is attached to the back wall. Several bluetits and a wren have viewed this new bird- box, but interest has subsided now as they divert to the bird feeder, in their efforts to survive freezing temperatures and deep snow. Whoever moves in this spring, the tiny home will offer protection and safety, new life and nurture. The door, smaller than a golf ball, is the way to all of these. How might we open up our lives and homes, big or small, to encourage these qualities too?

In the coming weeks we’ll remember the last days of Jesus’ earthly life. On Good Friday, his broken body was sealed in a stone tomb: a life ended, a door closed, a threat silenced. But God’s life cannot be shut down, God’s light can never be shut out, God’s love will never be quenched. Thence we’ll come to the greatest open door of all time, the one the women found, early on Easter morning at that tomb in Jerusalem. May this Easter, wherever you are and however you spend it, bring you light and hope in Christ who is alive today, and in the knowledge of God’s amazing love.

EASTER TERM: Garden Glimpses


Returning to college, I was met by the transformation which Spring brings, belying much hard work behind the scenes. It’s a responsibility for us all, whether we wield a spade or appreciate the flowers, to be mindful of the created world we share. So my reflections this term will focus on gardens and the glimpses of wisdom and insight we can gain from them.

It’s great to see students in person again as the rhythms of term resume. Things are looking up- not least to blue skies and the glory which is the magnolia on Library Lawn. There are few garden sights which speak so bountifully of resurrection and new life. In this Easter season, we rejoice in the new life all around us. Wherever you are, may you sense the goodness and bounty of the Creator….


This month the garden is unusually splashed with blue! Forget-me nots crowd into any available space, and bluebells emerge and spread, especially in darker, shaded areas. It feels as if no one ever plants them, they just appear, unexpected beauty in unlikely places. Similarly, on a larger scale, seemingly barren woodland floors spring to new life and colour. Recently I walked in the university woods near the science site, where the swathes of bluebells are breath-taking. Highly recommended, by the way, as an antidote to exam pressure. Let’s look out this week for beauty in unexpected places, and be reminded of the beauty of the world and the goodness of our Creator.

This morning Harry’s been busy, renewing the distinctive blue window boxes outside the main entrance. Thank you! Container gardening is great, both for small spaces and to joy to everyone walking past. It’s got me thinking about the small spaces in our lives: how we spend our ‘spare’ time or ‘wasted’ gaps between what seems more important…. Can we tend these small spaces to make them into opportunities for new colour and light in our own and others’ lives? 10 minutes is long enough to send a message, read a poem, listen to some music, make someone a cuppa, or indeed, to be silent, rest and pray. Let’s appreciate the small spaces this week.


Spotted recently along the path to Chapel: lavender just coming into flower. Fragrant plants like these are perfectly positioned next to walkways, offering their scent to all who pass by. Smell is such a powerful sense: evoking memories, holding out promise and hope. In one of Paul’s letters, he talks about our lives bearing ‘the sweet aroma of Christ’ or in another translation, ‘a perfume that brings Christ to everyone’ ( 2 Corinthians 2: 15)

We give thanks for those whose lives bear such fragrance, and reflect on how we can be a ‘sweet aroma’ for those whose lives touch ours.

…as mentioned 5 weeks ago: the marigolds in the blue boxes at St John’s front door are in full bloom as term ends. They proclaim a joyful farewell to our leavers, a warm welcome for all our summer visitors and a bright hope for next year at John’s.

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