Funding for Southampton University’s Chaplaincy has been cut, as the latest budget plan is passed by the Diocesean Synod (the council that runs the Church of England in the Winchester area), to help decrease the large deficit the Diocese is facing. The posts of Chaplain to the Deaf, Chaplain to Southampton Solent University and the Chaplain to Further Education Colleges in Bournemouth and Poole have been abolished, with Reverend Simon ‘Yellow’ Stevens’ post as Chaplain of the University of Southampton also cut.
This will lead to ramifications on the provision of any Chaplaincy on the University of Southampton grounds, as the Anglican community provides the largest part of the financial backing. The Chaplaincy building on University Road is also home to other religious groups that do not have their own venue. The Christian Union, Student Christian Movement, Catholic Society and Jewish Society will no longer have a suitable location on campus to hold events. The end of the Ecumenical Chaplaincy at the University may also end the growing ministry amongst students at the University.
A protest was planned for Thursday 26th November outside Winchester Cathedral, but was cancelled because a law from the 1500s prohibits any protest to take place on Cathedral grounds. A meeting with Reverend Bishop Michael of Winchester was also offered if the protest was cancelled. The Reverend reassured the students and alumni of the University who were present that the vote would not be a yes/no vote, but that there would be various modifications proposed and that there would be much discussion.
Despite hope for a change to the budget, on Saturday 28th November the Synod passed the budget through unamended. This means that the funding for the Chaplain and Chaplaincy will be withdrawn, an obvious disappointment to the Chaplaincy community in Southampton.
Many ammendments were tabled, but were all vetoed due to technicalities and so were not voted upon. Those who campaigned against the budget cut are said to feel betrayed by the Diocesan Secretary and by the Bishop of Winchester, due to the continued reassurance they gave in meetings held with them, where they were assured that ammendments could be made and that a full debate would be occuring. Although not explicitly lied to, they feel that the comments made by both the Diocesan Sercretary and the Bishop of Winchester were ‘highly misleading’.
The work of the Chaplain and the Chaplaincy is inseparable, and it would be hard for the Chaplaincy to return to the University at this level. Reverend Stevens, widely-known to students on campus as ‘Yellow’, is likely to be made redundant and homeless, with a family of three young children and a wife to support. A friendly face to students and popular with many regardless of religious belief, vulnerable students are often referred to the Chaplaincy as the community is a supportive environment for them, taking pressure off University services like the councelling service and the Students’ Union Advice and Information Centre (SUAIC). Every day during term time students can be found working and socialising inside the Chaplaincy, or using the services of the Chaplains to enhance bible studies or participating in confidential conversations on spiritual or emotional matters.
The group behind the protest, who also started a petition to support their argument, will now turn their efforts towards finding alternative funding for the Chaplaincy, as they feel unable to trust the Diocese to keep their word in finding alternative funding. One direction in which they hope to fund the continuation of Chaplaincy is through the financial support of current students and alumni of the University. You can donate by selecting either a one-off or regular donation online.