Category Archives: religion and culture

What Exactly IS Oasis?

I have been trying to work out why I can not find a direct answer to the question, ‘What does a chaplain do?’ or ‘What exactly is Oasis?’

I am in complete sympathy with the questioner, genuinely wanting or needing to know. I should have an answer. But I can’t seem to nail it.

I have tried to console myself that if you ask a person to describe what a banana tastes like, they would have great difficulty explaining. But as the Oasis Coordinating Chaplain, shouldn’t I know what Oasis is? Shouldn’t I be expected to reel off a cogent answer?

My problem has come to the fore again, because we have begun to meet with the Campus Planner to work out what needs to be done with architects and builders to fit out the ‘new Oasis’ – starting only with the shell of the building we have been moved into.

At the same time, the new Director of Student Services needs answers to that question to become confidant that what the university is providing for students fits in with the university’s strategic plan, is comprehensive, and its elements are not unknowingly being duplicated by different student service agencies.  Fair enough!

And the University of Tasmania are flying me over to Hobart in April to consult with them about what we have been doing at Flinders, and what is this ‘Oasis’ thing?

As a result, I have been beating myself up of late for not having some clear answers.

But I am beginning to see what should have been obvious from the start – there are no neat answers! The defining question is incompatible with the very nature of Oasis, and also with chaplaincy. Or put another way, the nature of chaplaincy and Oasis is likely to be incompatible with the culture of a utilitarian, segmented, consumerist, institutionalised bureaucracy. Universities have become competitive, multi-million dollar businesses. Chaplaincy may easily be seen as small fry of little consequence.

Chaplaincy evolved out of the church’s need to provide religious services to those geographically displaced from their local church – those in hospitals, prisons and armed services, for example. There is no such need in today’s universities because most religious needs can be met in the local community.* The days of traditional ‘looking after our own’, sectarian chaplaincy in secular institutions are numbered. Such chaplaincy is of little consequence to a modern university,

At Flinders the changed role for university chaplaincy emerged from the internationalization of the university. Harmony on a pluralist campus requires attention to social cohesion in the face of difference. This attention to the quality of relationships, a concern quite central to religions, broadened the scope of an inclusive multifaith chaplaincy to attend to the whole campus – pastoral care to all, regardless of faith or no faith.

In an ideal world, all university staff would be pastoral carers, customizing every situation and conversation to individual students – students who come from highly diverse cultural, national, religious and academic backgrounds. In a pastorally caring university there would be little need for chaplains or for a centre like Oasis. But the pressures of the modern university have created new needs – we do what the university would normally be expected to do but is unable to do.

To take up such opportunities requires a major shift in thinking for chaplains – no longer the ‘rescuing’, ‘telling’ salvation paradigm, but the hospitable, listening, empowering and long-term-committed mentoring (‘walking beside you’) paradigm.

It means being closely connected to the life of the university but not meddling in it, filling gaps collaboratively, connecting the disconnected, doing what needs to be done without taking over, enriching, enabling, and avoiding the turf wars and ego games.

Because Oasis is adaptive, continually responsive to the expressed and unexpressed needs of the university, it might be thought of as an ever-changing, process-centred community responding contextually and existentially to presenting situations. That’s a mouthful!

So there is no neat answer! Just an evolving, fluid narrative.

I think ‘God’ is comfortable with that!

Whether universities are, remains mainly to be seen!


* (The exception might be Muslim Friday Prayer, because the Muslim ‘holy day’ is a Friday, a working day. And the provision of Muslim prayer rooms is a priority because of the logistics of prayer five times a day.)

Agile, Lean and the Scrum

I started my career as a teacher in the late 1960’s. It didn’t take long to work out that the way I had been taught didn’t work for a whole lot of my students. The way I had been taught assumed that teaching was about passing on bodies of knowledge, called ‘subjects’ to students.  Anything else was called ‘extra-curricular’ and was of secondary importance. So teaching my ‘subject’ was what I set out to do. But later, I retrained myself in classroom management and in my field of expertise to place students themselves at the centre of my endeavour as a teacher. What led me to depression in middle life was probably the unrealistic expectation that what seemed obvious to me was not obvious to nearly everyone else! Mass education was, and generally still is, institutionalised pragmatically around delivering knowledge and skills to keep the consumerist economy expanding. My interest was essentially ‘extra-curricular’.

But I soon found out that I was out of my depth as the young teacher of science. A student watching a Jacques Cousteau documentary on TV at home could know more about marine science in one viewing than their science teacher! I had a lad in my year 9 ‘bottom stream’ maths class who had built himself a TV! We tested his non-verbal intelligence and it went off the scale! And later, I recall my 12 year old daughter getting into disciplinary trouble because she dared question her teacher’s understanding of tsunamis – she knew more than her teacher because of her (unknown to the teacher) personal interest and reading. The role of the teacher as the font of all knowledge was being questioned by a 12 year-old!

The old ‘Mug and Jug’ theory (I’m the jug and you’re the mug!’) needed to give way to a different understanding of the role of the teacher and of educational practice in general. And increasingly, teachers were being faced with student resistance to ‘being told’ – interpreted as a threat to teacher authority and to the ‘image’ of the school.

The same dynamics were also being played out in the church. Authoritarianism and ‘telling’ was being met with silent resistance as younger people, in particular, began leaving the church in droves – to the bewilderment of church authorities. (Funny how that expression ‘church authorities’ rolls so easily on to the page…) The more recent disclosures of corruption and abuse among ‘authorities’, both church and state, has underlined the human deadend of institutionalised authoritarianism. The  exercise of power to dominate and to have one’s own way is crippling. And it is too glib and reductionist to diagnose this as a leadership problem, though it is that and more.

The cost of change from such institutionalism seems too great, but on the other hand, it is inevitable. Consider the energy debate – conventional or sustainable energy? We know it would make a lot of sense if houses became self-sufficient with solar panels and storage batteries – no personal need of the power industry and its electricity grid. But so much has been invested in coal-fired power stations and the grid. Likewise, so much has been invested in the petrol engine. It is the threat to the established way of doing things that stiffens the resolve of the ‘we’ve always done it this way’ gatekeepers to not only resist the inevitable, but put more energy into entrenching it. But ultimately, no matter how much effort is put in, deep down we know it’s not sustainable.

So what alternative ways of organisational thinking are emerging among the younger generation as they engage with their worlds – ’emerging’ because I think we are between ages – the Newtonian, Industrial Age of ‘either/or’, hierarchy and control, characterising most of our institutions, and an Internet, Quantum Age of ‘both/and’, collaboration, ‘open-source’ transparency, and risky uncertainty. Negotiating between ‘ages’ in ‘both/and’ ways is one of the big challenges of our time, including in my field as a chaplain, so bogged in the Industrial, if not the Medeival Ages.

One of my sons is Head of Tech in an art printing company of abut 65 employees in London. He is responsible for the web presence of the company and its digital connections. Before that he was creating touchscreen software for art museums like the Tate and MOMA, so that visitors could order prints of artworks on-line from digital kiosks in the galleries. As Head of Tech he has a small ‘creative team’ of three or four and is directly responsible to the Managing Director of the company.

How do I explain how my son arrived at this point? He didn’t fit into school – ‘why do I need to do this?’ (subjects) – was educationally saved by an empathetic art teacher, discovered the computer and basically taught himself, was identified in his first year at Art School as a possible candidate for a year’s internship in multi-media, emerged in his early 20’s to set up his own company with a friend who was a graphic artist to create websites for companies, won a trip to Europe, the prize of a Fringe Festival poster competition, and hasn’t looked back since. No university qualifications! You wouldn’t know he was the same person as the disenchanted school kid in danger of graffiti and computer game addiction!

So with an aversion to authoritarianism, silo-ed hierarchy and inflexibility, how is he coping in a relatively large company? We had a conversation during the Christmas break, continuing my education about what is happening behind the scenes of the Internet world.

‘Agile’ is a kind of manifesto for a process for software development. There is a focus on learning through exploration. Risks are encouraged but contained within short time frames. It’s a ‘learn as go’ approach. Work is prioritised every fortnight, so time between development and feedback is kept as short as possible and the intent is on creating value for the customer in small increments (iterations) each fortnight.

The emphasis on short turn-around times (‘iterations’) of the ‘Agile’ model arose because of the experience of software developers spending long and intensive development time in creating a product based on their ‘idea’, only to find, once it was produced, that someone else had beaten them to it or the market didn’t want it or had already moved on. So there was massive failure.

The second emphasis reverses the direction of traditional lines of authority. The team of development is completely in charge of development. Put crassly, the Managing Director doesn’t tell the Head of Tech what to do, and the Head of Tech doesn’t tell his creative team what to do. Lines of ‘authority’, if they even think that way, proceed in the other direction.

This arises because how can the Managing Director know what is in the head of a bright young software developer, what he or she could contribute to the company from their own imagination? The developer is employed on the basis of creativity and imagination, trusted to do creative intellectual work and with the skills and commitment to translate these into benefits for the company. They are creating something new. The Managing Director has to clear any Industrial car-assembly-line image of organisation from his mind, though for every employee there is still plenty of menial hard slog. This insight, that places great freedom on each individual in a team, subverts any authoritarianism that might come down the chain of a hierarchy. It creates conditions for a nurturing leadership style. (see my blog of June 24, 2013 – ‘A Nokia Conversation’)

It also changes how time is understood. When my son was first taken on by a former company, he was given the key to the door and told he could come and go at any time of the night or day! This gave him the flexibility to do other work in his spare time. Some companies actually insist that you have to either take time on your own projects (e.g. a day a week away from the company’s projects) as part of your employment contract or you have to be out of the office for periods of time – to think, connect and create! Creating space as part of a company’s culture parallels the Oasis understanding of hospitality as making space.

In the ‘Agile’ organisation, individual freedom to imagine and create is balanced by commitment to a culture of collaborative teamwork. The image is of a rugby scrum, each member of the creative team locked together and pushing the company in the one direction.

‘Scrum’ implements the ‘Agile’ model. Typically the ‘Scrum Master’ (Head of Tech) gathers the Creative Team at the beginning of the day and each member of the team responds to three questions:
what did I do yesterday?
what am I doing today?
what support do I need?
In addition, the company has an intranet. So throughout any day anyone can post what they are doing or pose questions and anyone can respond. In that way the Scrum moves forward together and the process is transparent to everyone.

Typically the Scrum Master is concerned about process. He or she is a coach and a sheepdog for the team, defending the team from the product owner, while giving intelligence to the product owner.

The Product Owner is concerned about the product. He or she defines what is to be built and in what order. This defines the direction the Scrum heads.

The Creative Team begins by breaking up the overall task into smaller increments and then selecting something to work on. The timeline (‘sprint’) for work on each product increment is limited to two to four weeks.

It goes without saying that the stakeholders of the company must buy in to this risky, ‘learn-as-you-go’ organisational model. Buying into and attending to ‘Vision’ and paying pro-active attention to company culture becomes essential in this open, team approach.

‘Lean’ organisation is a variant of the ‘Agile’ approach. It draws from Toyota’s manufacturing processes. The focus is on learning from hypotheses. ‘How do I find out I am right about…?’ So there is emphasis on research to see if an hypothesis is possible. (You may have noticed an increase in the number of customer surveys and ‘focus groups’ these days, for example. Their prevalence emerges from the ‘lean’ approach.)

Lean organisations expect failure most of the time. That’s how they learn. ‘Humility’ is a category in the lean organisation – a quality one might expect from Japanese culture.

The other contribution of the ‘Lean’ model, that relates to the shortest possible feedback cycle of the creative ‘Agile’ process, is to aim to produce the minimum viable product in order to see if the idea works. In this way, large risk is minimised.

This book is really influential in the tech world – this is the author doing a talk so you can get a sense of it in one hour:

There is a great, really short book on it, which I have only just realised is available in full on this page:



So why am I interested in Agile’, Scrum and Lean organisation?

I think because:

* intuitively we have already been organising ourselves in a similar way in Oasis

* the Oasis Team, consisting of volunteers, will not thrive in an authoritarian or punitive system; it must build on the strengths of each member within commitment to the vision of Oasis

* an incremental model suits the limited time commitment of volunteers

* the role of the Coordinating Chaplain may easily be identified as the Scrum Manager and his line manager, the Product Owner

The Oasis Team: A Cohesive Team, A Learning Community, Individual Autonomy

Organisational Principles:

  1. Encourage the autonomy of each member of the team, having committed themselves to the vision of Oasis and its agreed processes.
  2. Recognise that a ‘command and control’, permission-asking leadership/management model is inappropriate.
  3. meet regularly at a weekly team lunch*as a primary focus for reporting, reflection and facilitation, responding to the following questions:
    • (1)  What have I been doing last week
    • (2)  What am I planning to do next week
    • (3) What needs do I have/ possible blockages/ support I would appreciate, to achieve what I am planning for next week.

* video conferencing or periodically locating the lunch to different locations could be investigated to include members of the team in remote locations.


The Coordinating Chaplain or nominated Scrum Master ensures participation, reflection and learning, to keep discussion on track within the above three focus questions, and to ask clarifying supportive questions that relate to emerging trends.


  1. The focus for open accessible communication within the team might be via a whiteboard – room bookings, connections/projects and ideas. This information might be mirrored on the web for remote access, and information from remote sites be added to the whiteboard and the web.


  1. The Coordinating Chaplain meets each individual team member, on or off campus, every 2 -3 weeks to facilitate more in-depth reflection, achievement of personal goals and individual learning goals, and to offer support.


  1. Decisions and processes be understood as provisional and subject to critical re-evaluation; any changes be by consensus decision-making among the team and reflected on the Oasis website.

Personalised Space

 Hub Library Plan

Last year the University decided to create a new centre for student life on the main campus. Our present facilities would be demolished and we would be housed within the new centre.

Oasis has long been ready for it. We have done the best we could with the inherited 1960s facilities since inaugurating Oasis as a new vision of spiritual care for the university in 2007.

According to the last floor plan, Oasis is a self-contained space, tucked away in the far corner of an open-space Library student work area.

Couldn’t we take the doors off and integrate Oasis with the library space?  Wouldn’t that be more in keeping with the kind of vision the planners have in mind – student flow around the centre according to need? Wouldn’t that be a tangible symbol of the collaborative intention of Oasis?

And if Oasis were integrated with the rest of the open space, what would make an open Oasis space distinctive within a Library open space? – a Library space that has a number of facilities essentially in common – such as lounge areas, meeting rooms and a student kitchen, all of which are essential ingredients within an Oasis having a vision of inspiring hospitality and wellbeing? If lounge, meeting and cooking facilities are part of modern libraries then what is distinctive about lounge,meeting and cooking facilities in an Oasis precinct within such a library? And do we need them in both?

The beginning of an answer from Oasis’ point of view, I think, is in what might be called ‘personalised space’.

In the UK, following the ‘London Bombings’, many universities responded by building Muslim prayer rooms. A report “Faiths in Higher Education” showed that overwhelmingly, universities felt that providing facilities was a generous and sufficient response to the growing number of Muslims on campus. They did not sense a need to develop strategies for the development of appropriate cultures within those facilities by personalising them with trained staff. Millions of pounds were spent on ‘plant’, virtually nothing on ‘people’.

The experience of London University, home to a terrorist cell that developed within it, despite repeated forewarning by the university chaplain, was that radicalisation on the campus was eventually ameliorated by the introduction of a respected member of the Muslim community into the chaplaincy team, to consistently and quietly, through a kind of ‘soft-diplomacy’, consistent with Koranic teaching, affect the culture of the group. This experience suggests that without the provision of appropriate people, the provision of facilities may actually become part of the problem, rather than the solution.

‘Personalised space’ is about creating a culture within a space through the informal but skilful presence of a trained team of people who can create, model and influence the culture within that space. For Oasis, that culture is inclusive, hospitable, safe and appreciative of religious and cultural difference.

That is the key strategy of Oasis in contributing to a culture of peace and social cohesion within the University, influencing the wider local, national and international community. It is a strategy that encourages the best, and discourages the worst, of religion.

In the Library space, the spaces that are provided to students are open and laissez-faire. In the Oasis precinct, the very welcoming presence of the Oasis Administrative Officer supported by a team of volunteers establishes a culture of care, safety and acceptance that is not necessarily part of the Library’s strategic concern. Whether it could or should be is another question.

Oasis and the proposed new Student Hub

What we take with us.

In 2013 we started with the idea that hospitality, understood as creating welcoming space, can be transformative. This was particularly significant in developing appreciative, respectful interfaith relationships among students. But we also found that such hospitality is actually a universal means of building relationships and community, providing empowering support for all  students.

Hence our Vision Statement:

Oasis is a welcoming and enabling community, open to all, contributing to personal and communal spiritual enrichment, while promoting mutual respect and appreciative understanding of diverse religious paths and cultural traditions.

The principles of how we go about it were summed up in the Oasis Hospitality Elements flowchart:

Oasis Hospitality Elements

What does Oasis do for students? It hosts.
What does Oasis do for the University? It collaborates.
What does Oasis do for the wider community? It tells its story, it demonstrates with participatory workshops and it conducts rituals and ceremonies by request.

Potential benefits include:
# making links & connections
# liaisons, cooperation, collaborations
# providing support, cohesion, continuity
# company, companionship, friendship, mutuality
# getting to know ‘others’, understanding, mutual acceptance
# developing cultural and emotional intelligence

We have every indication that the underlying strategy of Oasis has been successful, as students have encountered the unconditional welcome of Oasis. Recognition of success led to the creation of Oasis Ambassadors. Those transformed by the Oasis experience now give impetus to a vision for what might be achieved in the longer term – student leadership across the world committed to the practice and principles of hospitality, learnt informally at Oasis.

Accordingly, I believe we are now at the stage when we might recognise that Oasis is a centre engaged in informal learning.

How might this role of Oasis be extended in the proposed new Student Hub?

Recognition of the significance of informal, extra-curricular learning might take Oasis to a new level in the proposed new Student Hub.  However, the University must first recognise and value the significant place of informal learning as complementary to the formal learning process.

The edited video below makes a case for valuing informal learning for the 21st Century student. The points I have highlighted in the video suggest how the Oasis paradigm might be extended to provide safe, sanctioned ‘home’ environments that foster informal learning, extending the successes we have achieved over the last 12 months.

I am suggesting that Oasis, through its practice of hospitality, might provide an empowering ‘home’ environment for informal learning that may go beyond discussion and conversation to creative activity such as digital media, art, music and radio – spaces that provide connection, communication, collaboration and creation.

What else?

Because Oasis also engages with the wider community, access to its spaces in the proposed new Student Hub is a significant consideration – proximate parking and proximate loading.

External spaces linked to the internal spaces of the proposed Student Hub are significant for some cultues and religions.

I hope that consideration be given to externally linking Yunggorendi with Oasis to provide outdoor teaching space for Yunggorendi, native vegetation and an outdoor sacred ceremony site, which gives an unobstructed view to the western (sea) horizon. Consideration might also be given to a memorial site within this development.

Consideration might also be given to a western-facing balcony area linked with Oasis.

It is important that wherever possible, Oasis spaces have windows that look out to the western sea horizon or on to Flinders’ wonderful natural habitat.


Finding Common Ground

A heading in an email digest I received today from The Chronicle of Higher Education caught my eye.

Campuses Focus More on Meeting International Students’ Needs.

With more foreign students on American campuses, the conversation is shifting from recruitment strategies to practices that help them succeed.

Retention is becoming the name of the game.

This week I attended a staff seminar, Graduating Global Citizens in Science & Engineering, exploring the results of a research project initiated by Melbourne University’s Centre for the Study of Higher Education, ‘Finding Common Ground – enhancing interaction between domestic and international students’

Feedback from international students indicates that although they rate the courses they have undertaken in Australia highly, the one thing that they regretted was that they had not made lasting friendships with local students. Clearly, international students choosing to study in Australia hope that an important side benefit of their international experience will be an engagement with Australian culture, and friendship with locals in particular.

One thing from this seminar really stood out for me.

We know anecdotally that local students and international students do not tend to engage outside the classroom. Local students already have their own circle of friends. ‘Finding Common Ground’ suggests that cross-cultural engagement must take place in the classroom.

This has big implications for university teaching – now the teacher must not only be culturally intelligent, but value and structure for cross-cultural engagement within his or her curriculum and teaching practice.

Some Flinders teachers shared their practice.

Associate Prof. Kenneth Pope from the School of Computer Science, Engineering and Mathematics told how one of the subjects he teaches is tied into Engineers Without Borders, an international organization that undertakes practical projects in developing countries. So  inter-cultural issues and cross-cultural experiences are actually embedded within the Flinders course itself.

Dr Ingo Koeper, Senior Lecturer in the School  Chemical and Physical Sciences, told of a weekly two hour discussion session he set up for a small group of postgraduate students from diverse backgrounds. While the students may have expected the session to have focussed on improving their understanding of course content, as the teacher, he had put this to one side and encouraged the students to talk about themselves. Only when content issues were raised by the students themselves did he go there. The main thing was for the students to interact with each other.

This is hospitality, as we understand it in Oasis, in the classroom!

June 24, A Nokia Conversation


Last night we went to dinner to catch up with friends of our son Nick. They are both working with Nokia in Berlin.

During the evening Kevin and I got into conversation about our respective work. He is in middle management overseeing a number of Nokia project teams. As he went on describing what he does, I was struck by how similar his work is with mine. He likened his position to being horizontal and facilitating a number of vertical projects – or rather, facilitating the people involved in these projects – being ‘across’ it. He says it takes a lot of listening. When he perceives any blockage he takes that person out for lunch or a coffee and listens to them. He offers any help if that is asked for. He doesn’t want to construct any ‘glass ceiling’ but really wants everyone to be turned on to doing their best. He described his role as very complex and nuanced. How he may speak in one context may be different to another, depending on what needs to be done or said to serve the best interests of the other –  a service model. More often than not, it is a listening and discerning process. He immediately made the connection that in my role as coordinating chaplain, he supposed that I work across the diversity of faiths, encouraging each to be the best they can be by listening to the leadership of each to facilitate their development. I’ve never before had anyone actually ‘get’ (comprehend the subtleties of) my job in five minutes!

I asked him how this part of the company fits into the overall Nokia management structure. Again, I was struck with similarities. The top level of Nokia have decided on an overall purpose and culture. This is transmitted to each of the Nokia development areas – phones, I.T. etc. So the various parts of the company all know the direction they are going; interconnections can also be made within this common purpose and culture. I take this to be like our University’s Strategic Plan that tells us what kind of university we want to be and how we intend to get there. The key to the Nokia culture is communication so that accountability to business goals is part of the process. Although there are goals, it is wonderfully open-ended and vision-driven; failure can be as important to growth as success.

I went away remembering conversations with Onno, the App developer, in whose flat I stayed in Delft, and with my sons’ Nick and Andrew in the way they approach their work. In all cases, having a university degree had little to do with what they have learnt, to be where they are in their fields. In Kevin’s case, he resisted all my attempts to have him name management books so I could get some short cuts. All he had learnt, he had learnt on the job, mentored by a good manager – learning by doing – praxis.

June 20 General Reflection

Today I am beginning to turn my mind to Flinders as I reflect on what I have observed in Europe.

The key statement in Flinders’ religious policy is The University is concerned with the spiritual welfare and needs of its students and recognises that it has a role in addressing these needs. 

This begs the question, what is that role and how is it to be played out?

1. Unlike in the UK, Scandinavia and Germany I think we have come to a point where we can say that the University has no role in providing what we might call ‘established’ worship.

At Flinders, students are expected to fulfil communal religious observances in the wider community. That adds to the cross-cultural experience of students. We have rejected the idea of a university church or any church establishing itself on campus for services of worship, for example.

One exception might be Friday Prayer for Muslims. But this is organised internally by the students themselves; it is not organised around an Imam. Another might be Buddhist meditation; but since Buddhist practice in South Australia is so closely tied to ethnic origins, Buddhist practice probably takes place more in the community at the various temples. Only few have gathered at Flinders, even when we were served by an ordained monk. The Hindus gather at the Warradale temple – there has never been a demand for Hindu worship at Flinders. Similarly for Sikhs and Bahai’s. Student groups with these affiliations may form from time to time and they may organise their own activities. These are welcome in Oasis.

However, we do provide venues for ‘dis-established’ prayer and meditation, individuals who seek time out, or like-minded groups meeting at set times. We could say that this provision relates to spiritual support rather than religious obligation.

And we do encourage religio-cultural festivals at Flinders, those gatherings that support religio-cultural identity and strengthen support networks. The social activities of the International Student Services Unit (ISSU) are a vital component in this.

I suspect that the churches conception of university chaplaincy is related to their perceived capacity to provide services imagined in the ‘established’ services model. For Catholics, for example, this might mean provision of a priest as chaplain to conduct Mass, a Catholic community gathering around that focus. The withdrawal of the Catholics from university to the parish in South Australia seems, on the surface, to be consistent with the expectation that the community is the place for ‘established’ religious practice rather than the university. However, there has, in my view, been a failure to re-imagine what the role of the church could now be in the university.

2. Flinders, as a university, has the capacity through Oasis, for assisting a re-imagination of religious-state relations for the benefit of society.

In much of Europe there has been a strong history of church-state relationship and a relatively settled understanding and expectation of the role of chaplaincy in institutions. In the UK for example, every prison must have a chaplain by law, and every new inmate must see the chaplain within 48 hours of arrival. In Scandinavia, even though churches have relatively recently disestablished themselves from the state, state taxes still contribute to funding churches. Clergy often have a half-time role in the parish and half-time role in the university. Understandably, such chaplains have much clearer expectations of their role as church representatives.

However, many of these chaplains now feel they are locked into ‘established’ clergy expectations (ie conducting chapel services and religious programs as core to their role) at a time when such services and programs are poorly attended. One chaplain I met declared at the Conference of European University Chaplains that after seven years as an ordained chaplain she was “leaving the church”.  Her efforts to creatively engage with students in new ways were not appreciated by her church hierarchy. They didn’t fit the ‘established’ paradigm even though she was successful in increasing participation ten-fold. She is from Eastern Europe. Her experience is, I think, very significant even if at the extreme end of a spectrum of disconnect that occurs as faithful chaplains immerse themselves in a world the church administrators know little about.  Clearly, Sofia Camnerin, Vice-President of the Uniting Church in Sweden is an exception. Her address to open the CEUC was, I thought, outstanding. (

In addition, the internationalisation of universities and the arrival of non-Christian refugees has created a crisis for such established Christianity – a system in which every postcode has a parish and every parish a priest. Totalising systems can’t cope with the new pluralist realities.

Yet how does one continue to mine the riches of such rich religious traditions, maintain one’s identity and sense of place, while trying to adapt such a well-oiled system to new realities?

MoTiv, an ecumenical Christian team in Holland, has made a break with the ‘established’ paradigm by offering coaching and mentoring programs to the student leadership at Delft Technical University. They do this in a pastoral way, listening and empowering those with whom they engage. They deliberately avoid any religious baggage that might get in the way of their relationships with others – on the surface they look like a very professional, well-marketed secular organisation. As “MoTiv – spirituality and technology”, I think they are very well strategised for such a university, where issues to do with motivation, the creative process and the imagination are to the fore. They have come to this point after a thirty-year history of struggling to find the points of intersection between Christian spirituality and the university. I expect the MoTiv team at the conference would have strongly identified with the conference opening address by Sofia Camnerin.

I am suggesting that at Flinders, the university itself has a third party role in its triumberate of research, teaching and community to engage with theses issues of the spiritual and religious in secular institutions. There is no reason why innovation in the spiritual-religious domain should not be considered any less important than say innovation in engineering when you see the role of religion in international affairs.

3. The Flinders chaplains have through praxis over fifteen years, been developing a model that may make a helpful contribution.

The chaplains have been responding to the University’s own policy statement: The University is concerned with the spiritual welfare and needs of its students and recognises that it has a role in addressing these needs. But until recently the chaplaincy and the university have been at arm’s length.

There is suspicion among many of the chaplains I talked with in Europe about reducing that arm’s length. There is a fear that the university will ‘manage’ them in ways inconsistent with the ethos of chaplaincy. “Why give over control of my affairs to a university manager who has no understanding of the complexity and nuances of my vocation” might be the cry. It is the counterpoint of those who bemoan the lack of understanding and support of the churches for their chaplaincy.

There is a fundamental cultural clash between typical chaplaincy and ‘management’ – between a qualitative, human-relationship-valuing support service and, if you like, an economically driven, quantitative controlling management. I have come to see both need to understand and facilitate each other rather than stand at opposite ends denigrating each other – though I have been guilty of it!

In the Oasis model, radical hospitality, understood as creating space for the other, without wanting to change the other, provides a pathway for the generation of such respect, and therefore opens the creative possibility of re-imagining. MoTiv call this the “discourse of disclosure” –  a revealing as the chaplain makes intellectual and imaginative space for the other. The Oasis culture is therefore one that may lead to collaboration among those who might formerly have seen themselves boxed in to a particular construct, whether that be religious or vocational.

I have come to the view that understanding the culture of the younger internet-based innovators may give management a clue about making its own transition to non-authoritarian management styles that focus on emotionally satisfying processes and results rather than command-and-control procedures laden with accountability threats. Radical hospitality finds itself in keeping with this emerging culture.

4. Flinders has now undertaken to support Oasis.

The university has signalled its intention to support Oasis by providing a coordinator, an administrator for the effective functioning of the centre and a modest budget.

One immediate danger is that this might send a signal to the religious communities that they withdraw altogether, in keeping with internal difficulties they may already face, for many of the churches at least, declining memberships, internal schisms, declining numbers of competent clergy and losses on the stock market.

Oasis seeks to address a number of issues and has chosen this image and metaphor of openness, hospitality and interfaith engagement quite deliberately. This choice may find support among all of the worlds religions and many indigenous cultures, but it may also challenge them. It may also be welcomed by many who own no religion. It is a choice, we believe, that history shows is life-giving and contributes to human sustainability.

If we are to redress a withdrawal of the religious communities, the vision and opportunities for contributing to Oasis will need to be reconveyed in such a way as may win voluntarily engagement. And a benefit from that engagement.

Another question that arises from the embrace of Oasis by the University might be whether Oasis is seen merely as a centre and those who serve within it or whether it implies a wider collaboration within the university and with the wider community.

Clearly, Oasis provides a complementary role to Health and Counselling and this relationship might be teased out to clarify Oasis’ role in contributing to mental health and well being on campus. And the support of Oasis for the International Student Services Unit and for the various national student associations and their cultural activities is well established. Oasis’ contribution to other student services are less well explored.

But in the university itself, for example, why couldn’t Flinders take a lead in exploring, and making a name for itself, in the relationship between the provision of architectural space and human spirituality? In other words, Buildings and Property and Oasis collaborating and the principles developed a part of the offering of Flinders to the wider community.

These are a few general reflections I have been thinking about…