“Assemblies, mentoring, gardening, bereavement support…there’s not really any other job quite like it!” says Josh Hunt, describing his role as Chaplain to Felixstowe School in Suffolk.
Josh is based at the school full-time as a lay chaplain, to support students and staff, explore faith, and build community. The role is funded by Boost, a local Christian charity established in 2000, funded by churches, individuals and grants and supported by Churches Together in Felixstowe. Unlike other school chaplains, Josh works in a school of no religious character.
“When I first started as chaplain here in 2014, we weren’t quite sure what this role might look like, but reflecting on the past eight years, it really has been an amazing journey. Some aspects of the work have changed over time, but the foundation of wanting our young people and school community to thrive has remained constant throughout. We want to meet young people where they are, and support them to reach their potential”.
“a huge level of need”
One of the ways in which chaplaincy supports young people in Felixstowe is through bereavement support. After seeking additional training, this became a specialist area of pastoral support for Boost’s chaplaincy at the school.
“We were beginning to receive more and more requests to mentor young people who had experienced bereavement. Young people respond to the death of a loved one in so many different ways, and they really wanted to spend time discussing this with us”.
“Little did we know that we would be heading into a period of significant disruption due to the pandemic, and a huge level of need afterwards supporting young people who had experienced death and dying, often for the first time.”
Last term (Autumn 2022) alone Boost’s chaplaincy provided bereavement support to more than two dozen students during the school day. Many of these young people report struggling to talk to others about their experiences and emotions.
Another popular area of work is the Garden Project. Josh works with students to develop a third of an acre of grassland as a space for nature, growing food and connecting with the environment. Students are regularly outside, planting trees, maintaining the pond or enjoying the peaceful paths of the grass labyrinth.
“We know young people are anxious about so many things, including climate change, and we wanted to provide them with regular, meaningful opportunities to connect with creation and respond to this issue by doing something positive.”
These areas of work are in addition to the school’s new ‘Reflection Room’ where Josh is based each day – described by the school as a ‘safe and special place for contemplation, prayer and reflection’.
“We wanted to create a really special space in the heart of the school which could be a space for prayer, but also a space to engage all students in some form of spiritual development, through art installations, reflective activities and discussion groups”.
This gained the interest of the Church of England’s national office, who showcased Felixstowe School Chaplaincy as part of the 2021 General Synod.
Josh says, “my hope for the future is that more schools and churches might be able to work together to create something like this. It will look different in every context, but wouldn’t it be amazing if every school could have a chaplain?”
Boost hope that their expression of chaplaincy in Felixstowe might encourage other communities to do something similar.