Faith stories and prayer at SOAS
As the senior staff member with lead responsibility for Higher Education Chaplaincy, it seemed entirely appropriate that my interview in the ‘Frontline Fridays’ series should be with one of the hundreds of thousands of students studying in one of the many HE institutions in our Diocese. I met with Lian Kay Hian (known as Kay), a graduate of LSE, originally from Singapore, who is now studying for a Masters’ degree in Religion and Global Politics at London University’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS).
My progress towards the appointed rendezvous with Kay on a chilly March afternoon was hampered by huge crowds occupying the concourse at the main SOAS campus in Bloomsbury. Much cheering could be heard and even the enthusiastic playing of musical instruments, all centred around a jet-black limousine. Apparently, a member of the Nigerian royal family was in town. Eventually I managed to navigate the crowds, and found Kay. We made our introductions and settled down for a conversation.
Kay worships at Euston Church (which meets at Christ the King, Gordon Square, which, once upon a time, housed the Anglican chaplaincy to the University of London.) It is clear that Euston Church attracts a significant number of students, and that Kay receives great personal support and spiritual encouragement from his involvement there. Above all, Kay pointed to the emphasis placed upon biblical teaching and the exposition of the Scriptures which he had found at Euston Church. This teaching, he felt, enabled him to give a solid account of his faith to fellow students of other faith traditions and none.
Kay also spoke very interestingly of the relationship between his faith and the many complex geopolitical questions which he engaged with through his studies. Here, he felt that being a Christian enabled him to challenge many of the solutions to issues touching on international development, sustainability and the relief of global poverty which, in his view, took an overly this-worldly view of human flourishing. The important thing to Kay was the coming of the Kingdom of God, which would, ultimately, render all other programmes of human devising irrelevant.
Far from his country of origin, Kay clearly derived huge support from his Christian peer group at Euston Church. Talking to him challenged me to remember the sheer diversity of the worldwide church – and also to be reminded forcefully that all nations and all traditions find their place in our great international city, not least in our Higher Education sector. We need to be ever sensitive to the difficulties which students can experience in feeling welcome and at home in London during their studies.
The second part of my afternoon at SOAS consisted of a visit to a meeting of the college’s Christian Union. Here, over tea and cake, a lively and clearly mutually supportive group took time out to pray together, to reflect on a passage of Scripture, and to share experiences, highs and lows, of the preceding week. It was encouraging to see how much strength each of the students present drew from one another as they offered personal support and shared faith testimonies.
I really enjoyed meeting Kay and listening to him talk about his course. I enjoyed listening to his faith story, and to some of the encouragement he’s felt through Euston Church, and also some of the challenges he’s experienced as a Christian in this very diverse university.