Manna interview: God's representative

28th September 2023

Bishop Ruth licences Katy Garner as Chaplain for Bath Spa University

The Revd Katy Garner, former Rector of Backwell with Chelvey and Brockley, talks chaplaincy ahead of her licensing as Chaplain at Bath Spa University. 

What prompted the move from parish ministry?

I just felt that this is where God was calling me to be, despite the fact that Backwell is a very exciting place to be right now and is growing in spirituality. When I completed my curacy, instead of applying for parish roles I applied chaplaincy roles as I felt God was calling me to university chaplaincy from the beginning. I didn’t get a chaplaincy role so instead decided it was best to consolidate my curacy training and entered parish ministry.

Did chaplaincy feature as part of your parish ministry?

Absolutely. My training incumbent was a school chaplain and I learnt a lot from her. While in Backwell we set up pupil chaplains at school and it then became a learning hub for pupil chaplains. As a priest I did go into the schools and simply be present and be with the children, and that is very much how I see my role as a university chaplain.

Why university chaplaincy?

You could say I am very comfortable in a student setting. After a career in nursing, in both the NHS and the Army, I then retrained as a midwife before settling down and enjoying a five-year career break when I had my children. After those five years I decided it was time to get a degree. I’ve always loved science so studied that for a year, with the Open University, before my tutor suggested I undertake a degree at the University of the West of England. A PhD followed and then a period as a Post Doc at Bristol University where I heard God shouting louder and louder that I should go for ordination.

What do you think university chaplaincy offers? 

Universities offer students a most exciting part of their education – they are set free, on their own, and for some that’s an amazing and life-giving experience, but for a lot of people I found it was very difficult and they need support. I saw that as a mature student at university, as I did become a bit of a mother figure and journeyed with and supported fellow students.

How will you be supporting people?

As it is a new role, I think year one will be about journeying with students and staff and determining how chaplaincy can feature in this university. I will be working across all the campuses, including the beautiful Newton Park campus. There is a secret garden with a fire pit, and I can have an allotment, so there’s a lot of potential for activities that tie in caring for creation, and therefore ourselves. I’ll also be taking along my dog, as a care dog. 

What are you looking forward to?

There is a very creative student body and its very diverse in terms of spirituality, but I am a great believer that God loves everyone and being able to minister to this diverse, creative bunch of individuals I feel is going to be really exciting and a real blessing for me. I hope I can become someone they can know and feel confident about to coming to with any problems, but also to share their joys.

I always remember some of the pupils at my training incumbent’s school saying to her, “You’re okay because you don’t talk about God.” I think there is something in that. As a chaplain you are not necessarily talking about God, but I absolutely view myself as God’s representative in that place.

This article featured in the October 2023 edition of the Manna mailing.

Find out more about Chaplaincy in Bath and Wells, including our new Chaplaincy Podcasts.

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