The Chaplaincy’s support in times of crisis

The Chaplaincy provides a centre of care and support for staff and students impacted by distressing global circumstances.

Image of Harriet Harris
Revd Dr Harriet Harris

Reverend Dr. Harriet Harris, the University Chaplain, and head of the Chaplaincy Service, shares insights on the importance and value of The Chaplaincy’s work during global emergencies and reflects on what it means to be a University of Sanctuary. 

Harriet has developed and leads the multi-faith and belief Chaplaincy Team, the largest in a UK university, with over 25 Honorary Chaplains from global faith and philosophical traditions.

She was awarded an MBE in 2017 for Services to Multi-Faith Education and Community Cohesion and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2021 for her innovative work in universities.  

During our interview, Harriet reflects on what it means to be a University of Sanctuary. 

A centre of care and support for all 

The Chaplaincy, which is made up of a team of chaplains and support staff, as well as a wide team of Honorary Chaplains and Belief Contacts, provides a range of services. 

Harriet explains, 

“We provide pastoral support for all members of the University community - students, and staff, for people of all faiths and none.“

We provide 1-1 support, particularly through the listening service or if anyone wants to speak with a Chaplain. We provide group support through group training to resource people to manage challenges and flourish at university. We also provide a vision for the University to think about what kind of community it wants to be in the 21st century. This includes our global outlook and how we can support mental health. Finally, of course, we provide faith and belief expertise and guidance.

Find out more about The University Listening Service:

The University Listening Service 

A Light for Aleppo
Beacons being lit on North Berwick beach

A Light for Aleppo 

The Chaplaincy also offers its support and concern for social justice.  

Harriet said, 

“In 2016, when Aleppo was under siege – it was a real humanitarian disaster. One of the things I felt very strongly about was that the world needed to show vigilance and we needed to do something that demonstrated our support for the people of Aleppo, even while aid couldn’t get through, we could still send hope and show solidarity.”.

Harriet continues, 

“The way that I wanted to do that was to send beacons because beacons are very visible. They travel in the sense that one beacon signals to another community that lights its beacon and so on.

“And so ‘A Light for Aleppo’ was born from the beaches of Scotland and travelled around the world across Europe, and North America...creating a trail of light all the way to Aleppo itself.  

“The intention to keep faith with the people of Aleppo, to show them they are not forgotten by the world through this powerful message.”

Read more about A Light for Aleppo:

A Light for Aleppo

BBC news coverage of the event

Working with the University of Sanctuary 

Harriet and Associate Chaplain, Revd Ali Newell, thought more about how the Chaplaincy team could build on this event.  

The Sanctuary Walk for refugees was subsequently set up, which raised money for scholarships for refugees to study at the University.  

This event also celebrated the University gaining Sanctuary University status in 2017, and developing a partnership with the University of the People.  

This is now one of the key ways in which the Chaplaincy works with the Sanctuary. 

Find out more about the Sanctuary Walk for Refugees:

Sanctuary Walk for Refugees. 

Emergency response 

Since 2017, The Chaplaincy has contributed to the University's response in times of global crisis, to provide support to staff and students.

Harriet explains, 

“When there has been a crisis somewhere in the world, it is almost certainly going to impact members of the University. We offer gatherings for people affected – for students and staff to share, connect with others who have been affected and talk in a quiet, supportive and welcoming space.

Harriet recalls a shocking story of when an explosion happened in Lebanon.

“A student joined the hybrid gathering from Lebanon and said, ‘I just came out of my flat to buy a newspaper and my flat blew up.’ It was devastating.” 

“One of the reasons it is so important to me is, when people have been through a trauma, the sooner you can talk about it with others for whom it is relevant, the less likely you are to have PTSD.

“These gatherings have the benefit of creating an important space for stories to be shared and information and support to be sought, which is incredibly powerful.” 

Related links 

In support of Ukraine, we call all people to support acts of guerrilla peace. Find out more about the ongoing acts of solidarity, vigilance, and hope for our Ukrainian friends: 

Guerilla Peace Ukraine 

Find out more about the event which marked the beginning of the Chaplaincy’s ‘Light Up Our Hearts for Ukraine’ campaign, encouraging people to show solidarity in any way they can: 

Vigil in support of Ukraine 

Find out more about the work undertaken by the Chaplaincy in response to the ongoing refugee crisis:

Refugee Work  

Find out more about the Chaplaincy's work:

Visit the Chaplaincy’s website