Nov 12 2019

Our College Chaplaincy is made up of Reverend Orion Edgar (Anglican Chaplain), Nisar Shaikh (Muslim Chaplain) and Father John Dickson (Roman Catholic Chaplain), and they help to support our diverse and positive faith groups and religious beliefs on campus.

Could you tell us about yourselves and your roles within the Multifaith Chaplaincy team?

Nisar: As a Muslim Chaplain, I offer support, counselling and advice primarily to Muslim students and staff members with specific regard to the Islamic faith. I also work and assist those of other faith groups and indeed those of no faith. As a Muslim Chaplain at Royal Holloway I also advise the College on faith policies, best practices and how best we can serve the Muslim faith community on campus.

I was born and raised in the UK, having been through the full educational strata in England as a Muslim, I am acutely aware of the problems, issues and concerns of most Muslim students at university. There are many challenges that face the Muslim community within higher education, which parallels the wider societal increase in Islamophobia along with the negative and misconstrued media portrayal of their faith, I spend a great deal of time countering this narrative for people who share my faith and those who don’t. It is however reassuringly positive that Royal Holloway acknowledge the needs of people of faith and work actively to provide support and facilitate worship for students and staff.

John: I’m the Catholic Chaplain, this is my eighth year as part of the team. I’m Scots and have been a priest for 40 years and this is the best job I’ve ever had. What I love is the energy, generosity and diversity and inclusivity of the students and staff at Royal Holloway who really build a great community.

Orion: I’m Orion, the Anglican Chaplain, and I work with John, Nisar, and Jackie our administrator, to support people of all faiths at Royal Holloway. We do all kinds of things — from spending time with students and staff who need a listening ear, to taking weddings and leading worship for the College community. I spend a lot of my time listening to people in all kinds of roles, from the housekeeping staff to the Student’s Union executives, and I also spend a lot of time praying for people in need and for all aspects of university life!

2. Our Multifaith Chaplaincy team are diverse and they embrace all positive faith groups and religious beliefs. What facilities are available to students and staff who would like to worship on campus, and what kind of Chaplains are contactable?

Nisar: We are a welcoming and diverse team and relish opportunities to work with students and staff on any problems or concerns they may be experiencing. The dedicated Muslim Prayer Room, located in the Wetton's Annexe, is a small yet peaceful area that provides Muslim students and staff a dedicated and familiar space to offer their daily prayers. It has separate worship areas for men and women, with ritual washing (ablution) areas and access to copies of the Qur’an.

John: Worship facilities include the Chapel which is always open for private prayer or reflection, and a Muslim prayer room. In the Chapel itself, we host, Ecumenical services, Anglican services, Catholic services, Quaker meetings, Greek Orthedox services, Hindu Arti, and an annual Jewish Holocaust Memorial Service. We also host a Mindfulness lunchtime session.

Orion: We love hearing from students, who can call us as a team or on the individual numbers on the chaplaincy webpage if they want to talk. You can also email us for an appointment. Whilst we’re happy to talk about matters related to faith, most of our conversations are broader than that — and we are not in the business of telling people what to think! 

3. What are some of the main services and events that students and colleagues can attend throughout the year? 

Nisar: The main service for Muslims is the Friday Prayer, held in the Wetton’s Annexe at 1.15pm in terms one and two. This term, Chaplaincy have arranged regular weekly lectures on the Qur’an and its associated areas of study which are open to all, held on Thursdays from 5.30-6.30pm. The noticeboard outside the prayer room is always full of activities and events throughout the academic year. 

John: Every morning in term begins with an Ecumenical Service of Morning Prayer, including a hymn, a short reading, a reflection, a choral anthem and prayers. On Thursday and Friday we have an Anglican Eucharist (Thursdays, 12.30pm) and a Catholic Mass on Friday at 12.30pm. On Thursdays we have Evensong at 6.15pm, and on Sundays we have an Ecumenical Service at 6pm and Mass at 7.30pm. We also have special services for Remembrance Day, Pancake Tuesday, and before Christmas our annual Carol Services which are also open to the public. 

Orion: Our main Christian service is at 6pm on a Sunday; and we have a 10 minute morning service every day at 8:45am with music from our amazing choir. My personal favourite is the traditional Church of England service of evensong, which is at 6:15pm every Thursday during term time. We also have a wide variety of services, like the service for Transgender Day of Remembrance coming up on the Wednesday 20 November, and our famous Christmas lessons and carols!

4. The Chapel is a special part of the College and its history. What is your favourite event that takes place in the Chapel?

Nisar: For me, the Chapel is an awe-inspiring and monumental place at Royal Holloway. I was invited last year to a reading of Mawlana Rumi at the annual Carol Service, this was a wonderful experience.

John: Highlights of the year are the Graduation Week celebrations and the annual Carol Service, but the Chapel is also a very special place where past and present students and staff often celebrate weddings and memorial services.

Orion: Well I’ve said that I love evensong on Thursdays. I also love our Thursday lunchtimes — we have half an hour of silence for meditation or silent prayer from 12–12:30pm, followed by a small communion service where we pray for the needs of the world, for things going on within campus, and for our own needs. I’m also looking forward to taking lots of weddings in chapel — I’ve only done one so far!

5. What do you most enjoy about working at Royal Holloway and within the Multifaith Chaplaincy team?

Nisar: I gain a great deal of satisfaction and fulfilment working with the students of Royal Holloway. I have a great team which makes work a pleasure and never a chore. Whilst there are many challenges, I thoroughly enjoy having a small hand in helping people of faith and those of none by simply being available to hear them in times of difficulty or rejoicing with them in times of joy. 

John: For me the real joy is helping to build a really open and inclusive community, where a deep reverence and respect for the beliefs and traditions of others encourages and challenges my own faith.

Orion: The people — Jackie, John and Nisar are friends as well as colleagues, and I’ve only been here a couple of months! I also feel very privileged to have the opportunity to get to know people from every corner of university life, to listen to people in moments of joy and of great need, and to worship in that beautiful Chapel.

6. Outside of work, what do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

Nisar: My passion outside of work is my family, I have three young sons who take up most of my time, and martial arts. I have been teaching Brazilian Jiu-jitsu for the past 14 years and have also started teaching at Royal Holloway this term (classes are held on Thursdays, 6.30pm-8pm in the Sports centre).

My wife gave me a mug for my last birthday which sums up this ‘obsession’ of mine, “I might look like I am listening to you, but in my head, I’m doing Jiu-jitsu!”.

John: I love cycling, swimming, motorcycling and historical research which involves visiting archives abroad. I love Italy and I am passionate about singing and telling stories. I also have a weekly radio show on Insanity, the local radio station called, 'Shipwrecked with Fr John', and I invite different guests to share their music and their stories.

Orion: I have small children so playing with them is my first priority when I get home. I’m a big reader; I love music and do a lot of singing at home; and really love riding bikes but I haven’t had much time for it lately! I’m also a bit of a gin enthusiast, and I make a mean Martini.