27th September 2023

In the last two weeks at least 15,000 new students have come to Bristol, either to University of the West of England or Bristol University. They will be settling into accommodation, mostly university owned but not all. They will be finding out about their chosen course and starting to look for new friends. A bit scary for them, even if they try to look sophisticated and knowledgeable.

You are very conscious of the numbers if you walk on the Triangle near to Park Row. Hundreds, it seems, mostly walking along head down, looking at their mobile phones and about to bump into you.

Among the total student body of 55,000 students there will be some Christians, more Muslims and a huge majority of no religious belief. There are the chaplaincies of both universities and the Christian societies. A few churches have a sizeable student attendance but this is only a drop in the ocean. Christian university staff have less and less time for incidental pastoral work as they have to teach ever increasing numbers of students. (When I was at UWE I found being a year tutor responsible pastorally for up to 70 students to be one of the most satisfying parts of my work, though of course I never pushed my own beliefs and at time it became hard work.)

So I am left wondering about this huge population, some of whom are unhappy, homesick, on the wrong course or very lonely. And there seems to be no way for us as individuals or as a church to make any links.

Margaret Clements