After a morning spent in the lively, but sometimes hectic UCL campus, the tranquility of the Student Centre’s basement floor is a welcome change. Students file silently in and out of the prayer spaces, careful not to shatter the calm. Here I am welcomed by Reverend Reid Humble, UCL’s Chaplain and Interfaith Adviser, and his dog, Magnus (pictured - who may not have an official title, but plays a big role in support nonetheless).
In this conversation, Reverend Reid takes me through the various aspects of multifaith and interfaith support offered at UCL, highlighting that his approach is rooted in "listening and accompanying", and walking alongside those who seek support instead of ahead of them.
What sort of multifaith and interfaith support is available at UCL? For the uninitiated, what does your role involve?I’ve yet to figure out a way to draw a thread through what can sometimes feel like quite random and disparate things that are included in my role. Structurally, I am part of the senior leadership team of Student Support and Wellbeing. So sometimes, staff don’t realise they can contact me as well! I’m here for both students and staff, for people of all faiths and of no faiths.
For me, it’s helpful to clarify the slight difference between ’interfaith’ and ’multifaith’. Interfaith is more appropriate to a setting where multiple faiths are engaging with each other, whether that’s to promote understanding or to work towards a common cause.
Whereas the multifaith and no faith dimension is more appropriate to pastoral support. A large part of that is one-to-one conversations that students and staff can book. They are confidential, inclusive, and you can come to me about whatever is impacting your time at UCL.
It may be about exploring an aspect of your identity, like faith background, where you come from, and sexuality and gender identity, or even the big questions of life! One-to-ones can be for everything.
Because I am a priest in the Church of England, I also do a weekly service of Holy Communion which is available to anybody who wants to come. I’m also involved with bereavement support, and I lead on acts of memorials where a member of UCL has sadly passed away.
Finally, I provide practical support to the Quiet Contemplation Rooms - which includes our prayer spaces and meditation spaces. Anybody can use these spaces, as long as you respect the others there. This year, I started facilitating a weekly silent meditation session, ’Centering Contemplation’, during a protected 40 minutes in the lunch hour, again, open to all, even those who are just curious.
And then there’s support for anything else that comes up - one example recently that’s become a big part of my work this term is the conflict in Israel and Gaza. I’ve been providing support to people impacted by all sides of that.
In many ways, the members of UCL get to decide what my role is. For many people, making the most of it may just be being aware it exists. But for those who want a little more, I would say, get in contact or get involved! I’m always open to having a chat, going out on campus for tea or coffee. It doesn’t have to be a formal one-to-one.
How do you, as an interfaith advisor, approach providing support to the people of diverse faiths that UCL is home to?That’s probably a question a lot of people are curious about because I come from a certain faith background. But my job here isn’t to preach or convert at all. I want to provide the most helpful space possible for someone to share, irrespective of their faith.
Some of that includes asking questions to explore whatever they want to, with the desire to accompany them on the journey that they’re going on. It’s very much led by whoever I’m engaging with. It doesn’t always relate to religious or spiritual practice, but it can be based on their worldview.
We all have our limitations, but I have quite a large network of people that I can kind of seek advice from. Sometimes people want an opinion from their background, and while we don’t have a long list of chaplains (we have a Catholic chaplain and a Jewish chaplain that students have access to), I can connect people and facilitate that sort of thing. I’m one person, and different people can need different things!
How have you seen interfaith support benefit students and staff?I’ve seen it be beneficial for a range of things, whether that be distress because of a global event or something related to day-to-day life and the stresses, expectations, and dreams of being in a university. In my role, you don’t always see the end product. But people have been able to reflect on an aspect of their identity and reach a point where they feel more confident in who they are. Then they’re able to focus on studies and things like that because they’re not struggling.
I’ve even seen people make new friendships through interfaith activities that to them feel unlikely and surprising. They grow in their understanding of people that see the world differently. We can be better friends and colleagues to everyone without being exactly the same. That is really important to a place like UCL, because we’re a global university.
What’s been the most rewarding part of this role for you?When you see students and staff succeeding after being in distress, it’s rewarding to be involved in a small part of that. Sometimes that success is just being able to get back to the regular routine and enjoy some of it. It’s an interesting job because sometimes it’s rewarding when they don’t need you anymore! Just being with people and getting to explore questions of life, testing out beliefs, being curious and critical - it’s rewarding when someone trusts you to support them.
Also, last year, UCL was responsible for hosting the annual memorial service for people who donate their bodies to medical science after they die. It was an enormous privilege getting to hear students speak about the gratitude they had for it.
In real life and on social media, we often see hate speech and behaviours that target and alienate people on religious grounds. How do you advise students to deal with such intolerance?Sadly, it is a reality of the world that we live in, and some people have come and talked about it with me. It can make us feel like we don’t belong in a place. No one should have to endure that - that’s the place to start while providing support. On the technical side, report it through Report + Support.
These instances go vastly underreported, so give UCL information to build a picture with. You can do this anonymously, but if you want someone to follow up you can also put your name to it. If you’re unsure about reporting, you can always have a confidential conversation with me first.
I’m happy to help with the personal impact of the situation and the process side. There could also be incidents that fall outside of what UCL is accountable for, and I encourage you to talk to me or someone else you trust so you don’t have to silently carry it alone.
Learning about this domain of UCL support has been wonderful! How do you hope to expand its scope in the future?I’m looking to add visits to various local places of worship into the landscape of things. In London, there’s a huge variety and I’m happy to take recommendations! The first one is being planned with a mosque close to the Bloomsbury campus.
Next term, I’m hoping to have a chaplains’ discussion group (but not just for chaplains) for conversations around identity, meaning making, the various questions of life. I’m trying to develop a slightly more open, informal space.
I’m also really looking to develop more student-specific activities for Interfaith Week next year in November. There are great interfaith conversations and events that happen between student-run societies, so I’m hoping to add to that.
About the author, Neeharika NeneI’m a postgraduate digital media student, cat mom and horror film fanatic. Born and raised in Mumbai, India, I became passionate about writing and journalism after interning at organisations like The Quint and working as an editorial assistant at Springtide, a youth-culture and lifestyle magazine.
Professionally and academically, I lean towards writing about film, music, pop culture, gender, and identity. UCL’s lively ecosystem, within an even more vibrant London has no shortage of stories to tell. So, I’m excited to take on the role of student journalist explore the city and university I’ve come to love in greater depth!