Faith in Action: Karen Openshaw
I went to a local evangelical church as a child – twice every Sunday. My parents split up when I was 11, and then my mum got cancer, and was really very poorly over the course of the next four years. I looked after her, and she died when I was 15. It was pretty awful. I thought: “If there is a God, then I’m not sure I like him very much, because why would all of this happen?” I pretty much lost my faith then, for the next 10 years or so.
Then I had my first daughter (Meganne) in 1998, and it was an epiphany moment – everything I felt had been taken away from me, I felt had been given back in this beautiful little girl. At the same time, Madonna brought out a song for her daughter, Lourdes, called Little Star. It was all about God giving her a gift from heaven, and the words were so fitting that it was the start of the journey back to faith. I decided I wanted Meganne christened, and took her to Christ Church in Little Lever, a United Reformed Church/Methodist partnership. I was made so welcome that I carried on going and it became a real part of my life.
I worked for Greater Manchester Police for 14 years, mainly as part of the major incident team where there was a lot of pain and hurt. People always turned to me as a natural counsellor, so I formalised this and got advanced diplomas in counselling and mentoring. I left the police when I had my daughter, and worked in various community and Christian chaplaincy roles before feeling passionately pulled towards working with young people. When I found this job with Oasis advertised, it seemed to be written for me, because it was about making a difference to young people, transforming communities, and it was in Salford, where I was born. It was like God had gone: “There you go; this is what I want you to do.”
I’ve been a chaplain for Oasis Academy Media City UK for a year, and I love it. I offer pastoral support to the students, staff and principal. I also do a lot of strategic work, working alongside local agencies and church leaders. I have established a church at the academy and have a team of 10 chaplaincy volunteers.
To me, chaplaincy is all sorts of things: it’s about helping the sports department at a rugby event, going down to the BBC studios with the kids for Blue Peter, having some fun with them and talking to them; it’s about going to the Lake District on their outward bound weekend and supporting them in being away from home. Chaplaincy is happening everywhere: in prisons, on the streets, in the hard-to-reach places, within school buildings.
My chaplaincy is for everyone, not just Christians. The chaplaincy room has reading material about different faiths, there’s an ablution for Muslim people to use the washing facilities before they pray, and I have a large number of contacts from other faiths that I can call upon if necessary. People of all faiths and of none are happy to speak with and pray with me. If people haven’t got a faith, they know that room is there for them to reflect in a way that is meaningful to them. It’s not about praying together – having said which, I offer prayer to every person that comes to see me and I’ve not had a single person say no – it’s not about religion, it’s about a living faith.
When our academy launches its programme for sixth form students this September, it will bring older teenagers and good potential role models. To have older students work with kids transitioning from primary school, whilst developing their CVs, will add another lovely dimension to my work.
Later this year, we will host interfaith sessions and learning days on peace, and I hope to recruit more student chaplains to further enrich the social, moral, spiritual and cultural aspects of academy and community life. I’d love more servant-hearted people who want to make a difference; also a volunteer coordinator, somebody to help me find funding and provide admin support. To volunteer, email me at Karen.Openshaw@oasismediacityuk.org.
Our school ethos is about hope, and I believe that with hope and perseverance, all can be equipped, empowered and enabled to achieve their God-given potential. It’s hard work, but I know I am doing what God wants me to do.
Karen Openshaw was talking to Charissa King
This article was published in the April 2013 edition of Reform.