I started at North Nottinghamshire College as chaplain over four years ago now. It’s been a varied journey so far. Some things I expected of the job: talking to learners, helping to put on events and walking corridors smiling (a friend at the Diocese calls it “Holy hanging around”). But there have been some aspects that have taken me by surprise. This was brought home to me recently when a colleague knocked on my office door to return my plastic penis. Before you write to the Bishop, please let me explain.
Like lots of colleges, our mentoring service has a place where students are able to collect free condoms. The students have to be within a certain age bracket and they are only allowed eight a day (a day!). They also have to take part in a training session where a mentor makes sure they know what they are doing and how to use a condom properly.
I’m not allowed to do The Talk yet because I haven’t done the training (apparently having only two children after 17 years of marriage is not evidence enough), but I like to sit in and remind our learners that intimacy doesn’t always have to result in the need for a condom, and that “no” and “wait” are also options. I’m not sure it has any influence, but it makes me feel better, and I’d hope someone might suggest it to my teenager, too.
Part of the training involves putting a condom on a plastic penis, talking about lube and showing some pictures of scabs and sores. Hence, my colleague returned my plastic penis to my desk.
On any given day, there is a fairly steady stream of knocks at the door and students asking for condoms – most of them don’t seem particularly shy, but I know from talking to some of them that the first time they asked took some courage. Feel for the lad, then, that knocked on the door not long after I started as chaplain. Imagine the courage it took to knock in the first place, and the moment of hesitation when a vicar answered the door. But he was obviously feeling brave; he asked for a double ration of 16 condoms, as he was off on his first holiday abroad with his friends and he wanted to be safe.
I already had an overwhelming maternal warmth towards him, but he sealed it when he said: “And can I have some small-sized ones, please.” I gave him his little bag of gifts, extra lube and sent him on his way feeling quite emotional about the whole thing.
Some think our young people are irresponsible, and lacking in courage and maturity; a generation that have few morals and no concept of the consequences of their decisions. That might be true for some, but more than occasionally I’m reminded of what fabulous individuals many of our young people are. I know at 18, I wouldn’t have had the courage to ask for condoms from anyone, let alone a vicar. Although he left college a while ago I often think of that young man. I hope he had a fantastic holiday.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley