I’m no six-footer. If truth be told, I’m barely a five-footer. When I’m leading services at the crematorium, I stand on a box so that I can see over the lectern. When my friends lose me in a crowd, they have little hope of finding me. At a 1990s revival night (I know, sad isn’t it?), while The Wonder Stuff did their thing, my husband watched me disappear into the mosh pit and gave up all hope of locating me until the lights came on and we met, bleary-eyed, by the fire exit.
I struggle to be spotted. I know I’m diminutive, even though people seem to feel duty bound to point out: “You’re really short!” Perhaps that’s why when I attended the Pride festival in London last month, I found myself shoved to the front of the pack and proudly (see what I did there?) led the faith section of the march. It was the only way for me to be seen and, more importantly, for me to see.
A big part of the role of chaplain is standing with people. It’s a big part of being a parish priest, too: standing beside those who mourn at a funeral or those who rejoice at a wedding.
At college, I find myself literally and metaphorically standing alongside learners and staff at the most vulnerable moments of their lives. Everything from standing with our learners with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as they negotiate the lunch queue to standing with a learner as they wait in line at the sexual health clinic, from standing and admiring the artwork at the end-of-year show to standing with the new intake of students as they fill in their bursary forms.
And that’s not just the chaplain’s job. All of us who work in education are called on every day to stand alongside others – it’s one of the reason we got into education. God knows we didn’t do it for the money.
During the referendum campaign, there was talk of standing up for what we believed in. Now, post-result, when reported incidents of racist abuse have risen roughly 400 per cent, it’s even more important not only to stand up but also to stand with.
I read some advice recently about what to do if you saw someone being verbally abused. What it suggested wasn’t to argue with the perpetrator (this could risk your own safety) but to stand with the victim and talk to them. The power of standing up and standing with is not to be underestimated.
We talk about standing up and being counted for the things we believe in: we stand on picket lines and with colleagues on a march. We stand with those who feel scared, with those who feel alone, with the marginalised and the bullied. It’s now more important than ever, regardless of our politics, that we stand alongside colleagues and learners, no matter how tall or small we think we are.
Rev Kate Bottley is chaplain of North Nottinghamshire College @revkatebottley