Supporting staff during times of crisis

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Reverend Dr Harriet Harris, the University Chaplain, and head of the Chaplaincy Service, shares insight on the importance and value of the Chaplaincy’s work during global emergencies and reflects on what it means to be a University of Sanctuary.

News of the escalating violence and loss of life in Israel and Palestine is deeply distressing, particularly for members of the University’s staff community with connections to the area.

The University Chaplaincy provides a centre of care and support for staff and students impacted by distressing global circumstances. Reverend Dr Harriet Harris has developed and leads the multi-faith and belief Chaplaincy team, the largest in a UK university, with more than 25 honorary chaplains from global faith and philosophical traditions. She was awarded an MBE in 2017 for Services to Multi-Faith Education and Community Cohesion and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 2021 for her innovative work in universities.

She explains: “The Chaplaincy, which is made up of a team of chaplains and support staff, as well as a wide team of honorary chaplains and belief contacts, provides a wide range of services. We offer pastoral support for all members of the University community – students, and staff, for people of all faiths and those with none.

“We provide dedicated one-to-one support, particularly through the listening service, if anyone wants to speak with a Chaplain on an individual basis. We have also made provisions for group support through a range of training aimed at giving people different resources that help them manage challenges so they can flourish at University.”

The Chaplaincy ran a project called A Light for Aleppo in 2016

Building connections

Dr Harris says staff who have been affected by recent events in the Middle East can connect with others in the same situation through the Chapaincy service.

“When there has been a crisis somewhere in the world, it is almost certainly going to impact members of the University,” she adds. “We offer gatherings for people who are affected – so that students and staff can share, connect with others who have been affected and talk in a quiet, supportive and welcoming space.

“Right now, we are seeing huge amounts of grief, fear, rage, distrust, loss of friendship, and loss of a sense of safety, in University members from, or connected to, Israel and Palestine. We are holding an array of gatherings that are helping students and staff to find their people, connect with one another, and also to get the support and the hearing that they need from us and from the wider University. These gatherings have the benefit of creating an important space for stories to be shared and information and support to be sought, which is incredibly powerful.”

Israa Al Dabbas (right), 16, originally from Ghouta near Damascus, receives tuition from volunteer student Estifa’a Zaidat, at Edinburgh University Photograph by UNHCR/Claire Thomas

A global outlook

Dr Harris speaks of the Chaplaincy’s work with the Global Community team which coordinates the University’s response to global emergency and situation responses.

“We have a vision for the University that asks for consideration about what kind of community we want to be in the 21st century,” she says. “This includes our global outlook and also how we can support mental health amongst our community. Finally, of course, we provide faith and belief expertise and guidance.

“The Chaplaincy also offers its support and concern for social justice. Since 2017, when the University became the first in Scotland to be accredited as a University of Sanctuary, we have sought to promote a welcoming culture throughout the wider community, particularly for those seeking sanctuary during distressing global emergencies. We work closely with the Global Community team including advocacy, coordinating support and guidance and bringing our community together.”

Find out more

University staff can get in touch with the Chaplain service at any time by emailing or

Supporting staff and students impacted by distressing global circumstances

The University Listening Service