Rob Jameson, 33, is a volunteer with the YMCA chaplaincy team and has been working at YMCA Surbiton and YMCA Wimbledon one day a week. He is studying theology with Spurgeon’s College in London and the volunteering is part of his Chaplaincy module.
Rob helps Jonathan Melville-Thomas, the resident Chaplain at YMCA Wimbledon with the Down with the Donuts group, which takes place from lunchtime on a Monday. It’s a group where residents at YMCA Wimbledon can talk about mental health issues, specifically anxiety and depression. “We often talk about things that happen in the news… or, for example we watched the ‘Black Dog’ video and talked afterwards about dealing with depression.”
After his session at YMCA Wimbledon, Rob heads over to YMCA Surbiton where he joins Chaplain Jacky Bone and her team for activities at the hostel. Supporting residents to get back on their feet is rewarding says Rob: “It’s very different leading an Alpha course at church to leading one at YMCA Surbiton because of the people involved. It’s challenging but it’s also refreshing. There’s no polite Christianity, people have real issues that they need to discuss.”
Rob studied medicine and is a GP but started to question if he wanted to work full time as a doctor. He says: “I didn’t know if it was what God wanted me to do for the rest of my life. So I worked part time and spent time just reading, praying and thinking. I went on a course about ‘Calling’ to try and work out my next step.”
Working out the balance
Alongside a career in medicine, Rob wanted to explore his options and did some volunteering with the Street Pastors and leading small group bible studies. “I ended up going to Spurgeon’s College to get a good grounding. Although I’m attached to a church as a minister in training, I’m not following the ordination pathway. I don’t quite know the balance yet between medical work and church work when I finish,” he says.
Rob grew up in a Christian family and at times he feels he was more career orientated than God orientated, but his faith has always been a big part of his life. And his life has been far from orthodox. His parents were called to be missionaries in Peru when Rob was 8 years old. “They took me and my three brothers (all under the age of 10) with them. So from the age of 8 till 18 I lived in Peru. I did all my schooling there and moved back to the UK to go to medical school in Southampton.”
What have been the most difficult aspects of volunteering as a chaplain? “When I first started I struggled when people moved on; the temporary nature of the hostels. They found somewhere to live and just left. You’re often left wondering how they are! What’s more frustrating is that there are over 100 people in the hostel and we only deal with a handful of people. Do you go and knock on people’s doors? Getting people to engage is hard.”
Rob has learnt a lot about himself during his time with YMCA; how he likes dealing with everyday issues; discovering his confidence in talking with difficult people; and fitting in with the team as a regular face that residents trust. “I do think the role of the chaplain is not promoted enough, it’s not mentioned much in church. It has been really enjoyable, and opened my eyes – plus the whole team are great to work with!”