1995 - 1997

After his ordination as a priest by the then Bishop of Stepney, the Right Reverend Richard Chartres, Allan Bell returned to North America. His objective was to visit and experience Christian communities and thereby to absorb and reflect on different ways of living and participating in all forms of rituals. On this ambitious journey of the spirit, Allan became increasingly interested in the connections between religious and aesthetic experience as expressed in, for example, silence and architectural space, reflection and landscape, religious disclosure and the revelation of all aspects of ‘the arts’.

Later, in taking up a two year post as Episcopal Chaplain at the University of California at Berkeley, Allan tried to integrate some of these developing notions into the expressions of his new role vis a vis the students, the Faculty, the outlying parishes and those who fall into none of these categories, the dispossessed and the unchurched.

At the Canterbury House Chaplaincy, Allan was responsible for the social, emotional and spiritual welfare of the residential students group which encompassed all the major faiths and many nationalities. His first task was to renovate the physical space of the house in accordance with what he felt were to be its functions. Working together with an interior designer and landscape gardener, Allan and his students created a garden with secluded corners for individual contemplation, silence and reflection as well as spaces for communal use. The dining area was reorganised and upgraded to celebrate the preparation and sharing of food which Allan felt should be a central feature of Chaplaincy life.

Of utmost importance was the development of a programme in which Allan sought to harmonise spiritual curiosity and experimentation; ‘the arts’ and personal development through the process of experiential learning.

Allan’s work with the Faculty involved engaging lunchtime speakers and liaising regularly with the chaplains of the other major world faiths at the university. High on the agenda was discussion of conflict between Islamic and Jewish students on campus. Questions of equality of access, spiritual and moral issues affecting students were also raised with the Administration.

In the parishes Allan fulfilled his priestly role, preaching the Gospel in the churches and involving himself in the lives of the people, especially at moments of celebration, suffering and loss. In addition, his ecumenical activities were extended by supporting a group of lay people who were exploring Benedictine spirituality in a radical way.

In his work for the marginalised, Allan helped in the planning and delivery of a two day workshop for the homeless, co-ordinated by the Chaplain for the Homeless. Sessions took place in two venues; a local Episcopal church and at People’s Park, an open space most intimately associated with Civil Rights protest in the Sixties. Jungian analysts led some sessions and ritual and music were used to explore feelings of alienation. The total package was special in that it brought together people with prestige in the locality and Faculty, homeless people, followers of different religious persuasions, and representatives of local government.

His experience represents a milestone which Allan, now living in West London, believes points onwards. He envisages a Centre, perhaps to be known as Centre for Silence, acknowledging the power of silence and the common roots in diverse world cultures, and which will embody the principles, practices and wisdom laid down during his journeys through Europe and North America and in his work at the Berkeley Chaplaincy.

On acquisition of a space and modest financial support for the project, Allan hopes to build up his work with people of diverse cultures both in London and in Europe, using the Arts to create understanding and spiritual strength, humility and tolerance, the foundations for a harmonious future.

The following list gives an indication of the range of ideas and activities initiated by the Revd. Allan Bell, while being the Episcopal Chaplain at the University of California at Berkeley.

This programme was further enriched by small groups of students preparing food that reflected their different cultures and customs.

Carl Randall
Mr. Kitazawa’s Noodle Bar, Tokyo