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Frequently Asked Questions

What can I come to? Do I have to be a Christian? What’s with the ‘Nighties’? Can I be baptised or confirmed? Why have I been asked to read in Chapel? and more...

What can I come to?

Johnians are welcome at absolutely anything – all services, social events and groups.  You may come as often or as little as you like and you may always bring guests.  Occasionally when space is limited, you may need to book but details are always in Chaplain’s News emails and on posters round college.

Do I have to be a Christian?

You don’t need to be a Christian to come into Chapel, nor to take part in any of the services.  Students of many faiths usually come to the Matriculation and Graduation Services as they are such a College experience and often like to bring guests to some of the big choral services.  If you are not a Christian, feel free to join in as little or as much of a service as you feel appropriate.  Joining in the prayers does not make you a Christian, though if you would like to know more about becoming a Christian and being baptised, please speak to the Chaplain.

What’s with the ‘Nighties’/Surplices?

At some choral services (weekends and feast days), Johnians are entitled to wear surplices, white gowns which look a bit like nighties.  In the sixteenth century there was a fierce debate about the wearing of surplices in Chapel but the right remained and the tradition continues to this day.  The Dean and Chaplain currently leave the choice to students and would not wish anyone to be deterred from coming to a service because of these older traditions.

Is there a dress code?

You are very welcome to wear your ordinary daily clothes, including shorts, T-shirts etc during summer, to Chapel services.  Our only request is that it should not be something that would distract or offend other members of the congregation.  University members are entitled to wear their gowns to choral services if they wish and at weekends or on feast-days Johnians may choose to wear a surplice (white gown – see above) instead.

Can I be baptised or confirmed?

If you would like to make a personal commitment to Christ and have not already been baptised (or christened), this can happen in College.  Similarly if you were baptised as a child and wish to be confirmed, there is a big service each May at which the Bishop is welcomed to baptise and confirm any students who desire it.  Typically students thinking about this are prepared in a group during Lent Term but do speak to the Chaplain at any stage in the year.  Baptism and confirmation are entirely free.  If you have been baptised or confirmed in the past but would like to renew your faith in some way, speak to the Chaplain.

Why have I been asked to read in Chapel?

Readings in Chapel are the responsibility of the College, not the Dean or Chaplain, and all students are invited to read, whatever their faith or lack of it.  Typically all undergraduates are asked to read once in their second year on a convenient date, unless they choose to opt out for a particular reason.  Graduate students and undergraduates from other years are invited at the start of each year to opt in to read if they wish.  Back in the early nineteenth century special prizes were established for the best undergraduate readers in College and those who read in their second year are eligible for the Wilson Reading Prize in the November of their final year.

Who’s the Chapel Breakfast for and how do I pay?

Chapel Breakfast is held in Hall every Sunday during term-time at about 9.15am.  It is open to all members of College and their guests who are attending one of the morning services that day.  Either come with the group directly from the 8.30am Communion or wait in Hall until the Dean or Chaplain arrives.  There is a choice of cooked breakfast, cereals and toast.  Chapel currently subsidises half the cost and the remainder is billed to your buttery card on a termly basis.

I’m not Church of England, can I receive Communion?

The Church of England extends the freedom to receive Communion (the consecrated bread and wine) to all Christians of good standing who would usually receive Communion in their own churches (Eucharistic hospitality).  If you have not been baptised or confirmed in your own church, you should simply ask for a blessing but you may want to think about being baptised or confirmed while you are here.  The leaders of other Christian denominations (e.g. Roman Catholic) may advise against receiving Communion in a Church of England chapel on historic grounds but the Dean and Chaplain leave this entirely to the personal decision of the individual student.

Can I come on a trip or to an event I’ve seen advertised, if I don’t come to Chapel?

Absolutely.  Often trips include a historic or cultural element which appeals to non-Chapel-goers or someone would like to be involved with something specific and this is fine – you will always be welcome.  Chaplain’s social events in particular are always aimed at the whole of College, not just those who go to Chapel.

How can I find out more about other churches or other faiths in Cambridge?

A lot of places now have good websites but please speak to the Chaplain for particular advice.  The Chaplain’s role is to support people wherever they worship and is always happy to make suggestions or introduce people to other students who already belong to a particular faith group.

Can I get married in Chapel?

Unlike a parish church, no one has an absolute right to be married in Chapel.  However, if a student wishes a Christian wedding or blessing ceremony to be conducted by the Dean or Chaplain in Chapel, College Council will usually give permission.  Typically permission is only granted to those in residence or for five years after graduation and in the case of a wedding, an Archbishop’s Licence must also be obtained.  In all cases speak to the Dean or Chaplain as early as possible and bear in mind that choice of dates is limited.

Can I make Confession or receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation?

The Chaplain is always happy to hear formal confessions or to speak in confidence about any matter by appointment.  The Church of England recognizes the value of sacramental confession or reconciliation for any who desire it, without feeling it is an absolute necessity for all.

Can I sing in the College Choir?

If you are already a student, then sadly the answer is no.  Choral students are selected by stringent audition process prior to being offered their places at St John’s.  However, there are a number of other opportunities for those who would like to sing, in particular the Compline Singers which rapidly learns an anthem each week and performs it the same night and the St John’s Singers which rehearses more slowly and sings at special services and in the Term Concert.  Other College Choirs operate to a different standard than St John’s and often advertise for singers in the first weeks of each term.