Friday, 21 June 2013

At St Chad's College Rector's Feast

Welcome to the St Chad’s College Rector’s Feast.

I’d like to join with the Principal and congratulate all of you for your outstanding achievements, not least in this year’s exam results.  It’s right to be celebrating success at this feast  as the year comes to an end. What I hope we all celebrate is success in the widest sense: the satisfaction of having travelled well for another year, having learned and grown in knowledge and our insight, deepened our relationships and enriched our lives.

This week, Palatinate is carrying a thought-provoking article ‘How to survive as a non-Christian at John’s’.  It speaks about our neighbours at St John’s being tucked in between ‘the supposed party animals at Cuth’s and the tiny semi-secret society that is Chad’s’. John’s people, says the author, seem to be the only ones who don’t seem to make much of an impression, reputation-wise, on the rest of the university apart from a vague sense of us being ‘religious types’.

John's people will no doubt be mulling over this intriguing piece. But what the article doesn't say is that Chad’s like John’s is a Christian foundation. As Rector, I don’t have many onerous jobs to do in the college: I give my name to this feast and attend all kinds of nice occasions dressed in this splendid gown.  But when I was invited to take up this honour as titular Head of House, it was as Dean in the Cathedral to help safeguard the historic Christian identity of this college. I hope we all do this in a way that is inclusive, generous and welcoming to everyone of all faiths and no faith at all.

But I also hope that even if you are not a religious person, you recognise the Christian values of our college. Here are some of them: a passion for justice, integrity in our collective and personal lives, collaboration in a trusting environment, the pursuit of truth not just academically but in all aspects of life; curiosity not simply about our own academic disciplines but everything; practising kindness, friendship and care; living out of courage, not fear. It’s about being not only clever and intelligent (which you all are), but humane and wise.  I like those words.

Every college has its USPs, its unique selling points.  But Chad’s are remarkable because they have a lot to do with those values and how we live them out.  Whatever they may think at St John’s about our being a ‘tiny semi-secret society’, perhaps it’s true that this is not a college that makes a big splash, even when we achieve spectacular results as we have done this year. We don’t need or want to parade our achievements. They speak for themselves in a way that is utterly convincing. There is a quiet pride in what we do, and even more, who we are.  I find this understated modesty is hugely attractive, somehow true to the ethos both of this northern city and of our Anglican founding fathers.

But I know that the passion is there. For example, you have been exercised lately about the new random allocation policy for admissions to Durham colleges and have asked that this be looked at again. I think you have gone about this in a way that does you credit: you want to preserve the values and ethos of the college, and to be fair to all who want to come here. I don’t know where this story will end, but you have had the courage to engage and provoke a debate. It’s much easier to be silent than to speak, as I found to my own cost recently when I wrote a blog about fascism and football and was amazed what hatred it drew down.

This is not a formal after-dinner speech, simply a few words of welcome to my Rector’s feast. So let me end by saying three things very simply: 

First, thank you for all that you put into this College.  Thank you if you are leaving, and thank you if you are returning. You receive a lot from your university education and from this college because you give a lot.  That needs recognising, and now is my chance to say so.

Second, for those of you whose days at Durham are drawing to a close: I hope you don’t dwell too much on the word ‘leaving’. These Durham years have been part of a lifelong journey: your learning, your personal development, your membership of a wonderful community, your friendships, many of which will last a lifetime.  This college is a permanent part of that journey. It won’t simply become a glowing memory. You can take people out of St Chad’s when the time comes, but you can never take St Chad’s out the men and women who make up its worldwide family.  I hope you’re as proud as I am to belong to it. 

Third, come back often: you will always be welcome. Stay connected as alumni.  Let me wish you the very best for the future, wherever life leads you.  And I am going to add, may God bless you always.

St Chad’s College, June 2013

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