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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in North East England. Retired parish priest, theological educator, cathedral precentor and dean.

Friday, 19 June 2015

A Toast to St Chad's: the Rector's Feast

The first thing I want to do tonight is to pay tribute to Dr Margaret Masson for her outstanding leadership of this college following the death of our Principal. We all owe her and her colleagues whom she has already paid tribute to a huge debt of thanks. Her wise, steady and inspirational presence are exactly what is needed at this demanding time. Margaret: we salute you. 

The last time I got up and spoke at a dinner in St Chad’s was at the Domus Dinner in March. I was sitting next to Joe Cassidy. The conversation was lively as it has always been at countless formals here. We talked quite about retirement, and he tried to persuade me to stay on as Rector here for a while after leaving the Cathedral. I laughed and said that this would be to break the rule of a lifetime. When you leave a place, you leave, I said. I also told him how much I liked his new portrait in this hall – one of the best, I think. I think he was proud of it.  

On my other side was an alumnus of the college who has been remarkably successful in his chosen profession. Nothing unusual in that, of course – it’s what we expect of Chadsians. We got talking about the college as it was in his day, and as it is now. He was full of praise for the way Chads has been led during the past decade and more. We agreed that Papa Joe needed to hear this. So we both paid tribute to him and the warm applause that followed showed that we had accurately judged the mood in the hall. Not long after that, he was dead. I shall always be glad that he lived long enough to hear not just the praise and admiration of all who were in the room but, I hope, the real affection of all whom we represented, that is to say, every generation of Chadsmen and women who owe so much to the way he touched our lives. I don’t often say that someone was ‘much-loved’ but it was true of Joe and continues to be.

This was coming through yesterday when I was privileged to join in part of the College Council’s strategy day. We had a fascinating discussion about what make this college what it is, what we cherish about it, what makes it distinctive among Durham’s colleges - the best indeed! - and what we believe its central purposes and values are. It’s important to do this work thoroughly as we think about what we look for in our next Principal. But it was clear yesterday how deeply Papa Joe had influenced the shape and character of this college. His name frequently came up in our discussions, not because we should or could look for another Joe, but because we wanted to distil from his era an enduring legacy as we look to the future. 

I have to say that I am full of admiration for the way St Chad’s has come together and forged ahead during this past term. Yes, of course the college has been grieving deeply in a time of sharp loss, and grief can’t be put away in a matter of a few days. There’s a Jewish saying about this. As you know, one of the marks of grief in Judaism was to rend your clothes as a sign that in some deep way, life has been torn apart. Someone asked a Rabbi whether, after a period of mourning, it was permitted to sow them up again and carry on wearing them. Yes, said the Rabbi, but the sown-up tear must always show. You mustn’t pretend it isn’t there, because even though life must go on, it’s never the same when someone you care about dies. 

St Chad’s has handled this really well. You have supported one another marvellously during a dark time. Life has gone on, the college is flourishing, our exam results are the best ever, and as I've said that’s a tribute not only to Joe's achievement but also to Dr Masson and her colleagues, all who share the leadership of the college. I want to include in that the three common rooms and their leaders. What I saw yesterday was a college that is in excellent spirits, vibrant, forward-looking, embracing a future that is filled with possibility and promise. I have been privileged to be a small part of that.

‘Have been…’ When Joe died, the Chair of the Council asked if I would stay on as Rector for a year even though I shall have left Durham. So this is not my final Rector’s Feast that I thought it would be. I am looking forward to being back during the coming year and to seeing you all again.  

Let me finally say three things. 

First, a thank you. Thank you for all that you put into this College.  Thank you if you are leaving, and thank you if you aren’t just yet. You receive so much from Chad’s because you give so much.  There is a wonderful loyalty among Chads people past and present. It has moved me to hear you speak about your love for this place and its community. It’s right to recognise it and applaud it.

Secondly, a thought for those of you whose days at Durham are drawing to a close. I hope you don’t dwell on the word ‘leaving’. What you have been given here is just a part of a journey: your learning, your personal development, the way your citizenship and your values have been shaped, maybe too, faith and friendships that will last a lifetime.  St Chad’s will always be a permanent part of that journey. You can take people out of Chad’s, but you can never take Chad’s out of the men and women who make up its worldwide family.  I hope you’re as proud as I am to belong to this great extended family.  I know you are. 

Thirdly, an invitation. 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 because this is a Christian foundation and we are allowed to speak in these ways, I am going to add, may God bless you and keep  you always.

Here’s to your future.  Here’s to the College’s future.  The toast is: ‘St Chad’s’. 

18 June 2015    

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