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

Monday, 28 September 2015

Farewell at Durham: the Dean responds

First, and most important of all, a big thank you from Jenny and me for so much kindness and generosity: not just gifts to treasure, but for being at this service today. There are people here from all the places where we have lived and I have served in ministry, going back even to student and school days. I want tonight to pay tribute to all the places I have served as a priest: Oxford, Salisbury, Alnwick, Coventry, Sheffield and Durham. You have given so much friendship and encouragement and when I have needed it, forgiveness.
When you retire you hear a lot about ‘legacy’. ‘What are you most proud of from your time in Durham?’ I’m asked. I am proud of many things, but not for myself: it’s all the colleagues past and present who have brought energy and flair for us to do so much together. It’s not ‘I’ but ‘we’ in the plural.
For example. I am proud that we have nearly completed our great project ‘Open Treasure’ which will open next year. The exhibitions are a celebration of our North East Christian heritage, but they’re much more. By opening our doors to more visitors, and by telling our story, we are doing a serious piece of Christian mission and outreach. I am very proud that we admitted girls to the Cathedral choir in 2009. I am proud of arts projects like the Transfiguration Window which, like the music, enrich our spirituality so profoundly. I am proud that with the University and the County, we brought the Lindisfarne Gospels back to Durham in 2013. I am proud of Lumière, Durham’s great winter light festival in which the Cathedral plays a large part. I’m proud of the day to day ministry of this Cathedral in its worship, music and preaching, this community and its welcome to guests, its intellectual and spiritual contribution to this region.
I’ve also been asked: ‘what will you miss most?’ How do I begin to answer that in this place of gifts? This amazing building, our Deanery that has been such a happy home, the saints both living and departed who have been companions in faith and prayer. County Durham people are so warm, genuine and hospitable. And at the heart of it all is the Benedictine rhythm of prayer day in, day out. How shall I live without evensong, the psalms of the day, the evening canticles, the rhythms and cadences of the liturgy?
I have some particular thanks tonight:

the four diocesan Bishops I have worked with, two suffragans, their senior colleagues and to clergy and lay people across the diocese for their generous invitation to contribute to the life of this great diocese;
the Cathedral Chapter who have held to the highest standards in the oversight and leadership of this Cathedral and have been wonderful travelling companions;
our magnificent staff, committee members, volunteers and the Cathedral community itself who all love this place and give so much to it;
colleagues in the University and at St Chad’s where it has been a privilege to contribute to the academic life and governance of this great institution;
the Lords Lieutenant of our two counties (and for the honour of serving as a DL in this one), to civic leaders, and those in all sectors for so much friendship, encouragement and support;
those who support us through their financial giving;  without you we could never undertake what we aspire to do and to become;
the Chorister School where I’ve chaired the governors and have always been warmly welcome in that lovely community;
those who in personal and intimate ways have been there for us. You have enriched our lives and added to our happiness more that you know;
and my family. Jenny has travelled the whole journey with me; our children joined us on the way. I couldn’t have got to today without them.

Someone once said that cathedrals are ‘asylums for amiable gentlemen with indistinct convictions’. If that was ever true, it isn’t now. They stand for lively Christian faith in its profoundest aspects, lived out on the thresholds of church and world where disciples are made. These great places are flagships of worship and mission. You feel the force of religion here. I’ve learned in three cathedrals how vital it is that Cathedral and Diocese are in partnership as we bear witness to the kingdom of God. When the synergy is good, the opportunities are endless.   
Hensley Henson was Dean here one hundred years ago during the Great War. When he arrived at the station to leave Durham, as he thought for good, the station master recognised him and said goodbye ‘with much feeling’, says his diary. That Dean, a complex man beset by self-doubt, was moved by this show of affection and wondered if it was sincere. This Dean, not a stranger to self-doubt, is in no doubt at all about the love and affection we have found here. It has been outstanding, unforgettable. Thank you to Isaac, Lilian, Margaret and the Bishop for putting it into words that have touched us.
So: you are in our hearts as we cross the Tyne and go back to Northumberland. We’re still in North East England: far enough not to haunt the Cathedral; near enough to stay in touch. If you can’t stay in a medieval Deanery, the next best place to live is within sight of a level crossing with its comforting sound of trains. You know where we are. Thank you again. God be with you.

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