Category Archives: Lectures, Talks & Sermons

PERSPECTIVES: Generation Snowflake?

 

The first in the series of ‘Perspectives’ talks at St Chad’s College took place on Monday 16th October at 6:30pm. The ‘Perspectives’ series which brings together a wide range of academics from Durham University is St Chad’s College’s very own pioneering interdisciplinary college module. For this first event, a panel of students and researchers came together to discuss the incredibly topical issue of millennials, the ‘snowflake’ generation, notoriously (and perhaps unjustifiably) known for their wayward ideals and expectations. The evening was introduced by College Principal, Dr Margaret Masson and Vice Principal, Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, who both emphasised the importance of inter-disciplinary and even inter-generational learning and scholarship at Durham. Encouraging students to make the most out of the resources at both St Chad’s and the wider university, they also introduced the notion of the ‘snowflake generation’, which has been recently defined as millennials who are generally more prone to taking offence and less resilient to difference in attitudes and ideas than previous generations.

First up to speak about this issue was Durham Students’ Union’s very own President, Megan Croll. Megan gave a personal insight into the issues and challenges that she faces and helps people with in her role as a student leader. These included issues such as the rise of social media in connecting individuals, as well as the ability of our ‘digital age’ to give us far more choice over who we engage and interact with, citing dating apps such as Tinder as positive ways to identify shared interests. Megan also outlined the heightened level of pressure that students are now being put under to achieve more than previous generations, and claimed that this might be responsible for fuelling the ambitions of students to go further than their predecessors.

Second to speak was Dr Benedict Anderson who is an Assistant Professor in the Law School. Dr Anderson defined a snowflake as a ‘unique item that melts under pressure’, and argued that this can apply to a wide range of people when faced with challenging situations. He also outlined the sketchy area between intention and offence, citing how it might be possible to unconsciously cause offence due to differences in outlook and ideology.

Final to speak was Becca Dean, a youth worker and PhD researcher in the School of Applied Social Sciences. Becca introduced three broad ideas that attempt to explain the effects of the current generation’s excessive use of social media. Firstly, Becca introduced the concept of ‘Elkind’s Personal Fable’, which attempts to explain how self-curation is often imagined as a social act, where our appearance becomes a symbolic representation of who we are. Secondly, Becca unpacked Erikson’s Stages of Development, explaining how our sense of ‘self’ coordinates and changes the way in which we relate with others, creating communities that systematically include and exclude others. Finally, Becca used the research of Caitlin Moran to explain how the internet, still in its relative infancy, is like a teenager; a “new-founded liberal city that failed to install a sheriff” and was consequently a little wayward in its behaviour.

The first Perspectives event was standing room only or bring your own chair!

The audience were very receptive to these ideas, taking the opportunity after the introductory speeches to break into small clusters and explore the issues at stake. This was followed by a more informal networking opportunity to find out more about the experiences, insights and research of the speakers. The next talk in the series takes place on Monday, 30th October at 18.30, where the topic will be the very relevant issue of the future of meat and the ethical issues that surround its consumption.

Sermon by Dr Masson at the installation of The Revd David Rushton as College Chaplain

Licensing of David Rushton as our New Chad’s Chaplain

11th October, 2017

Sermon by Margaret Masson, Principal

Readings: Job 28: 12 – 28; Ephesians 3: 14 – 21

David, you are well and truly installed – Chad’s/C of E doesn’t do these things by halves!

Thank you, Bishop David for being with us to do the licensing.

David, hope you also feel well and truly welcome – great joy to celebrate with you as you begin your ministry amongst us.

Already, you feel very much a part of our community – we’re very happy to have you.  A warm welcome also to your parents, friends, members of our college community – everyone here this evening

I’d also like to thank Ashley – not only for putting this service together,  but for all you have given  us during your eight years )plus one acting) as chaplain. Thank you!

Already, this is quite a long service; so I plan to speak fairly briefly; but I do want to take this chance to reflect on what we’re doing here tonight.

Why are we installing a chaplain?  In these times when religion is often such a contested, problematic space, why does it matter to us to have a chaplain?  What are we hoping for from David’s ministry amongst us?

Whole books have been devoted to role of chaplaincy, but tonight, I want to suggest three things that I think, hope, pray that this chaplain will bring to this community.

  1. Job 28 – a reading suggested by David – is all about Wisdom. It’s a wonderful passage.

It aims to awaken our imaginations (it’s pure poetry) to the beauty and importance of wisdom:

  • “it cannot be valued in the gold of Ophir, in precious onyx or sapphire, its price is above pearls, it cannot be compared with the topaz of Ethiopia…”

It’s very very precious

Wisdom is also portrayed here as very elusive…where do you find it? Often hidden, concealed, not obvious: wisdom is not just common sense

In these verses, wisdom demands a certain humility as we seek it out:  an awareness of our own human limitedness, our fundamental dependence on God – who is characterised here as the source of all wisdom.

 

I hope here at St Chad’s, Wisdom – however we conceive it – is part of what all of us are here to learn.

It’s part of what a chaplain is here to nurture, even provoke us towards.

 

So, David, we look to you to help us in our search for Wisdom (no pressure), and to do this, you will need to listen to us, to be catalyst for reflection, to bring us perspective when we most need it, to be a person of integrity, someone who will do your best to speak truth to us – even when we may not want to hear it!  As individuals, as a college, we hope that amidst all the busyness, the sometimes conflicting, confusing experiences of our lives, that you will challenge us to search for, even help us to find, wisdom.

 

  1. Our second reading this evening is about an even more fundamental human longing – Love – and again, it’s a wonderful, poetic, lyrical text which is tumbling over itself as it strains to express the sheer riches and abundance of the Love that is ours in God. It talks about being rooted and grounded in love, having the power to comprehend the breadth, the length, the height, the depth of God’s love, of knowing the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, of being filled with all the fullness of God… In these short verses, there are so many images of abundance, overflowing; these are words alive with the sense of the power and possibility of that love.

This is not the kind of cotton wool candyfloss love that bears fruit in entitlement or narcissism or the brittle fragility of self-delusion that shrinks from difficulty or challenge. It’s the kind of love that sees us – and helps us to see ourselves – as we are, warts and all, and loves us – unconditionally, overwhelmingly, anyway.

 

One of the things that I think characterises the Chad’s community – when it is being its best self – is the way in which it gives each of us a sense of being valued, being loved in this kind of honest, unflinching, uncompromising, wonderful and usually costly way.

Non vestra sed vos – not for what you have, not for how intelligent or beautiful or rich you happen to be – but for you yourself, just as you are.

 

David, part of your role as chaplain is to nurture this love – and I know you will – as you are present with us – in the dining room, the kitchens, our common rooms, the bar, the sports field, here in chapel…reminding us not just in your words, but in your presence with us, of this sometimes troubling but ultimately redeeming truth: we are loved, infinitely precious. And so is everyone else in this college, this University, this City – this planet.

 

  1. Which leads me on to the third thing I’d like to say this evening.

As well as searching for Wisdom, as well as grasping that we are loved, David, we’d also like you to help us be a generous community of inclusion, place of radical hospitality.

A chaplain is for everyone – and I know David believes this very deeply –

not just for those who come to chapel – not just for students of this college, but

for each and every member – Porter or Principal, for the newest fresher and the oldest alumnus, for each staff member, tutor, SCR member, for each and every student whatever their faith or belief.

This is not just my vision; it’s not just the vision of this chaplain or this college, but it’s deeply in the DNA of the Anglican faith which inspired the founding of St Chad’s College.  It’s what inspires our commitment to social justice, the way we value community.

 

And a key part of this vision is that it does not stop with us:

David is Chaplain and Outreach officer – we were reminded again at the Engaged and Inspired lecture in the Cathedral on Thursday that this College was founded so that people who could not afford it on their own would not miss out on being able to fulfil their vocation. In those days, it was vocation to the priesthood; today, it is about the vocation to study the whole range of academic subjects.

 

So our challenge is: how do we as Chad’s today live out this commitment to inclusion, to justice?  This is for each of us to work out personally, as well as for us as a College to respond to in each new generation.

David, we want you to encourage us in this, whether it’s in how we treat each other day by day, or through our volunteering, our admissions work, our Widening participation with schools, our Research, our choir outreach, our prayers, or in countless other ways.

 

David, we’re so happy to have you with us as our chaplain.  As you minister amongst us in the years that we hope are to come,  help us to share whatever wisdom, whatever love, whatever sense of possibility and hospitality we learn here – not just amongst ourselves, but also far beyond this place and long after this time.

 

In the name of the father and of the son and of the holy spirit Amen.

St Chad’s hosts termly Question Time

St Chad’s College hosted its termly ‘Question Time’ evening on Thursday, 24th November.

Styled on the BBC’s Question Time programme, Conor Fegan took over David Dimbleby’s role as chairperson. Conor introduced each panellist, a cross-representation of the common rooms. These included the SCR’s Baroness Maeve Sherlock, and the JCR’s Michael Aspin, Dom Birch, Jess Frieze, and Josh Barker.

Throughout the evening, panellists were quizzed on a range of issues. The provision of port and cream-crackers got the audience’s creative juices flowing!

On a second EU referendum, the panel argued in favour of popular sovereignty, although there was also an acknowledgement that it’s going to take more than two years to negotiate Brexit.

Addressing whether the election of Donald Trump in America signals that we are living in a post-factual age, Josh urged the audience to “debate” views which seemed to be different from theirs. Baroness Sherlock argued that we must have “mechanism to distinguish” between fact and fiction, whilst Michael defended pluralism and democracy. Dom spoke about the emotions involved in politics and Jess said it’s wrong to simply shout back.

On the issue of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the panel agreed that a healthy democracy requires an effective opposition.

The evening provided a thoughtful, intellectual, and dynamic dialogue. We wait to see what next term’s event holds in store.

Perspectives 28/11: Is Democracy working?

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Perspectives last week was on a really interesting and vitally relevant topic. We all know the famous Churchill quote, ‘democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried’; to be honest, I think our political system is something we tend to take for granted. All the more relevant as the final Perspectives event of the term, considering recent events – it is too easy to simply assume this system is the norm and is faultless because it is the only one we have ever been exposed to.

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Professor Fred Robinson

Chad’s hosted Professor Fred Robinson (Professorial Fellow of St Chad’s College), Dr Anna Rowlands (Theology and Religion), and Lily Botrous (Alexandria School of Theology, Egypt), who put forward their very interesting views on the question of democracy – Prof. Robinson and Dr. Rowlands focussed mainly on Brexit, while Ms. Botrous talked about the Arab Spring. In classic form, after their thought-provoking talks, we broke off into small groups, with discussions ranging from the virtues and vices of political correctness to the problem with modern voting systems to how politics is all too often boiled down to basic ideas and ideologies. Some really stimulating discussion, which certainly left us with a lot to think about.

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Lily Botrous

All in all, a very successful evening, and a great relief from the summative stress which tends to drown students in the last few weeks of term. I hope that next term’s lectures are as thought-provoking as the fantastic schedule put together already this year.

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Dr Anna Rowlands addresses attendees

Perspectives – Can we trust our Technology?

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The third in our College Series: Perspectives was held on Monday night. Despite the inset of summative season the session was well attended, by a range of individuals from both JCR and MCR.

Following an introduction by Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan the three speakers each laid out their point of view on the question of how far we can trust technology. First up was Dr Toby Breckon (Engineering and Computing Sciences), who argued that we could trust technology because it can only do that which it is taught or programmed to do by human designers. He also emphasized the power of consumers to pressure manufacturers to make trustworthy technology, by voting with their wallets.

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Dr Toby Breckon speaking to MCR and JCR members in the quad

Next was James Page (School of Government and International Affairs) who talked about the ethics and practicalities of drone warfare, and suggested that they are more accurate than human operated aircrafts.

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Dr James Page

Finally Dr Ladan Cockshut (School of Computing, Teesside University) talked about the increase in interest in AI, humanoid robotics, transhumanism in the mainstream media (movies, TV) over the past few decades, and about how our use of social media might change the ways in which we view ourselves, and our relationships with others.

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Dr Lagan Cockshut

 

Attendees then formed groups for discussion before returning to a final overall summary of the thoughts from the evening. One particularly interesting outcome the following day was the discovery of one student that her experiment of leaving Facebook open (with microphone access permissions) on her phone throughout the discussion might well have influenced the advertising she received the following day, with recommendations for AI films appearing on her Facebook.

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Perspectives: Are we living in a post-gender age?

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This Monday’s Perspectives evening kicked off with a fantastic turnout once again, with a diverse range of academics and researchers at the ready to speak about their disciplinary or personal take on whether we are living in a post gender age.

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An introduction to the evening from Dr Masson began proceedings

 

The first speaker, Dr Gillian Campling, kicked off the evening talking about biological sex, posing the question that if we could achieve a post-gender society, could we ignore human genetic make-up?

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Dr Gillian Campling

The next speaker was one of our very own postgrad students, Hannah Earnshaw. They gave an eye opening account of their personal experience about coming out as agender, which challenged the audience to think beyond the binary. This account stimulated open discussions within small groups about current societal positions towards gender.

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PhD student Hannah Earnshaw

The final speaker, Professor Robert Song, talked about the traditional view of man and woman in the Bible, adding to the diversity of the evening. This was followed by a short, but thought-triggering discussion session, aided by cheese and wine.

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Professor Robert Song

The talk was particularly relevant in college as at the JCR meeting the day before, the constitution was changed to recognise students of all gender and none. All in all, it was a really engaging evening, throwing new light on an incredibly relevant issue for today’s students.

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Perspectives: Safe Spaces

Headed by Dr Eleanor Spencer-Regan, the new Senior Tutor, St Chad’s’ new college module “Perspectives” was successfully kicked off on Monday night, with a fascinating discussion on ‘Safe Spaces’. Over 100 Chadsians were joined in the Cassidy Quad by several visiting academics: Dr Mark McCormack, Dr Sara Uckelman and Dr Ben Douglas. Dr Douglas gave a brief talk on the legalities of freedom of speech, followed by Dr McCormack and Dr Uckelman offering their opinions on the issue, specifically regarding the right to offend, “trigger warnings” and the practicalities of safe spaces.

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Dr Masson introduces the talks.

Having heard these views, we were encouraged to share our thoughts with those around us and to engage with each other’s opinions. It was really interesting; a chance not only to listen to perspectives you might normally disagree with, but also to discover why people held those beliefs.

The evening was a great success; what struck me the most was that in true Chad’s style everyone gave each other a fair hearing, everyone was respectful, and there was no bitterness or acrimony whatsoever. I’ve only been at Chad’s for two weeks, but Monday made me proud to be a Chadsian; I look forward to attending more Perspectives talks in the future.

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Cheese and wine helped make the evening a great success.

Sermon on the installation of Dr Margaret Masson as Principal

[Readings: Ecclesiasticus 3.17‐24; 1 Corinthians 12.4‐20]

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

What a privilege it is to be here today to mark the installation of Margaret Masson as Principal of St Chad’s. Margaret is a dear friend and I am thrilled that she has become the Principal of a College I love very much. And to mark this in one of my favourite buildings in all the world, is a joy.

And it’s wonderful to see so many generations of Chadsians represented here, as well as friends and well‐wishers from across the university and beyond. And Margaret’s friends and family have come here from the very north of Scotland to the South of England and even from the United States.

But why? Why does this matter enough for people to come so far? And for that matter, why have an installation service at all? The last time I got a job running a charity, nobody invited me to come to the cathedral and have a bishop introduce me and the Chair of the Trustees install me. So why today? Well, I think it is because to take up the principalship of a Durham college is not just to get a job. It is to step up and declare your willingness to lead a community. A multigenerational community of learning, as Margaret has described St Chad’s. And the Durham students I talk to love the collegiate system precisely because they feel members of a community rather than customers of an institution.

I think the best communities have some things in common

  • They are places of growth
  • Places of transformation, or transfiguration, as Margaret expressed so beautifully in her Chad’s Day sermon this year
  • Placesofdiscernment
  • But also places of challenge
  • Perhaps most of all, they are places where the whole is more than the sum of its parts, where together a group can achieve things, indeed, can dream things that would be beyond the scope of its individual members.

That takes us right to the heart of the Bible passage just read to us by Brother John who, as the Guardian of the Anglican Franciscan community up the road in Alnmouth, knows a thing or two about community.

The passage John read to us is from a letter from St Paul to the church he had founded in Corinth, written about 20 years after the death of Jesus. He was writing to encourage them and to help them better understand themselves as a community. Remember, says Paul, that you all have different gifts, different things to offer. And crucially, you need them all. On one level, that sounds obvious. And yet it’s strangely hard to accept. For a start, it requires me to be properly aware of my own gifts and limitations. That is what true humility is about. The first reading from Ecclesiasticus is one that is familiar to anyone who has been to a Chad’s Day service. St Chad, of course, was famously humble, ending up as a bishop, through no desire of his own. But he was willing to serve once called and quick to stand down when challenged. Humility is about recognising that I don’t have all the answers, still less all the gifts the world or even the college needs. But it is also about recognising that I do have some gifts that others don’t have and that if our community needs them, then I should be willing to step forward and offer them.

And St Paul reminds us is that we need all of these gifts for us to flourish. Perhaps that is what a real community is: a place where we learn to recognize gifts in ourselves and each other and to create a space where those gifts can grow and the community can flourish as the individuals within it learn to grow and flourish. But as Paul says:

If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?

If everyone in Chad’s were a rower, we wouldn’t do so well in hockey matches. And if we all want leading roles in Green Door Productions, who’s going to do the lighting and the publicity? And that’s true of everything in Chad’s. If all our staff were administrators, who would clean the College and notice when a struggling student hadn’t got out of bed for a couple of days? But if all the staff were cleaners, who would run services in the chapel, or do the books or cook the food? This body needs the full range of functions:

  • cleaners and cooks,
  • maintenance staff and tutors,
  • managers and administrators
  • rowers and hockey players
  • JCR, MCR and SCR
  • A chaplain, a bursar and a Senior Tutor.
  • Governors and Fellows,
  • Donors and alumni.
  • And a Principal.

It takes all of us to make a community. And we need to learn to value each of these functions properly.Back when Paul was writing his letter, society was organized on two levels: there was the oikos (the family or household) and the polis (the city‐state/civic space). The theologian Luke Bretherton describes the early church as an unusual ‘Third space’, something radically different: a space where the rules didn’t apply, where rich and poor, men and women, Greeks and Jews, slaves and free could mix and, crucially, where all were valued as brothers and sisters in Christ, rather than being valued for wealth or their status in society. Or, to put it another way: non vestra sed vos. Not what you have but you yourself.

The Chad’s motto underscores this image of community: as a place where we learn to value one another for who we are, not what we have, or where we’ve come from or who our families are. But there is evidence that one reason Paul wrote to the Church in Corinth to emphasise the importance of diversity was because gifts held by higher status people were being more highly valued than others. So acceptance of diverse roles is not enough: we are to value each equally. A much harder challenge but perhaps not surprising coming from an early follower of the God who could have come to earth in any form but chose not to be a king or a celebrity but an uneducated Palestinian Jew from a region of known troublemakers.

What else can we learn from the New Testament model of community? Well, the early church was charged with being a community which existed not just to advance its members, but to focus outside itself: to worship God and reach out to serve others, particularly those whom society rejected. One of the many things I love about Chad’s is its commitment to social justice. Indeed, the fact that I am in Durham goes back to the time when I was Chief Executive of the Refugee Council and Margaret invited me to come to Durham to speak about our work with refugees. I was made a Fellow of St Chad’s by the then Principal, Joe Cassidy, and within a few months I was living in College for a year doing a Masters at the University and Durham is now my home.

Finally, the New Testament vision of community was also a space where people could learn from each other. It was a human scale community where people had disputes, made mistakes and generally messed things up. Much as we do today. We would all do well to recall the helpful advice about living in community: the secret is not to pretend that other people aren’t annoying, but to assume that you are too. In a good community, we can all learn from our own failings and those of others. We are allowed to fail well as well as to succeed well, and to learn from both. During a business course some years I was told a story about a young graduate who landed his dream job in a business where he was put in charge of launching a new project. It started well but then somehow it got out of control and all went wrong and he had to go and tell his boss that his new project had racked up losses of £ 1million. There was a long silence and then the young man said: ‘Are you going to fire me?’ ‘Fire you?’ answered his boss. ‘I’ve just spent a million pounds on your education…’

The early church was a community which had more than its fair share of challenges but it also found time for celebration and mega-formals. Or feasts, as they may have called them. My hope for Chad’s is similar: that it will be a scholarly community which also navigates the tricky issues that abound at the moment – such as freedom of speech; or issues of sex and gender ‐ but also that it will never forget the importance of celebrating together, in formals, at Candlemas and above all on Chads’ Day. That it will be a place which enables students to thrive academically while also celebrating the joy of being human, of kindness, of care for each other. A community which resists the trend towards the instrumental in education and the tendency to commodify relationships. The tutorial system is a nice example of the reverse of that: our tutors give freely of their time and gifts to support and walk with students during their years in Chad’s. But as someone who served for years as a tutor, I gained far more than I gave. And I am profoundly grateful to all the tutees who trusted me with their joys and troubles, successes and challenges and taught me so much in the process.

And that’s one of the many reasons I love Chad’s. Not just out of a blind loyalty and conviction it’s the best college in Durham. (Even if I secretly think it is.) But because of the all the kindnesses I have been shown and the things I have learned from members of this community. A good community reminds us regularly of what life is really about. For me, it’s all about love: we are here to love God and each other, to try to love our enemies as well as our friends, to remember to love the marginalised as well as those society regards as successful. If only because we have finally worked out that we need each other in order to flourish.

So there it is: St Chad’s College is called to be a place of academic excellence but also a community of kindness and justice – and fun. It exists to enable its students to learn and grow into the people they ‐ you ‐ are meant to be. And then to go out there and change the world. But that requires leadership.

We were very blessed in our last Principal, Joe Cassidy, or Papa Joe who was much loved in Chad’s. But we are equally blessed in our new Principal:

  • who is a woman of acute intelligence and insight
  • someone of vision and wisdom
  • who leads by inspiring and enabling others
  • who has held the heart of this community for a long time
  • who knows each and every one of you Chadsians and loves you anyway.
  • who has stepped up and pledged to put her considerable gifts at the service of this College, atour service.

Margaret, we thank you and we look forward to journeying with you. May God bless you and St Chad’s College in the years ahead.

Amen

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