February 2019 - Rector's Ramblings

Long, long ago, when the world was young, I began my first three year course of study at university.  It was 1982, if you must ask. My subject was Law, and I was one of eight first-year lawyers in my particular college.   Separated in age by only fifteen months, we were, in descending order of seniority: Marcia, Rob, Nick, Sarah, Amanda, Jonathan, Andrew (me) and Natalie.

We were privileged in many ways, one of which was that our college had a designated Law Library: which was a leading reason why we had every chance to become a tightly-knit bunch. Ours was perhaps not a typical university experience. But I would have to say that nor was that small group of students ‘typical’. We had friendship. We formed a web of friendships which have been maintained and renewed down the thirty-six years that have followed, and we were identifiably a core group within the wider college, and to which other students from other faculties also formed attachment. Though I wasn’t the central enabler of that group, I kid myself not: we were blessed in being friends, and also in extending the bonds of friendship more widely still.

Friends are a blessing indeed. We can sometimes see how friendships might have arisen: shared experience, elation or suffering, is often the seedbed. Yet very rarely do we deserve them. They happen or not. For this reason, if no other, we should never fail to be grateful for friends, nor underestimate how they may have been of sustaining value to us.

‘The TV programme, ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ invites a participant who has reached a tricky question, to ‘phone a friend’. However, it is not simply when we need help, or material advantage, when we should be so minded to ‘phone a friend’.

On 15 January, I made the latest acquaintance of that student circle. The chances have popped up, again and again, steadily over the years. We may have shared in some of the key occasions of each other’s lives.   his, for the first time, was our gathering for a funeral of a dear contemporary. We are all getting older.

As the church slowly filled in the course of the hour before the service, I saw amongst the grieving assembly one after another of those original law students. Not one of them worked in legal practice any more, but still we knew ourselves as a group. Gathered from across a wide expanse of England, I found myself noting their arrival one by one, some of them with partners I had also known for many years. In the last few minutes before we began the service, Marcia spied me for the first time and came across in the aisle behind the pew in which I was sitting, and put her hands down on my shoulders as I reached back behind my head in acknowledgement and held her hands warmly. ‘Andy’, she said, ‘there’s seven of the eight lawyers here!’ I said, ‘I know. I’ve been counting’. Thirty-six years on. And still it mattered greatly.  

Friendship befalls us or friendship eludes us. But when it happens, it is an enormously meaningful thing. To be befriended, and to extend friendship, is a great privilege. It cannot be manufactured at will, but we were nevertheless encouraged in the autumn by a visiting speaker at St John the Baptist Church, to live in friendship wherever that is a choice. To be ready and willing not only to be that biblical ‘neighbour’ but also that generous and appreciative ‘friend’.   It’s a high ideal, but there is so much truth to be had in truly being a friend to the world.

In the third and final part of the trilogy, ‘Lord of the Rings’, the hobbit Frodo turns to his faithful retainer and heartfelt friend, Sam - with whom he had known good times and bad  -  and says … 
… "I am glad you are here with me. Here at the end of all things, Sam."

I felt that towards Marcia, Nick, Sarah, Amanda, Jonathan, Natalie; and Rob, who was prevented from being there.

Kind wishes, with your friends and your friendships, in your sadness and in your joy,  

Revd Andrew Doye

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