From the Latin for “nourishing mother,” one’s alma mater is the school, college, or university where they once studied …
I spent this morning with the students at Queen’s College. Invited by the Provost, Dr. Rick Singleton, I was asked to lead a “liturgical practicum” in how we give leadership in worship and also about the relationship between the clergy and the bishop in matters of liturgy. It was a great morning for me and I very much enjoyed the stimulation of being in a classroom once again and sharing my knowledge with the students while at the same time being encouraged by their questions. Among other things, we talked about liturgical change and how it might best be managed pastorally for all who are affected. The students, and the faculty members who sat in for the conversation, were a great community to be with and I left at noon feeling refreshed and invigorated.
My personal relationship with Queen's College goes back to 1980 when, as a young 17-year-old, I moved into Feild Hall – one of three residences of Queens College in its day – the others being Spencer Hall and the Main Building. My stay at Feild Hall would last five years and embrace my entire undergraduate program and half of my theological program. Even before I went to Queen’s, two of my brothers stayed there in the 1960s and 1970s and when I made Queen’s College my home my mother joked about owning a small part of the place, considering that three of her sons lived there. My family history of Queen’s College is but a tiny part of a far greater and richer history of Queen’s College in the life of the Anglican Church in Newfoundland and Labrador dating all the way back to 1841 when our first resident bishop, Aubrey George Spencer, created a new place of theological learning called “The Theological Institute.” It was later renamed “Queen’s College” by his successor, Edward Feild, inspired by Queen Victoria and his own alma mater in Oxford.
Thirty-one years ago I left Queen’s College to be ordained for my first parish posting in Labrador. It has been quite a journey since then for me, with many blessings and surprises along the way. That is true in my own journey of faith and also true for the corporate journey of Queen’s College. The college I departed three decades ago looks quite different today: it is far more ecumenical, much less residential, and responsive to educational needs around the world. Just as my journey has been one of change and transformation, so too has the journey of Queen’s College. It is good to see the college responding so well to the challenges of theological education today.
Looking back over my life and ministry, I am aware of the many ways I was formed to work in the church. Much of that formation happened in my childhood and adolescence, growing up in a home that placed great value on Christian faith and service, and I was also blessed with dedicated and keen priests in my home parishes. At an early age I knew what it was to serve God as a priest because I saw priests at work in the church and in the community. Queen’s College played a vital part in shaping those memories effectively and bringing my knowledge to a new level. Today, more than three decades after graduating from Queen’s I remain a child of the place and for that I am grateful. I believe it was Billy Graham who once counseled a young person eager to begin ministry to take the time necessary for preparation and learning. According to Billy Graham, such a period of education was akin to a lumberjack taking the time to sharpen his tools at the start of every day. Queen’s College, I have found, is a place where Christian faith is deepened, pastoral skills are nurtured, and many tools for ministry are sharpened.
I am grateful for my morning at Queen’s College. But I am most grateful for the continuing influence of this great institution in my life. In a life filled with blessings I count Queen’s College among my greatest. My college has now served the people of Newfoundland and Labrador and far beyond Newfoundland and Labrador for 177 years and may it continue to serve for many years to come. I end with that old prayer known to generations of graduates, and first written by Bishop Edward Feild in the 1840s:
May the Queen’s College in Newfoundland be the honored, though humble, instrument of promoting learning and loyalty, charity and piety, duty to God and man. And let the Lord our God be upon us: and establish Thou the work of our hands upon us. Yea, the work of our hands establish Thou it.