Thursday, June 23, I left for a three week trip. Tom Merrill, one of my parishioners, drove me to the Birmingham airport where I got the ground shuttle for a trip to the Atlanta airport. From Atlanta I flew to London Heathrow. From Heathrow I took the British Rail link to Paddington station, and from there I took the Tube to King's Cross. By running I barely made the 1 pm train to Edinburgh which was absolutely packed. I jumped into a first class car and dragged my suitcase 2 or 3 cars forward until I found 2nd class. There were no seats at all in the first 2 or 3 2nd class cars I went through. Finally, I found a seat at one of the tables. Dripping with sweat I sat down next to the windows. I'm sure I was not a pleasant travel companion for the other 3 guys at the table. I got to Edinburgh around 6 pm, just in time to jump on a train for Leuchars. From Leuchars I took a taxi several miles to St. Andrews. All in all, it took about 26 hours of constant travel to get from my home in Birmingham to St. Andrews.
I'm in St. Andrews for a reunion, of sorts. It's the 600th anniversary of the university, but it's not an official reunion year for people who received their degrees in 1990 as I did. But because I could piggy back on my clergy group's trip to Israel and Italy, I decided to go.
Actually, in 1411, Bishop Wardlaw of St. Andrews authorized the formation of the university, but it wasn't official until 1413 when Pope Boniface XIII gave it his imprimatur. But then Boniface was an Avignon pope, so I'm not sure his imprimatur counts! The reason for the foundation of St. Andrews is that the Scots supported the Avignon popes, but the English supported the Roman papacy. So the English prevented the Scots from sending their young men to study for the priesthood in France, and the Scots had to found their own university. "How these Christians love each other..."
They housed those of us going to the reunion in David Russell Hall which is about a 15 minute walk from the center of town. The accommodations are pretty good, though. The first night I thought I'd walk into town, and even took a shower and changed clothes, but by then I was just too tired to move and went to bed.
The next morning I heard the principal of the university, Louise Richardson, chair and address a meeting. She's quite impressive. Interestingly, Dr. Richardson was previously head of the Radcliffe Institute at Harvard. Her predecessor at the institute was Drew Faust, who is now president of Harvard. That appears to be the route to power for women in academia.
Friday night there was a very nice dinner for returning graduates in Lower College Hall. At the end of the dinner, the Madras College Pipe Band "beat the retreat" on the quad outside. As they played "Scotland the Brave" and the setting sun sent long shafts of light down the lawn, I misted up a little. Then a lone piper led most of the grads to the reunion ball, but I went home to bed.
At dinner I had a nice conversation with Roz who sat next to me. She got a degree in history in 1991, I believe. Then she went to Manchester University to become a dentist. She's an elder in her Church of Scotland parish in Peebles. The reformation in Scotland went in a different direction from the reformation in England. The Church of England retained bishops, but the Church of Scotland got rid of them and became a presbyterian church, that is, a church governed by presbyters.
This morning there was a service in St. Salvator's, the university chapel, to commemorate the university's 600th reunion. I worshiped there when I was here and was glad to be back in the chapel. The chapel was begun in 1450 and consecrated about ten years later. One of the first martyrs of the Scottish Reformation - Patrick Hamilton - was burned at the stake just outside the chapel entrance. See previous comment about Christians loving each other...
St. Salvator's has a marvelous organ and the choir was as good as ever. They sang two 16th-17th century anthems - one in English and one in Latin. The hymns were also first rate - "Praise, my soul, the King of heaven," "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty," "Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord," "Now thank we all our God," and one that was new to me but I liked a lot - "Loving Spirit."
The preacher was N.T. Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham (Church of England) and one of the world's great New Testament scholars. He joined the faculty at St. Andrews in 2010. I had heard him preach while I was in Oxford (where he taught before becoming a bishop) and was looking forward to hearing him. He was terrific. The title of his sermon was "The Great Story" and he wove the history of the university into the story of Christianity. One of his points was that western civilization seemed to believe that by giving up religious faith we would become happier and better, but it's quite obvious that that has not been the case. So the task of schools of theology is to keep doing what they do to prepare for the day when the West turns back to faith. St. Andrews is much more than a school of theology. I believe the principal said that only about 3% of this year's grads studied divinity. However, St. Mary's College (the official name of the faculty of theology at St. Andrews) is the oldest school of theology in Scotland.