About Me

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Pilgrim, priest and ponderer. European living in Northumberland. I have been a parish priest, theological educator and cathedral precentor; then Dean of Sheffield 1995-2003 and Dean of Durham 2003-2015.**** I blog on faith, society, church matters, the North East, European issues, the arts, travel and anything else that intrigues.**** My main blog is at http://northernwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.**** My sermons and addresses are at: http://northernambo.blogspot.com.**** Blogs during my time as Dean of Durham: http://decanalwoolgatherer.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

On All Saints' Eve: Six Best Books from the Reformation Era

Five centuries ago today, Martin Luther posted ninety five theses on the legendary door of the Schlosskirche at Wittenberg. I can't let the day pass without writing something. It's a crowded field with many people contributing insights about the Reformation, not least on Thought for the Day this morning and in a leading article in The Guardian.

How do we get the feel of the Reformation? Best of all is to let them speak to us in their own words. So I thought I would blog about some of my favourite writings from the Reformation era. Amid a plethora of books about the Reformers, I think it's vital to go back to the sources themselves. This was an approach the Reformers themselves constantly advocated. Ad fontes! they would say, don't just read the secondary literature. It's original texts that need to inform our thinking and correct the distortions that inevitably colour so much of the narrative and the commentary.

What you find when you go back to the Reformers' writings is how lively and fresh they are. There's a bracing quality about these books that makes them a joy to read - and often, they are far easier to read than we might have thought. They knew how to write as well as how to think. They understood that they needed to harness the potential of the new media of their day, the printed word. (How they exploited this new "information technology" is a rich study in itself. Parallels with the digital era in which we now live are pertinent and worth thinking about.)


So here are six of my favourite books from the Reformation era. They are all easily accessible (in translation where necessary), whether in hard copy or on the web.  How the Reformers would have loved the idea of online accessibility!

Martin Luther, Commentary on the Letter to the Galatians
There are so many Luther texts to choose from. Why do I go for a biblical commentary? Because his Galatians goes right to the heart of the central issue of the Reformation, how humanity is redeemed by the grace of God. This epistle, along with Romans, is where St Paul sets out most explicitly the insight that we are justified not by any amount of good works we can do, but through faith in a God who accepts us on the basis of what Christ has done for the salvation of the world. Galatians is among Paul's most passionate letters, and Luther's commentary is among the most passionate of all his writings, full of wonderful rhetoric that help us understand not only Luther's thought but his temperament as well. I once listened to one of my theological teachers read aloud from his commentary on the third chapter of Galatians where Paul says that Christ became a curse for us. It was spellbinding.

Philip Melanchthon, Common Places
Melanchthon was Luther's collaborator in the German Reformation. Perhaps it was a case of opposites attracting, for their personalities were very different. Melanchthon was a methodical thinker who was the first of the Reformation theologians to organise the concepts of Lutheran Protestantism into a coherent body of thought. I have a special fondness for him, having as a student bought for a song three massive volumes of his writings in an edition of the 1560s (which I still have). Sixteenth century writers often compiled "common places" as a way of summing up their thought, and Melanchthon's Common Places or Loci Communes are his own succinct survey of his principal concepts. They have (I think) been in print ever since he wrote them. Deservedly, for here is the quintessence of Reformation theology distilled in a wonderfully accessible and humane way.

John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion
Calvin gets a bad press in much of the church, partly because his own thought tends to get conflated with the more rigorous "Calvinism" of his followers and successors. We might not have relished living in Calvin's Geneva. But I have no hesitation in saying that the Institutes are among the great books of western Christianity, and one of the most magisterial (and influential) systematic theologies not only of his age but of any. It's not a book you will want to read from cover to cover, but nowhere else will you find the leading ideas of the continental Reformation set out so clearly and with the flair that only a lawyer trained in classical rhetoric could bring to it. Where to begin? Not with predestination and election, I suggest, but with the opening chapters that explore how we come to know God.

Thomas Cranmer, The Book of Common Prayer
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance the Prayer Book has had for the English speaking world. Along with Shakespeare and the Authorised Version of the Bible, it did for the English language what Luther's Bible did for the German: gave it a literary sophistication and rhetorical directness that we are indebted to today. Cranmer's Prayer Books of 1549 and 1552 uniquely embody the liturgical and spiritual vision of all the churches that look back to the Reformation. Especially is this true of the Communion Service, to understand which is to have the key to a eucharistic theology that, far from being reductionist as was alleged, is in fact extraordinarily rich and subtle. I have blogged about Prayer Book Evensong before. And we should not forget the Psalms of the BCP whose much-loved translation by Miles Coverdale, another key figure in the English Reformation, has been sung the world over.

The Heidelberg Catechism
This little book was published in one of Germany's most beautiful cities in 1563. It was written for the instruction of the young in the Reformed faith. It is done with a charm and elegance that have never been surpassed, not even in the catechism of the Book of Common Prayer. It is divided into fifty-two "Lord's Days", i.e. one section for each Sunday of the year. Here's part of the first one to give a flavour. "What is your only comfort in life and death?" "That I, both body and soul, am not my own but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood has fully satisfied for my sins and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head...who, by his Holy Spirit, assures me of eternal life and makes me sincerely willing and ready to live for him." I visited Heidelberg on the River Neckar earlier this year and thought of those cherished words.

Martin Bucer, On the True Care of Souls
To follow two books that focus on Christian formation in the church, my final choice is a classic of pastoral care that deserves to stand alongside the famous books of pastoral theology by Gregory the Great and Richard Baxter. Bucer, a former Dominican, was the leading reformer in Strasbourg (where again this year, I visited his tomb in the protestant Church of St Thomas not far from the Cathedral). His exile in England, where he died, led to his having considerable influence over Cranmer's second Prayer Book of 1552. A man of ecumenical and eirenic temperament, he wrote this endearing book out of concern for the welfare of ordinary church members, recognising the need to  develop a pastoral theology to express through lived experience the Reformation's beliefs about the character of the Christian community.


"Of the making of many books there is no end", even of books about the Reformers. This is no more than a personal selection. But these volumes have in one way or another played a part in my own shaping as a Christian and as a priest. It's been good in this anniversary year to revisit some of them and recognise the debt I owe to these great Christian thinkers and writers of five centuries ago, and indeed to the movement we call the Reformation that has so profoundly influenced our continent, our country and our peoples.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Crumbling Cathedrals?

Well, if they're not crumbling yet, they will do one day. I once preached a sermon for Advent in Durham Cathedral in which I said this.

"We wouldn’t be human if we didn’t marvel at wonderful stones and buildings, least of all when we are sitting among them in a World Heritage Site.  But that doesn’t mean that they last for ever.  Buildings, like people, are mortal. What Jesus says about the temple is also true of this place.  We can hardly bear to think of these wonderful stones and wonderful buildings lying toppled one far-off day in a heap of rubble.  And yet, in aeons to come, when the sun is in its death throes and planet is swallowed up in a vast red expanding disc, and the history of the human race is done, the Cathedral, like everything else we have built and cherished, will be dust and ashes.  To claim anything else would be idolatry.  St Paul says that what is seen is transient; it is what is unseen that is eternal. We need to judge accurately where eternity belongs. Temples have their day and are gone: in the celestial city, says the Book of Revelation, there is no temple."
I was making the point a trifle dramatically, I suppose. But we need to remind ourselves, religious people especially, that we must look at things sub specie aeternitatis, from the perspective of what lasts for ever. We wander among the stones of Fountains Abbey or Glastonbury or Tintern and see how history and the relentless flow of time have their own way of crumbling mighty buildings and anticipating their ultimate destiny.
But a recent news item in The Times headlined Crumbling Cathedrals was, I think, a little premature (how sub-editors always fall for alliteration!). Deans are right to claim that their cathedral buildings have probably never been in such good condition since the days they were built. This is thanks to assiduous care and oversight by cathedral chapters, architects and surveyors, fabric advisory committees and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England (CFCE). It's hugely costly, but it's a labour of love. Simon Jenkins' recent book on Cathedrals is only the latest to pay tribute to this magnificent collective effort. A cathedral may merit one star or all five in that book (why have star ratings at all, I want to ask?) but the care invested in it will be to exactly the same standard. Having worked in four different cathedrals, I've seen for myself how imagination, hard graft, technical skill and eye-watering amounts of money are willingly expended out of the love people have for these great national institutions.
These great national institutions. That's a point I want to underline. Cathedrals belong not only to their diocese or city or county. They belong to the nation. Like bishops, cathedrals are there to serve the nation and in the case of the medieval cathedrals, this idea would have been embedded from the outset in how they were understood. It's obvious that Canterbury and St Paul's are national institutions. But it's not so obvious even in the case of York, Durham or Winchester, let alone the smaller or younger cathedrals. And the legal definition in the Cathedrals Measure 1999 rather colludes with a more localised understanding when it speaks of "the seat (cathedra) of the Bishop and a centre of worship and mission". Cathedrals are not less than that, certainly. But they are a lot more than that too. And this becomes evident every time there is a crisis in a cathedral. It's always big news in the national media. It's assumed to be a matter of nationwide public concern.
Let me warm to my point. The "crumbling cathedrals" headline is largely about the parlous financial position cathedrals find themselves in. And here there is no argument. The funding regime under which cathedrals operate is ludicrously inadequate to serve their present mission, let alone respond adequately to the ever-increasing expectations that are laid on them. Some cathedrals - a few lucky ones - have enough recurring income to service their day to day operations. But even they are only "just about managing". A large number are so constrained that they are not able to invest as they should and as they want to in the liturgy, the spirituality, the music, the arts, social service, intellectual activity and the architectural heritage that makes them such popular destinations for both visitors and pilgrims. Large-scale fabric is ravenously hungry for resources. And that greed is never satisfied.
Our country is proud of its cathedrals. They are among the glories of our land. Cathedral towers and spires populate the British landscape of the imagination. They feature prominently in the way this country is branded and marketed to visitors. I don't need to go on. So my question is, why is the nation as hesitant as it is in helping to fund these institutions that contribute so significantly to our collective wellbeing? Why doesn't it do more to lift the heavy financial burdens they struggle beneath so that the funds they hold can be allocated to the mission they exist to serve in their localities, their dioceses and the nation as a whole?
It's true that "the state" does provide some help, up to a point. The Heritage Lottery Fund has supported many a cathedral development project, including at both Durham and Newcastle. The former Chancellor's First World War Centenary Cathedrals Repair Fund offered two tranches of £20 million for cathedrals to develop fabric projects associated with the memory of the Great War. Historic churches and cathedrals have had access via English Heritage to funds for fabric maintenance, though sacred buildings are no longer ring-fenced. But whatever the route by which money is made available, the funding environment is highly competitive. Need far outstrips available funds, and the evidence is that resources are becoming scarcer than they used to be. The effort involved in submitting bids is hugely intensive, not to mention the challenge of voluntary fundraising to match offers made by funding bodies or private benefactors.
I've wandered round cathedrals in continental Europe for most of my life. I know France best of all. France has a secular constitution that rigorously excludes any blurring of the boundaries between church and state. Laïcité is a sacred principle. But when it comes to its architectural patrimoine or built heritage, the French are European leaders in investing in their priceless legacy. Cathedrals and greater churches (and a fair few lesser ones of historic importance or beauty) are maintained by the state to a very high standard. You look at the hoarding outside a cathedral that is undergoing restoration and you find that while the church and local commune both contribute a little, it's the département, the region, the nation and the European Union that fund most of the work. The ministry of cathedrals goes on without the burden of prohibitively expensive maintenance. You can read how it works here.

My question is very simple. If France, a wholly secularised state, can enter into this kind of funding partnership with the church, why can't it happen in the UK?

Let me talk about England for a moment. Here, the majority of Grade 1 listed churches belong to the established church. So there is (or ought to be) a presumption that church and nation exist in a symbiosis that enhances the role of each for the public good. I think it is time that the Church of England presses the case hard for substantial state funding support for the fabric of its cathedrals. The principle of direct state aid has already been conceded by the First World War Fund. I don't deny that when public funds are so contested, it would perhaps be controversial to begin with. But the sums of money that would be involved, say £50 million a year, would be paltry compared to the budgets for health, education, social welfare or defence. But they would make a substantial difference to cathedrals. And I don't simply mean Anglican cathedrals, though I would expect the Church of England to take the lead in negotiating such a scheme. All church buildings that satisfy heritage criteria and are understood to be "cathedrals" within their particular tradition would qualify. And whatever scheme is devised for England would also of course apply to Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

I don't know if church leaders have the stomach to open up this conversation. But there are compelling reasons that it's urgent. Negatively, I'm not alone in fearing that cathedrals are facing a crisis of financial sustainability. They are amazingly inventive when it comes to levering in funds, but the best initiatives in the world are not sufficient to address the problem globally. Visitor admission charges make a difference only when a cathedral already has more than about a quarter of a million visitors. That rules out half the English cathedrals, and these are inevitably the less well-resourced.

But I believe that any deal should be based on a more positive perspective. The value cathedrals add to the national and local economy is well researched and documented. We can put figures on the contribution they make to employment, tourism, visitor spending in hotels, restaurants and shops, uplift in local property values and so on. Their indirect and intangible benefits are incalculable but real. I doubt that anyone in government would dispute this, or question that cathedrals are indispensable heritage assets that belong to the nation. There's no reason why a public that increasingly values its built and landscape heritage would not think such a scheme well worth believing in.
At present, a Cathedrals Review Group is looking at the governance and management of cathedrals and how they can become more sustainable. I hope its report, due in the new year, will be bold in asking the nation to rise to the challenge of contributing realistically to the necessary maintenance of its cathedrals. Of course there would need to be carefully designed structures of national oversight and accountability to make sure that public funds were being administered properly. Chapters might groan at the idea of yet another layer of scrutiny on top of those to which cathedrals are already subject.

But I think it's a price worth paying for the kind of security such a "heritage contract" would offer both cathedrals and the nation. If worries about premature crumbling (take that both literally and metaphorically) were to be lifted, it would set cathedrals free to exercise their mission in wholly new and wonderful ways. They are already very good at it. This would help them to become even better.

Let's say it again. Cathedrals are great national institutions.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

What's Happening to Radio 3?

If you don't listen to Radio 3, you can skip this blog. But if you do, read on.

I owe BBC Radio 3 a huge debt. It helped to form me as a child. At home in the 1950s and 60s, the radio would always be playing classical music wherever it could be found. Radio 3's predecessors Network Three and the Third Programme were the station of choice (unless it was time for The Archers). When it was silent, as it was for much of the time in those days, European stations closest to the UK would stand in. Hilversum had the honour of being picked out with a sticky label on the tuning dial. The hums, wheezes and whistles of short wave and AM were the unforgettable noise behind of my first experiences of music, as were the skips and scratches of the 78s I would play on my wind-up gramophone.

How vivid those early memories are of the music that emanated from that big brown valve radio in the corner of the sitting room! Mozart symphonies and piano concerti, and Schubert Lieder laid down the foundation, I recall. Next came Beethoven symphonies and Bach's keyboard music. Opera was represented by Bizet's Carmen and Wagner's Flying Dutchman. My mother listened keenly to chamber music and my father to the big romantic symphonies and concerti, though it wasn't till I was a teenager that I began to pay attention. By then I'd become a chorister, so I began to devour choral music on the radio, beginning with Bach's St John Passion, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Brahms' Requiem. Choral Evensong, radio's oldest outside broadcast now 90 years old, became a weekly staple - when I was home from school early enough on a Wednesday afternoon to catch it. Like many people, I could tell my life story through the music I've come to love and which I've found to be not just inspiring but life-changing. Much of that is thanks to Radio 3. It has to be one of the most inventive and rewarding music stations in the world.

Now that I'm retired, we have Radio 3 on in the house most of the day (in different rooms that each has its own interpretation of "real time" when it comes to picking up the same digital signal). It's an immeasurable gift to have great music playing all day long. But I've noticed a shift in the style and content recently. There seems to be more and more of what I call pot-pourri programming these days. That's to say, the kind of talk-show scheduling that fills large parts of the day by giving presenters a studio, a CD player and sometimes guests to talk to and live performers to listen to.

Tomorrow, for instance, we shall have Petroc Trelawny on Breakfast duty from 0630 to 0900. Rob Cowan takes over with Essential Classics until noon. In Tune with Katie Derham runs from 1700 to 1900, and for half an hour after that, a new feature called In Tune Mixtape in which assorted tracks are played back to back without being interrupted by speech. This latest baffling invention, just a few weeks old, partly replaces the daily evening repeat of Donald Macleod's admirable Composer of the Week, once required listening at the supper table here in Burswell House. In total, that makes up a full eight hours of free-flowing (I almost said stream of consciousness) programming during the daytime.

I don't want to be misunderstood here. Radio 3 presenters are a splendid group of people: interesting, personable, articulate, urbane, amusing, skilled and musically intelligent. I've interacted with many of them on social media and had many a thoughtful or witty reply that has made me feel that we Radio 3 listeners belong to one of the best clubs in the country. And apart from a few exceptions, it's not a case of "dumbing down" the high art for which Radio 3 is justly renowned. I think we may be hearing more of Bizet's Pearl Fishers duet, Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata (first movement only) and Pachelbel's Canon than we used to, but on the whole, the musical range is as extensive and stimulating as ever. You only have to listen to Classic FM for a day to realise that the stations are very different from each other in that respect.

But pot-pourri programming inevitably falls back on the well-tried formulae of popular radio. This means above all having an easy conversational style ("as if they were sitting in my own kitchen"), a relentlessly upbeat tone, and maintaining as much musical variety as possible by playing single movements or excerpts from longer works. These days you don't often hear a complete symphony, chamber work or song cycle outside the official "concert slots" in the afternoons or evenings. Is it unkind to hint at "easy-listening" here, easy in the sense of not demanding too much of the listener whose attention spans are presumed not to exceed a few minutes? Or does cost come into it? It's not that there isn't a place for this kind of broadcasting. But there's too much of it. We still need the properly constructed programmes whose shape and grammar are dictated by more serious aims and content than entertaining an audience and keeping it going cheerfully through the day.

"Retirement is making him grumpy" I hear you say. I hope not. I'm not giving up on Radio 3. It's one of my oldest friends. But I do admit to turning aside from it more than I used to (how horrified my late mother would be!), switching the tuner to AUX and finding other means of playing serious music. This morning, when I got back from taking the early service in church, I played four Bach cantatas one after another on YouTube where I've learned you can find almost anything you want musically speaking. I'm not suggesting Radio 3 could or should have done that (though to broadcast the day's Bach cantata on the morning of every Sunday of the year might be an idea to run with....).

I'm simply saying that I looked for something a bit more intentional than the Sunday Morning offer from 0900 to midday ("music ranging from Gluck to Debussy by way of Schubert" announced the website). But as I gratefully streamed from the ever obliging internet, I also realised that making my own choices is not the same as live radio. When I choose to play music, I tend to stay within my own musical experience, my comfort zone if you like. Radio's gift is to take me beyond my well-honed musical preferences and prejudices, and challenge me to discover the new, the different, the surprising, the hard and even the alien. It invites me into a community of listeners, and there's something about enjoying music in the company of a worldwide audience that strikes me as precious and important, and a necessary antidote to individualism, so much a tendency of our age.

If someone in the BBC picks this up, maybe there could be a good conversation about the aims and style of Radio 3's scheduling. The world has moved on since my childhood. It's right that Radio 3 responds to change. In particular, widening access to great music and art must always be among its priorities. And yes, pleasing an audience involves compromises. It's not a case of elitism - God forbid! But maybe - maybe - there's scope for looking again at the daily schedules and asking whether the balance is quite right any more, whether there's been a decline of seriousness, or a loss of confidence in the well-tested mission of this wonderful radio station. I'm saying: don't weaken a strong brand. Please. "Discuss."

I hope it's clear that this blog is written out of affection and gratitude. I really don't want to be grumpy. Better to say it openly and see what happens.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Balliol, the Freshers' Fair and the Christian Union

At Balliol College Oxford, the ban on Christian Union students taking part in the Freshers' Fair has been lifted. No doubt there's a lot more to this story than has been reported in the media. But on the surface the original decision emanating from within the structures of the JCR not only looked foolish and naive, but it was guaranteed to provoke an outcry not only from evangelical Christians but from all fair-minded people, including the students in their own College who quickly condemned it.

I'll come clean. Balliol College Oxford is my alma mater. I went up in 1968 to read maths and philosophy, and stayed on to do a second degree in theology. I went back as a postgraduate in 1974 and was ordained priest in the College Chapel in the summer of 1976. So you'll see that I have a lot invested in the place. You won't be surprised if I say I loved it and still do. My years there were deeply rewarding. I suppose I began to grow up at Balliol. I'm more grateful than I can say to have been a member of such a progressive, open-minded and enlightened institution.

In particular, I owe a great deal to the College Chapel and the Christian Union. I doubt I would have become a priest at all had it not been for Balliol. The Christian Union, part of the University-wide Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union or OICCU, laid down important foundations on which to shape my life as a Christian. And although that thought-world belonged unreservedly to the conservative evangelical tradition, I did not experience it as narrow or exclusive. We were ordinary members of the College alongside students of many different faiths and of none. Most Christian Union members attended College Chapel regularly, some every day. Its traditional Anglicanism helped set our fervent evangelicalism in a broader, more liberal, context. We were certainly low, hearty and happy in our churchmanship. But we were part of mainstream religion.

It's true that I now blush to think of some of the convictions I held in those far-off days. I could have defended such doctrines as the inerrancy of scripture, a literal Second Coming and the predestination to their fate of the elect and the reprobate. Everything turned on the hardest version of belief in substitutionary atonement as the only way to understand the Cross. But Balliol was a tolerant place where you could try anything intellectually, test ideas and belief by the cut and thrust of robust debate. If you believed something wildly ridiculous, your friends would smile gently and without ridicule, ask you with what logic or on what evidence you drew that conclusion.

I owe a lot to that tolerant, liberal attitude. It's what made Balliol an intellectual force to be reckoned with in modern times. This it owes largely to the vision of its legendary Master, Benjamin Jowett, one of the most eminent of Victorians. A priest of the Church of England, he got into tremendous trouble for contributing to a notorious but highly influential book called Essays and Reviews. In it, he argued as a classical scholar that the Bible should be interpreted like any other text from the past, using the same rigorous tools of textual and higher criticism and of literary interpretation as he would apply to his beloved Plato. It was, he claimed, through such ordinary processes of study that the word of God would be discerned among the words. This radical approach was not well received at the time (and the book's other contributors were not spared the opprobrium either). But today, almost all biblical scholars apart from the most conservative would endorse his approach.

Jowett's legacy at Balliol was of a College in which dons and students alike were generous and  tolerant, modern people of their own century, open to new ways of thinking, unafraid of debate. Looking back fifty years, having been at a school founded on similar lines, perhaps I unconsciously chose an Oxford college that would continue to foster these liberal ideals and teach me to practise my faith in a setting that modelled the real world where beliefs are not privileged or protected. This kind of learning is an inestimably important preparation for adult life in a contested secular age. We may not know it at the time but later we realise how its values have shaped us in hugely important ways. My faith is very different now from what it was then. I suppose I echo whoever it was (David Jenkins?) who said that as he grew older, he believed more and more in less and less. "Be tentative in theology but be sure in religion", that is, don't invest more in the speculative particularities of doctrine than you do in knowing and loving and serving God which is the heart of all good religion. That is what I shall always regard as the core of what I learned about Christianity at Oxford.

Back to the headlines where Balliol has unwittingly (and unwillingly) found itself today. I spoke earlier about its character as a "progressive, open-minded and enlightened institution". I don't know the Christian Union today so I can't speak for them. But somewhere in the JCR decision-making structure, there seems to be a mighty fear of them if these heavy-handed tactics of airbrushing them out of the Freshers' Fair are any indication. What we are told in the media reports is that out of respect for the vulnerabilities of its new students, there was a need to create a secular space that is "safe". Religion, it is argued, does not belong in such a space, least of all when it comes freighted with homophobia (an allegation that is merely stated without any evidence or justification).

Yes, no doubt religion can be oppressive, and is in many places. Homophobic too. But it won't do wildly to accuse Balliol's Christian Union of it. (And by the way, were Jewish and Islamic groups also refused permission to have a Freshers' stall and be present at it? I genuinely have no idea - please tell us. It's important that we understand the background here. There's a lot we don't know.)

This unhappy episode is all part of the debate about the limits of free speech in higher education. There are no easy answers to the question of who should and shouldn't be given a public platform to promote their beliefs in a university or anywhere else. But in a fair-minded society there should be a presumption of trust that those who publicly share their vision and ideas will do so responsibly. No-one has quoted any evidence that the Christian Union intended to do anything other than the likes of the Balliol Music Society or Rowing Club: share what they had to offer and invite anyone interested to find out more.

One final thought. If I were a fresher at Balliol (happy days!), I'd be pretty annoyed if I thought that anyone was trying to "protect" me from notions that might challenge or disturb or (God forbid)  corrupt me. I'd have said: "I'm a legal grown-up now. I have the right and the duty to make my own choices. I have come to Balliol of all colleges because I want to be in an environment of bracing exploration and debate that will form me intellectually, ethically and as a person of faith. This is the very thing you are denying me. Please stop infantilising me in this way."

Well, common sense has prevailed, thankfully. I gather that the JCR as a student body has been as outraged by what has happened as anyone. Maybe we should put it all down to the naivety of youth. Making a mistake and learning from it is no bad experience. I hope this episode helps all students to think about and absorb their College's values and treat their fellow students with respect. What's happened will have cost Balliol in terms of its reputation for diversity and inclusion. That grieves me. But what matters now is that trust is quickly restored and Balliol continues to be recognised as one of Oxford's brightest, most generous and most humane institutions.

Oh and by the way, I'm looking forward to being back at Balliol next month to preach in the College Chapel.

**I have made some minor amendments to this blog in the light of conversations today with Oxford people who are close to the events behind the media reports.