It was pure chance that the weekend before last I happened on the 2017 Christ Church Annual Report. A few days later came the most welcome news of Martyn Percy’s reinstatement as Dean.
In its report on his reinstatement, the Church Times noted,
The row exposed tensions that exist at Christ Church between the cathedral and the academic establishment.
It was ever thus – although there is undoubtedly much more to this than ‘tensions’.
Rows at Christ Church (though rarely quite as public as this most recent one) have invariably been about reform. There have been few periods in its history when reform, of one sort or another, has not been the subject of bitter debate.
Reflecting on this, I re-read Martyn Percy’s piece in the 2017 Report. He begins with the 150th anniversary of the formation of Christ Church’s Governing Body, which recognised its unique status as both college and cathedral. His message is reform. He pulls no punches.
The challenge remains constant: to continue to be shaped by the past, to adapt to the present, and so shape the future.
The story of Christ Church is current and unfolding. The changes in governance we celebrated are a timely reminder to us: that within our institutional DNA, we recognise we are a body that knows how to self-improve. Reform is not an event.It is a process. It is more like steady evolution than a one-off revolution. Yet it is a labour that requires constant attention. It also requires some degree of faith – in the past, the wisdom of the body in the present, and the teleology of the foundation as it faces forward.
The dust hasn’t yet settled on this latest row. It will, because it always does. And the battle for reform will continue, as it must. And there will casualties, as there always are.
Martyn Percy’s tweet last Sunday evening – in which he spoke of being marked by the words of the opening hymn at Blackbird Leys Church of the Holy Family earlier that day – speak both of the personal costs of this struggle, and the continuing challenge.
Lord of all our past traditions, Lord of all our future days.
But for the time being – and I hope for some considerable time more – we have our Dean back.