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Big World, Small World! 18 March 2014

Posted by Dr Moose in Chaplaincy, Faith, Life, Ponderings, University.
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All of last week was rather busy, which in retrospect was rather a good thing. Tuesday in particular was one of those days which was full of variety and activity, the sort of day I suspect I need more often.

First of all I managed to get three-quarters of an hour with my British-born Russian Orthodox colleague, a lecturer in the School of Health who is heavily involved in the University’s development as a Changemaker Campus (a conscious attempt to orientate all the university does into an outward-facing community and world-changing institution, empowering staff and students to be positive agents for good, rather than merely be an engine for the creation of academics). On a recent conference in Rhode Island, in the US, he’d met with others whose institutions were investigating the possibilities or whose universities were already engaged. An email conversation had ensued, as two of them were visiting the UK. I’d been added in and ended up co-ordinating a visit due to take place that afternoon, so it was chance to be brought up to speed before the meeting itself.

That sorted, the morning then provided one of those unexpected reminders about the place of family and about my connections to this town. I wasn’t born here, in East Midlands University Town (EMUT) but my father was, even though his parents (obviously not in search of the quiet life) had moved to Birmingham just before the Second World War with their young son. They went, but left relatives behind, including a considerable number of my granddad’s brothers and sisters (which is shorthand for “I can’t remember how many but it was more than 10!”)  Nan and Granddad eventually moved back in the early 1980s to spend their last years here. Granddad Tom died over 25 years ago, and Nan’s been gone maybe 12, but when we moved here a few years ago I found myself back in touch with Tom’s youngest sister, my great aunt. She has always thought a lot of me (which must be something to do with both my Dad, and with her having never had any grandchildren). Bonds were further strengthened by helping with her husband’s funeral a few years ago while I was still a part-time vicar. She is, I think, my oldest living relative, although the word ‘living’ is why I was asked to visit her in hospital and made a rushed visit on Tuesday! Despite the fact that I found her far better, at the time, than I was led to believe, the truth is that she is suffering from terminal cancer and the end is near. It’s a strange place to find yourself, sitting in hospital, dog-collar in, being both a loved/loving relative and the one providing “godly comfort”, the younger leading the elder. As I will be doing the funeral rites when the time comes, it’s an atypical confluence of the personal and the professional, to be both mourner and minister.

That encounter over, I was able to return to Uni, and await the arrival of our visitors, while, of course, not having a clue what they would look like or any real idea of the expected time of arrival! I still find it somewhat odd that Americans, who, used to doing the monumental distances that the US encompasses, think nothing of leaving a meeting in London that finishes about 2pm to jump on the train and travel for over an hour to visit EMUT, simply for a couple of hours, before returning back to the capital overnight. It leaves me wondering whether they are keen or we are lazy! Even from here I’d think twice about visiting London for less than a half day. (Of course, the more I think about it, the less of an objection it seems. I suspect I’m just used to living further away, not to mention being familiar with the vagaries of the railway network!)

Once they arrived, rather later than we’d initially expected, we had a delightful couple of hours. The University Chaplain and Organist (Emeritus Professor of Christian Worship) had come from Evansville University in Indiana, and had been part of a group at the conference exploring what Changemaker was all about.

I had thought that my university was quite a small one, which means the revelation that their place had “about twenty-five hundred” students came as a real surprise. We have about 14,000! Used to being a member of staff at an upwardly-mobile but still somewhat insignificant institution it feels very odd to be seen as a paragon!  (For comparison it makes Evansville University about the same sort of size as the latest wave of UK institutions being allowed to call themselves universities, like Harper-Adams University in Shropshire).

Over walking around the campus, drinking coffee, sitting in on a postgrad research seminar that allowed Fr Timothy a 20 minute pitch on the whole Changemaker thing and in conversation afterwards, several opportunities for synergy became apparent, not least because Evansville has a “British Studies” Faculty at Harlaxton Manor in Lincolnshire, barely 100 miles away from us here. (And doesn’t British Studies sound odd, to a Brit raised with an awareness of “American Studies”?) As many as half their students spend a semester there at some point during their studies, and benefit from the broadening the experience gives, especially when exposed to the realities of the multi-cultural melange that is the city of Leicester! What made it all the more surreal was the realisation that a friend and colleague I trained with at Cranmer Hall in Durham (theological college) is the Vicar of Harlaxton and the surrounding villages, further increasing potential opportunities for visiting students to find real engagement with real issues on the ground in rural England! There might even be possibilities for staff from here to contribute there.

What so often seems like such a big world, in the space of a few hours, was rendered so much smaller and accessible. Indeed, although the US is so far away the whole encounter reminded me of the things I already knew, but had forgotten like the fact that I live on a small and relatively crowded island … But, to ensure I get this blog published, I’ll save that for another day, probably admixed with geofiction thoughts, perhaps as Big World, Small World 2!

All I will say is that I await any further developments with interest, and, if you’re reading this in Evansville, Indiana, here’s a wave from across The Pond!



1. Nathan Greve - 19 March 2014

Ha! As I was reading this I paused at the mention of the University of Evansville – a slight remnant of familiarity, but I couldn’t put my thumb on it. Then I got to the part about Haralaxton and it came to me! More than a decade ago my then future wife spent a semester studying at Harlaxton. I hopped the pond to visit her once and recall that most of the students were from Evansville. Apparently Evansville ran the program but a couple other schools (including the one my wife went to) also participated. I guess it is a small world.

2. Big World, Small World 2 | Life, Faith and Role-Playing Games - 20 March 2014

[…] a previous post I left open the possibility that I would return to the ruminations sparked off by a recent visit by […]

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