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21 February, 2005

Revise that ritual

In 1964, Princess Alexandra became Chancellor (titular head) of Lancaster University.  Forty years later, at the end of 2004, she retired, so Sir Chris Bonington is to be installed* as the University's second Chancellor next month.  Exactly as in 1964, there will be a service at Lancaster Priory, a procession across town, and a ceremony in Ashton Hall (in the Town Hall).  I understand there'll be a drinks reception on campus afterwards.  For those who don't know, campus is three miles (5 km) from the city centre.

In 1964, the campus was still largely a building site, and many aspects of the University operated from temporary premises in town, but that's no longer the case - we could easily accommodate a ceremony here (we seem to manage degree congregations each year) and have an acclaimed chaplaincy building. I can imagine there being a compelling argument that a formal event in Lancaster itself symbolically bonds 'town' and 'gown' - I'd fully agree with that justification - but I haven't heard anyone make that argument; it's happening this way simply because it did last time.

However, it's the other aspect which is rather more questionable: why is a religious service involved at all in the activities of an overtly secular institution, and why a specifically christian service in a multicultural society? Forty years ago, the Church of England was a state religion, and church representatives were even involved in the governing bodies of the University, but I'm immensely pleased to say the link between church and state has essentially evaporated and there weren't any religious elements in our 40th anniversary celebrations last year.

So why's it happening? What were the organisers thinking of? Personally, I seriously doubt whether they did think about it. It was done that way in 1964, so should be replicated in 2005. I suppose that's the nature of tradition, but if the precedent (of only one previous installation - this isn't a custom extending back hundreds of years) no longer makes sense, I'd say the opportunity for re-evaluation ought to have been taken.

*: Yes, 'installed', though I don't think plumbers, electricians or telecom engineers are involved.


It'd be impressive if they processed all the way down the A6 wouldn't it? Can't see it happening though. And I wonder how you get invited to the drinks reception.

Posted by looby at February 21, 2005 10:06 PM

Actually, having checked my invitation ;) I see it's Afternoon Tea, open to all staff who RSVP'd a couple of weeks ago (I didn't).

Posted by NRT at February 21, 2005 11:24 PM

I've got an invitation to the thing in the Priory - I'm not sure if that is a bonus or a drawback

Posted by Siobhan at February 23, 2005 10:26 AM
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