A new era for Cuddesdon

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

Lord Blair and Lord Bragg. Photo Mike Nelson.

New Principal Humphrey Southern talks to Sarah Meyrick

Ripon College, Cuddesdon, entered a new era last month with the arrival of its new Principal, the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern. Bishop Humphrey, who was until recently Bishop of Repton in the Diocese of Derby, takes up office after the departure of the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy who was installed as Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, in October.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

The Rt Revd Humphrey Southern at Ripon College, Cuddesdon.

Bishop Humphrey was a student at Cuddesdon himself in the 1980s, and professes himself mildly surprised to be back after 30 years. “I’ve never moved back anywhere,” he says. “Someone suggested to me the other day that it was all ‘chaps in tweed coats with pipes’ when I was here. That’s not quite right, but certainly there are changes. Cuddesdon today is a place of parity between genders in a way that seems quite relaxed. There’s real inclusion: people are seriously received and welcomed for who they are, as created by God, and I’m excited by that.”

It’s also time of great challenge and change in theological education. A recent report from the Archbishop’s Council, Resourcing Ministerial Education, has raised a number of questions about the future of ordination training, and, specifically, has called for a 50 per cent increase in ordinations. Cuddesdon has a long and distinguished history as a theological college – it lays claim to having trained a third of current bishops, deans and archdeacons in the Church of England – and is the largest provider of ordination training in the UK. There are currently over 150 students training for ordained ministry, and a growing number preparing for LLM, Pioneer and other lay ministries.

“It’s a time when our core business is up for grabs,” says Bishop Humphrey. “But there’s nothing in that report that frightens us. We already provide a range of different training pathways. That’s one of our strengths. We have students in a residential and non-residential mould, and we have a close engagement with Oxford University.

“But if that 50 per cent figure is realistic, the Holy Spirit will call people from an even broader diversity. The core of what we offer isn’t different: it’s about that shared journey into understanding who we are before God. Each of us makes that as an individual, but in community. As you walk along that journey, which is frightening, puzzling, uncomfortable, and full of joy, you encounter the people who walk alongside you, and there’s a richness.”

So what of Bishop Humphrey’s own journey to ordination? After reading History at Christ Church College, Oxford, he went to what was then called ACCM (the Advisory Council for the Church’s Ministry, now the Bishops’ Advisory Panel) and was told to go and do something else before beginning his training. Through the Diocese of Salisbury’s link with the Church in Sudan, he found a placement in Africa.

“I was sent against my will to a culture that couldn’t be more different from Christ Church,” he says. “There was no electricity, no water, nothing but a church full of vibrancy, excitement and danger. It was a rich and colourful experience that was life changing. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. Thank God for the Diocese of Salisbury and ACCM and Sudan.”

It was, he says, one of the most formative times of his life. As well as furnishing him with a store of after dinner stories, he learned “something about the Gospel and culture”, he says.

“I was 22 and had never been outside Europe. I arrived in Khartoum and had to climb through a hole in the wall to get my luggage because the conveyer belt was broken. It was a fragile, delightful, completely alien world, quite extraordinary. I began to learn something about hospitality, about being entirely dependent on complete strangers. I couldn’t communicate with home – there were no phones, and letters would take three or four weeks.”

Cuddesdon seemed luxurious after Sudan, though he has particularly strong memories of the cold in the parish church. He was ordained in 1986, and served curacies at St Margaret’s Rainham in Kent, a very busy commuter parish (“I took 100 funerals in my deacon’s year”) and St Mary’s, Walton, in inner-city Liverpool. Between the two, he was seconded to a township parish in Harare in Zimbabwe following the unexpected death of the priest there.

This was followed by a first incumbency at Hale in Guildford Diocese, where he was also Diocesan Ecumenical Officer. During this time he met (at a baptism) his wife Emma, a district nurse, and their two daughters were born. Seven years later the family moved to Wiltshire, where he had grown up, and became Rector of Tisbury. To begin with, he had oversight of seven villages, but by the time he left the benefice encompassed 16 villages, with populations varying from 36 to around 1,500.

From Wiltshire, he was appointed Bishop of Repton. “It’s been interesting being the sole suffragan in a small and quite varied diocese, just one county, and a mix between the comfortable rural idyll of places like Chatsworth but also the ordinary everyday reality of post-industrial, post-mining Derby.

“My role there included a lot of responsibility around vocations and ministry, the formation of the clergy and their learning as curates. There was also quite a lot of seeing in the new ways in which clergy are supported, such as Ministry Development Reviews and Common Tenure, which is a change of culture for the clergy.”

This, he says, brings him a useful perspective on the world the clergy are being trained for. “I don’t come from the theoretical, academic side, so I’m pleased to have such distinguished colleagues, but I think I know what the Church is looking for and wanting.” He says he is excited about the Edward King Chapel, which opened in 2013 after the sisters moved to the College. “It’s not just the Chapel but what it represents – the resource the sisters offer. The decision to do something as powerful and bold as that says something about our seriousness, and what, at our heart of hearts, this place is about. It’s a place that is confident about its purpose, as we wait on God.”

Growth inspires modern facilities

CUDDESDON has seen a period of strong growth and development over the last 10 years. Student numbers are at their maximum, the research centre is thriving and the College is sharing its resources more widely through new courses, guided retreats and lectures. However, the current single student accommodation has changed little since the College was built in 1854.

“In order to remain an outstanding provider of theological education, we now need to upgrade our study bedrooms to offer more comfortable and modern accommodation to our students and visitors,” says Sophie Farrant, Development Director.

The College has therefore begun a project to refurbish two floors of two wings in the original buildings. As a result of the refurbishment – which will take place over the two summers of 2016 and 2017 to minimise disruption – 24 rooms will gain en-suite facilities, an extra study bedroom will be created, and each floor will gain a kitchenette/utility room.

The project will cost almost £1 million, but thanks to an extremely generous donation of £500,000 by an anonymous donor, and further grants and donations, the campaign is in search of the slightly less daunting figure of £390,000.

The Bible and the Bard

One of the first events attended by the new Principal was The Bible and The Bard, a special gala dinner at the Globe Theatre in London. Those attending the event were treated to a tour of the unique theatre and a conversation between Lord Bragg and Lord Blair on their shared interests in Shakespeare and the Bible.

Ian Blair, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is a Trustee of the Globe. (He is also well known in the Diocese of Oxford as a member of the Bishop’s Council.) Before the dinner he interviewed Melvyn Bragg on his career as a broadcaster and writer, his love of the language of Shakespeare and the King James Bible, and the role of religion in today’s society. The event was the launch of the new Refurbishment Campaign.


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