Monday, February 15, 2016

The Chapel at Churchill College

Last night I had a delightful time preaching on the First Sunday of Lent in a Cambridge college. It reminded me of my past when I was Baptist Chaplain to the University.  However, Churchill is different! As Mark Goldie's history of the chapel begins: 'There is a chapel at Churchill College but there is no chapel of Churchill College'. At this college's beginning, named after Sir Winston Churchill, some key figures insisted there would be no chapel.

The most famous was Dr. Francis Crick, a Nobel prize winner for unraveling DNA and a militant atheist. He claimed that an institution dedicated to science, to the rational pursuit of knowledge and free speculation, has no business promoting superstitious nonsense. However, plans for the chapel emerged and though he was assured it was separately funded and that he never need enter the premises he resigned his fellowship, gaining national attention and fuelling publicity by a letter to Sir Winston in which he included a cheque for 10 guineas to open a College hetairia (a place for Greek courtesans).  This bordello would afford an amenity also open to all!   Sir Winston returned the cheque! The saga rolled on and eventually a compromise was reached and a chapel was built in 1967 at the far end of college grounds. With separate Trustees it must be termed - the chapel at Churchill College - to ensure its clear separation.

My delight in sharing yesterday owed much to the quality of  friendship and warmth received from chaplain and chapel community, which happily contained two friends I had not seen for over thirty years and who told me the chapel is their spiritual home.   Afterwards the meal with faculty and other chapel attendees was really enjoyable and, as you can imagine, included reflection about continuing (minor) ripples of the chapel controversy. The chapel's history is titled: 'God's bordello: storm over a chapel'.  I love its conclusion: 'the agnostics have never satisfactorily explained the persistence of religious belief among many brilliant scientists. At Churchill, two Nobels out of three were church-goers.' How many of us rejoice in persistent religious belief this Lent!

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