Friday, June 7, 2024

Honouring a friend

When notable academic colleagues retire one special way of marking their contribution is to publish a festschrift (from German celebration and writing) in their honour.  Rev. Dr. Stephen Wright - a noted New Testament and Homiletics scholar - recently finished at Spurgeon's College after beginning there in 1998. He started as Director of the College of Preachers but was to continue as a vital leader of the Spurgeon's community. For over 25 years he has been such a wise, gentle, humble, gifted teacher, educator, pastor, author and friends to so many of us. So, a very worthy candidate for a festschrift.

When the editor asked me to contribute a chapter I wanted to say 'Yes'. I have contributed to others' celebration writing and since I was involved in Stephen's appointment I particularly would have liked to chip in a word. However, all my academic books had already been shipped out and familiar academic props were missing.  I felt academically bereft!  Therefore I declined to take part.

However, the Editor came back to me.  His second ask was insistent. Didn't I have special responsibility at Stephen's beginning?  Surely something could emerge!  Reluctantly, with mixed results, something did emerge and I'll post about it next. But the wonderful aspect of presenting any final publication like this is that, at its best, the whole exercise has been conducted in utmost secrecy.  When the presentation is eventually made on a public occasion, the book should be a total surprise. A shock of the best kind. 

Last week the presentation ceremony was scheduled at Spurgeon's College Chapel. It was too early for me to attend in person but fortunately it was streamed (and what a gift online service gives us)!  Though we were ready for the start at 10:30 am and the camera showed friends gathered in the chapel, Stephen was absent and blissfully unaware. He arrived some 10 minutes later and was utterly stunned .  By his wife and daughter, who had been involved in the planning, yet who had somewhat misled him about their commitments that morning! And by the group of friends and colleagues.  Beginning with lively worship and prayer we came to the moment when Stephen was handed his own festschrift.  You could see the genuine surprise and delight as he held it and as video tributes and written greetings followed.  It was a shock of the best kind.

What a great way to honour a deserving scholar. To top it all he was told that in the afternoon he would be at Lambeth Palace with the Archbishop who had written the book's foreword.  It's worthily called: Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant. 

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