It's been an intense week. It was always going to be quite busy with the last St Martin's College (Lancaster) leavers' celebration on Wednesday. That went really well, with a an encouraging address from Peter Willox, my colleague based at Ambleside. Meanwhile Debbie (the other Rev Peatman in our house) was having to handle a couple of serious pastoral situations. I fitted in a trip to our Barrow teaching operation by travelling with Debbie to the hospital there, and they were really nice and seemed pleased I had made it (at last)
Saturday was really special - a thanksgiving celebration for Dave Hamill. Dave was a student who left SMC in 2005. He was a great guy and a leading light of the Christian Union. He was also a singer, a worship leader and a friend to many people. I remember him as someone who got to know me very early on (rather than wait for me to get to know him), and I think he was the first student to buy me a pint in the bar.
Tragically Dave died just before Easter. After a period of mysterious symptoms, he was taken seriously ill and died as a result of serious clotting in several major organs. Although we do experience tragic deaths of students at College from time to time, this is the first in my time where the person concerned was a member of the Christian Union. Many of us couldn't get to the funeral in Northern Ireland, and so we planned an event here at a time when many could come and also David's parents and sister could attend.
It was a remarkable occasion. A whole generation of CU people came back, along with people who had studied with Dave and I was keen to keep the 'feel' of the celebration to be similar to a CU meeting. We set up the worship band as it usually is for CU, and we used some of Dave's favourite songs.
Nathan (one of Dave's best friends and also the other half of their band Row 12) spoke tremendously well. He spoke of the choice between going under in the face of such a sad event, or responding in thanksgiving for the gift that Dave was to us all. It was a great balance between memories, recollection, acknowledgment of the sadness and Christian hope. Jonny led us in very thoughful prayers and I then offered a chance for people to speak, and we all then wrote memories of Dave on cards which were gathered and the given to his parents and sister.
A difficult decision, which I discussed with Dave's family was whether to play any of his music. In the end we did as it was part of him and of our recollections of him. It felt right as it played, although it was strange and emotional to hear Dave's voice coming out of the PA. We closed in prayer and a song, and then Ann, Dave's mum, shared a bit of the story of his last week. She hadn't planned to, but realised it would be easier than telling the story over and over to different people. Again a very brave and moving testimony both to Dave and to how her faith had sustained her.
We then talked and shared over lots of home-made cake, a memorial football match was played (Dave managed the CU team for a year when they won a league) and we talked into the night at the College social bar, just like we always used to. It all added to a sense of time-warp at the end of a day that was both sad and strangely joyful.
The lasting memory I will have is of the incredible sense of community in that generation of students, and how much their relationships have endured in ways that continue to enrich and sustain them in their post-college lives. It's days like that when I realise how special it is to be a Chaplain here. Thanks to everyone who made the day possible.