Don's diary: countdown to merger and mozzarella

October 1, 2004

17 days...

...until the merger of Manchester University and the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology

It's 9am and, as chaplain, I'm addressing freshers at the Royal Northern College of Music. "Are you musical?" someone asks. "Not a bit," I reply.

"All I know is that real harmony is the first G&T of the evening." I gauge the presence of certain Christians by their scowls at my response - made worse when I tell them about our joined-up multifaith approach to religion in Manchester. Why does inclusivity seem so frightening to some? What sort of God do they believe in? Back at the office I hear of a Punjabi student turned out of a church for not being Christian. The shame of it! Never mind: pizza tonight.

16 days...

Not long to go now. In our chapel, suspended over Oxford Road, the busiest and noisiest bus route in Europe, I pray for Professor X and Vice-Chancellor Y. They don't know I'm doing this. Is it an infringement of their human rights?

After cooking enough parsnip soup for a small army, I have a mentoring session with my postgraduate business studies student. Unlike many Christians, his enthusiasm and capacity for life fill me with delight.

He declines my offer of pizza.

14 days...

A day of pressing the flesh, smiling and greeting new students and staff. After five hours, I could murder a pint, but I've got just two hours to write Sunday's sermon. As I sit down to think, a PhD student arrives wanting to make connections between low-temperature physics and theology. We talk about where wisdom might be found in a university and whether the new one will be wiser - or just "more productive" than the sum of its parts. Is there a sermon there?

12 days...

I prepare for a meeting of our multifaith group. We're trying to create and model good interfaith cooperation and to "showcase" the contribution of religious belief and spirituality to higher education.

While I wouldn't want to see faith-based teaching, I believe strongly that the secular world of higher education needs to make space for a more holistic perspective on education.

After lunch, we finalise our online student church. Although I've led this initiative, I'm not sure why people want to belong to a virtual community when the real thing is so much more exciting. Perhaps it's my age. Somewhere in the building I can smell pizza.

11 days...

I take my daughter to university - Norwich and back! It's curious but, with her there, the students seem like, well, other people's children. I fall into "chaplain mode" until an embarrassed filial stare sends me home.

10 days....

Before Sunday worship I take a break from cooking (two quick dishes for 45) to walk round the campus. International students are milling about Oxford Road. In awe? Getting acclimatised? Looking for jobs to eke out their savings? I speak to one or two. They're after the best deals on mobile phones.

9 days...

Chaplaincy HQ contacts me to ask the total number of higher education students and staff in Manchester; "90,000," I say. Nine days left and I've still not met them all...

Revd Dr Terry Biddington is Anglican Chaplain to Higher Education in Manchester.

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