As the students who have completed their education here leave to take their next steps in life, Fr Bede Hill, Gervase House Chaplain from Worth Abbey, shares a timely ‘word from the heart’…
All the staff here really care about what happens to you, and I am no exception. I do hope you do well in your exams and get the university places you aim for; but I’m not sure that I care that much about whether you get the best jobs possible, whether you hit the jackpot, or become famous. Some of you will, and that’s just fine by me. But I do care quite a lot about how good a human being you will be. If you are a good human being, deep down you will always be a happy one and you’ll make other people around you happy: most important of all, those who are dearest to you. If you don’t prove to be a good human being, you’ll make yourself and them unhappy.
In Sir Frank Whittle’s original jet engine, the turbine blades had a melting point of 500⁰C, and were very subject to corrosion. In addition, the heat combined with centrifugal force resulting from the rotation, actually stretched them, so that they ended up cutting their way into the turbine casing. Some way had to be found of enabling those blades to survive in such a hostile environment.
In a modern jet engine the gas temperature as it flows over the blades is 1,700⁰C. But a new alloy principally of nickel had been discovered, with a melting point of 1,500⁰C; then by adding a special ceramic coating and redirecting cooler air over the blades, that challenge was at last resolved.
Finally, the problem of stretch: the chemists among you will know that metals are made of many crystals. Well, Rolls Royce found a way of making the blades by growing them from a single crystal; and by adding a small amount of a metal called rhenium, this problem was solved too.
You are going out to live in an environment that is increasingly hostile to religious faith – and by the way, the world is no happier for that. Will you be able to handle the heat when you are thought naive for being a believer? Will you be able to cope with being ‘stretched’, when people use arguments you’ve never heard of before or can’t understand? And I ask myself, have we at Worth found the right alloys for you to survive such a hostile environment?
Three things I would love you to remember!
1. Religious belief is a way of living, not assenting to intellectual propositions. Whether or not you believe has nothing whatever to do with intellectual arguments or scientific research. If you think so, you have missed the point. Science, by definition, cannot deal with what cannot be seen or measured, while Christian faith is a life of love for others.
2. Jesus did not make academic propositions: he proposed and lived compassion, honesty, truthfulness, kindness, forgiveness… in a single word, love.
3. So if you want to know whether you truly believe, ask yourself: “Will there always be a place somewhere in my life where I care for the poor, the suffering, or the sick?” Or is it only something I’ll do for a short while on my gap year, just another box ticked?
This faith grows if you want it to: that’s where the faith bit comes in, ‘if you want it to’. My advice: always have some space in your life for those who suffer. It will make you happy. And, when the going gets hard, there’s always a Christian community around which you can join for support.
Go out and change the world as Worthians
When enough of us do this, it will change the world, just as Christianity has done over the last two millennia. Instead of thinking how we can return African migrants to their country, or how we can blow up their boats before they set sail, we’ll all realise we have to start on the long, long road of compassion to rectify the distressing levels of inequality between our countries, which is the source of the whole problem, with the example of Christ, go out and change the world!