The Durham Chronicles– Part One

Durham is one of the few places in the world I know of where it is impossible to be hyperbolic about its beauty and grandeur. It’s a place that needs no hype. And it is also a spectacular place to get an education. But I digress. I first arrived in Durham, or to use it’s old name Dunelm, 35 long years ago, a youngish student of 26. I’ve returned numerous times, this time for two months, and while various things have changed, the essential things have remained the same, indeed one could almost use the old French adage plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. This especially applies to the cathedral, the castle, the Bailey, and my college Johns on the Bailey behind the cathedral. One then comes to expect old world problems…… for example, no hot water. As I told my friend Walter Moberley this morning, there’s no danger of me getting in hot water in John’s, as they don’t have any. Well….. almost. It turns out it takes five to ten minutes of running the water before the water that is hot reaches my accomodations at the upper part of the far end of the building. A lot of wasted water, to say the least. Then there is the sort of bathroom facilities one has— in this case a giant porcelain bathtub and no shower. Now, I happen to like bathtubs. Indeed one of my favorite children’s stories we used to read to our kids was ‘King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub’. So finally, after two days of waiting I’ve now come clean.
On my second day in Durham I did a lot of walking around the perimeter of the city seeing what was different (the newish Palatine Centre and the Bill Bryson Library for one thing)but I did not manage to get lost, so the roads are still in tact, as is my sense of Durham direction. On this day I attended the Maundy Thursday special morning services involving “the blessing of the oils and the renewal of vows”. Bet you didn’t have that service at your church on Maundy Thursday. The cathedral was packed with ordinands old and new, priests old and new, deacons old and new, and then the rest of us. The service lasted an hour and half, like many such Anglican services. It included no ordinations, just recognitions of the ordained, but it did include some fabulous music, like ‘Lift High the Cross’ as the Processional opening hymn, excerpts from Benjamin Britten’s Missa Brevis, a hymn, indeed the only hymn in the book with words by Charles Wesley and music by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (“Oh thou who camest from above”), and of course a Rutter number as well. The girl’s choir was alright, but not up to King’s college standards, but then— who is? The sermon was not by the bishop of Durham (it was by the Bishop of Jarrow), because at present— there isn’t one. The last bishop of Durham was chosen Archbishop of Cantebury and before that the Bishop of Durham was our friend Tom Wright, who decided to go back to academia briefly and is at St. Andrews. More on him later since I am going there to lecture next week. The service of course involved the Eucharist, which I was especially glad to take today, since it is last supper day.

The earlier part of the day was spent shopping at Tesco, which used to be Woolies (i.e. Woolworth’s) eating a doughnut (o.k. two) at the new Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in town (who knew Winston Salem N.C. doughnuts would show up in Durham England) and then buckling down and writing another chapter in A Week in the Life of Jerusalem…. my next volume in the Week in the Life series.

About the blessing of the oils (anointing oil for healing, oil for ordinations and so chrism, and oil for special services, particularly baptism or remembering one’s baptism). The text was of course read from James about anointing the sick. Notice it also says call the elders and have it done. We had the elders, and we had the oil, and they were both blessed, but alas, no one got anointed in the service itself. Instead we had a sermon on Lk. 4, Jesus reading Isaiah (which was also the OT lesson), in which Jesus speaks of the anointing by the Spirit. What, you may ask, has this to do with Maundy Thursday? Well, remember what Jesus said on or about that occasion— he would send us another Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Hence, the connection.

It’s time to have some dinner— fresh Belgian pears, some wonderful cheeses and McVities Digestive biscuits, and perhaps a sausage roll or two. Yep… it’s back to British cuisine. I expect to lose some weight……. :) Hope springs eternal, but spring has not yet sprung here— more winter tomorrow for God’s Friday.

  • Betty Johnson

    McVities digestive Biscuits are the best! I’m going to very much enjoy the Durham Chronicles for the memories they will evoke of my years in England also 35 years ago. Enjoy your time with old memories and making new ones. Thank you for letting us share the journey.

  • Dan

    Ben,

    I wrote to you the other day about the writings of the Jesus seminar and Marcus Borg. You encouraged me to get a few of your books. I just got The Paul Quest and hopefully The Jesus Quest will arrive soon. Thus far, in your Paul Quest, you bring up several critical issues in NT Scholarship on Paul, even the Jesus Seminar type issues. Correct me if I am wrong, but the major difference I see between your work and NT Wright vs the Jesus Seminar (Borg) largely has to do with presuppositions and methodolgy in interpreting the evidence. Am I correct on that? Can you shed more light? I am off to read the rest of the Paul Quest today. Have a good day Dr. Ben

  • Steve Harper

    Hello, Ben!

    Soak it all up. Take it all in. Have a great time. Experience a blessed return to a holy place.

    Blessings! Steve and Jeannie

  • http://tailormadefs@yahoo.com Mary Liz

    Dr. Ben,
    I hope you have received notice about Rick Warren’s son who has committed suicide. I have a dear pastor friend whose wife committed suicide. It is such a difficult occurrance to overcome. Thanks for your prayers. His son was 27 I think….Remembering the loss of your precious daughter, I wanted to let you know across the pond.

  • Ben Witherington

    Thank you Mary Liz. We had this very same thing happen with one of my Sunday school class members….. difficult is not the word for it. Blessings, BW3

  • James Petticrew

    Dr Witherington if you make it up to .Edinburgh let me know and I’ll give you the tour. Jamespetticrew@rocketmail.com