Wesley House in the 1980s
The Revd Dr Paul Glass
I arrived at Wesley House as a single student in 1983 at the age of 22. I think I was aware, even then, that that was becoming increasingly unusual. The age of people candidating for the ministry was rising and, whilst not a vanishing breed yet, students of my age were not the norm any longer. Having said that there were a number of us in my year at Wesley House who were within a few years of each other in terms of age.
It was a mixed and vibrant community. A variety of ages and backgrounds and a range of courses studied. My memory is that in my second year there were more children in the house than there were students. Paddling pools in the Quad (undreamed of in previous years) were regularly sights in the summer. As I write that sentence the significance of it strikes me with some force. In the 1980s the students were only a small part of the Wesley House community which included spouses and children and this changed the nature of the community completely. College events became ones where entire families would gather together and activities for children were provided. The college weekend away to Hengrave Hall included a children’s programme and barn dance. Students came into training with significant previous work experience much of it at a very senior level. These facts altered the feel of the community completely. Whilst it is true that the Wesley House of the 1980s had much connective tissue with the community of the past the changing nature of the make-up of the group within the walls of Jesus Lane meant that a new feel was inevitable.
When I came to Wesley House I was engaged to be married in the summer at the end of my first year and had informed the college of that. The married flat that we were to move into in the Rank Building was not available until the September of my second year so we spent the first six weeks of our married life in two adjacent rooms on the top corridor of C staircase with a bathroom and kitchen shared with the rest of the landing.
Brain Beck was Principal in my first year but he had been appointed Secretary of the Conference and spent some time away at committees of various sorts during that year. Ivor Jones became Principal in my second year. David Deeks was Tutor but had a sabbatical in my third year and that was covered by Revd. Professor Bill Casto - professor of Church Administration from METHESCO (now MTSO) Methodist Theological School in Ohio.
The Buildings and Grounds
Very little changed in terms of the buildings in my three years. Larger family accommodation was in the houses on Jesus Lane and there were two sizes of flats in the Rank Building. There was also family accommodation at the bottom of B staircase. There were single students but the numbers were not great so the need for single sets was limited. My first year I was in a set on the top floor of C staircase. My second and third year we were in a flat on the top floor of the Rank Building which I remember as being a very happy experience with a view into the gardens of Sidney Sussex. I do remember that in my first year Prince Edward became a student at Jesus College and we did have some trouble with photographers from the national press trying to get access to C staircase which had views over the grounds of Jesus College. The famous Ray was caretaker for the buildings and as students, if we wished, we were allocated sections of the garden to tend and to keep neat and tidy.
One of my abiding memories of Wesley House was the sheer variety of the courses being studied. In my year there were only two of us doing the Tripos (myself and the delightful Trevor Capstick). Others were doing postgraduate University courses and a number were doing courses run by the Cambridge Federation of Theological Colleges. One of the conversations that took place in my time centred around the place, visibility, profile and acknowledgment that the college was prepared to give to those following Federation courses. It was perhaps not until later that I fully appreciated the gift of being taught by Morna Hooker, Rowan Williams, John Snaith and Christopher Rowland. David Deeks taught some of the New Testament material in Wesley House as well as Pastoral Theology. The Tripos was done over two years and because of my age at the time of candidating I had a third year of courses within the Federation and Wesley House which included courses on Ethics and Pastoral Theology.
Morning prayers and Federation Eucharists are my abiding memory. The impact of praying for the list of past students of the house and reading their names wherever they happened to be in the world was extraordinarily powerful. Walking slowly up the staircases looking at the photos of the previous generations and the luminaries who had walked these landings previously was also an experience which left an indelible imprint. Morning prayers were led by students in turn and were very much the responsibility of the person leading them. We had occasional family prayers as well where the whole community was encouraged to attend and something closer to a short all age worship event would take place. The weekly Federation Eucharist would take place in the Rank Building and was shared on a rota basis by the constituent colleges. On special occasions we might have the service in another venue and I can remember the issues that were caused when some students from Westcott refused to receive communion when the service was held at a local Anglican Church with David Deeks presiding.
I was Plan Secretary in my final year which involved organising the preaching plan for the students. A number of us, including myself, had very limited experience of a range of different types of Methodist Chapel and it was good that we could send people down to London, to Newmarket, to new towns and to the Fenland Circuit to broaden their experience. Most of us had attachments and/or placements in our second and third years in order to build a relationship with a particular congregation. Sadly lost, I believe, but of much use and compulsive reading in my time was a card index box kept in the common room which held comments written by students with information about the congregations visited by Wesley House students. It was fascinating and hilarious reading.
There were students placed at Sturton Street Methodist Church (now closed) and my wife joined them to help boost that cause whilst my memory is that I was out preaching most Sundays.
Many of the events that had marked the life of Wesley House previously were still there. Pubs was still popular every weekday evening. The college annual drama production was still a fairly major event, my wife played on the Wesley House football team (much to the surprise of some of the teams that they played). Unlike previous generations I remember meals as largely being good. The Friday night meetings which were pretty much compulsory were good in my memory with a wide range of quality speakers. House meetings could be great fun but also difficult. We had a range of officers and awards that were given including one for the strangest story to come back from a preaching appointment. And then there was the excitement of the annual bidding process for the possession (for a twelve month period) of the various rather bad prints of paintings that were held in the house. I seem to remember the Entertainments Secretary donning a plastic viking helmet to give their report. My wife would want to remember the bridge evenings that often lasted until late into the night. The Federation punt was well used in the summer term and vacation.
The benefit of having a wide range of ages in the house for me was that the occasional earnestness and lack of perspective that can come with youth was always able to be tempered by people who had more experience and wisdom to share.
My memory is of three very happy and privileged years. I took to community living like a duck to water and have even come to terms with my struggles with New Testament Greek. The studies that we undertook have sustained me for the 35 years of my ministry so far and have provided me with a network of friends and colleagues who I still treasure and keep in contact with.