For the last seventeen years, at the start of each academic year, the three universities in Adelaide conduct a combined memorial service for the families and friends of those who have bequeathed their bodies to medical science in the presence of the new medical students – medicine, physiotherapy, dentistry et al.
There is a welcome address by the host Vice Chancellor, an address by one of the Professors of Anatomy, and four reflections by graduate students from the different universities in different fields.
Then three university chaplains, at least one from a non-Christian tradition, address in turn, the families and friends, the students, and an aspect of faith that relates to the occasion, such as grief, science and religion etc. This year it fell to me to take this last slot and I decided to address the university itself, represented by the Vice Chancellor and staff.
Family and friends of donors, students, Vice Chancellor, staff and colleagues:
My name is Geoff Boyce. I am the Oasis Coordinating Chaplain at Flinders University.
Oasis is a university centre for hospitality, well being and inclusive spirituality, aiming to inspire a culture of care.
This afternoon, we turn aside from our daily challenges to focus on this moment. For me, this ceremony brings hope. Hope arising from the generosity of the donors; a generosity that induces deep respect and nurtures our human capacity for empathy.
Someone once said that nothing can be truly given unless there is someone who can truly receive.
So as my contribution to this ceremony, I wish to address my thoughts to the universities themselves, as the receivers of the generosity of the donors and their families, to acknowledge their continuing tradition of both contributing to the advancement of knowledge, as well as its transmission to students and the wider community.
As the result of the generosity of donors, the university is enabled to further its research, leading to greater medical understanding. Students benefit through enhanced learning experiences; and the wider community ultimately benefits from enhanced medical knowledge, and proficient medical care by those graduates, who, in the future, will take our lives in their hands.
In paying respect to the university, I think we should acknowledge the many difficulties and frustrations universities face in sustaining their tradition: the many diversions imposed on them to survive, such as the interminable search for funding, the pressures of external political ideology, and the need to construct self-protective mechanisms in the face of uncertain threats, to name a few. Dare I mention arranging enough car parks?
In fact, these diversions are no longer considered diversions, they have become normalized as essential to the survival of the university.
I think most of us recognize similar challenges in our own lives. But the demands on such large and complex human institutions are particularly exacting.
From where I stand as a university employee, I believe that one of today’s great challenges for the university, given the many pressures that frustrate its endeavour, is the protection of the space needed to nurture the spirituality of its members; to resist being over-run by a dominant utilitarian, risk-averse and consumerist culture, that inevitably leads to a toxic self-interest, blind to compassion and destroying trust and hope among its members and the wider community.
There is a writing in the Christian tradition, often repeated at marriage services: “now these three abide…” (that is, these three qualities are foundational and timeless) – “these three abide – faith, hope and love – but the greatest of these is love”. By ‘love’ I understand the writer to mean, empathetic acts of sacrificial compassion. Such acts require space for their enactment.
Faith, hope and love are what the donors have expressed, and I dare say the families expect of the university.
I commend the three universities for providing this opportunity today, for expressing their commitment to human dignity, and for providing the hospitality that allows us to express care for each other, in the context of the pursuit of knowledge and compassionate service to humanity.