Address given in Christ’s Chapel, 15 June 2019, by Rev Anthony Buckley:
"My sincere thanks to the headmaster, Dr Gary Savage, and the chaplain, Rev Liz Lander, for their kind invitation to speak this morning. It is an honour to be here, it is an honour for all of us to be here.
What a great school Alleyn’s is and, looking around at these wonderful alumni, what a great school it was. In our readings today we are reminded of four marks of a great school. It is a place where we need not be afraid, where we can be restored, where we are known by name and where we know our need of one other.
In our Isaiah reading, chosen for today because it was the inspiration for the commissioned anthem for the service in Westminster Abbey in January to mark the beginning of our 400th year, we are reminded of the first three of these marks.
When were we a little nervous at school? Perhaps our first day, or having forgotten a homework, or wondering if we would be invited to the party, or if we have made the team? The words from our Isaiah reading “Fear not” were what we needed to hear; do not be afraid, the most repeated command in the Bible. This is a place where, even though scary things may happen, we are safe. We will be seen safely through.
Isaiah goes on, hearing the divine voice say: “Fear not, For I have redeemed you”. When did we mess up at school, when were the times when we got something wrong? A great school is where we know we can be redeemed, restored, forgiven and renewed; there are second chances, there can be new beginnings. Sometimes the situation may be that it is right that the new beginning happens elsewhere (!) but the belief in restoration and redemption for the individual holds firm.
And thirdly “Fear not, For I have redeemed you, I have called you by name” – To be known by name, to know that our stories matter, to be valued as we are. That is another mark of a great school.
And then, from our Corinthians passage: Paul is writing to a group of competitive and successful people, who were not always very good at knowing their need of each other. You are like one body, he says, and each of you has a role to play; it is as if each one is a hand or foot, an elbow or a mouth. You not only should tolerate each other; you need to value each other. Everyone is needed and no-one is left out. That is the mark of a great school.
And, of course, a key legacy of a great school is what are we like once we have left. What are the values that we now live by? We have been given so much, and we are called to share what we have been given. We are called to be people who do not make others scared, who bring good and safe energy into a room; to be people who want to build up, not destroy. To be people who know we can be redeemed and restored, and who can offer that same hope to others. To be people who hold to the truth that we are known by name, that our identity deeply matters, and that we give this same courtesy, respect and compassion to others. To be people who always remember that it is a team game, that we need each other even when we are different, even when we disagree, perhaps especially then. We are called to model these four marks of a great school in the midst of a society and public discourse which do not always treasure these virtues.
Our Founder Edward Alleyn knew these bible verses well, and we may remember on our crest the heart rescued from the flames, a symbol found also in the Isaiah reading. Edward Alleyn knew what it was to be given a second chance. For him, it was an experience of God that became the foundation for his change of direction. He believed the love of God was the bedrock for the deep truth that he need not be afraid, that he was redeemed, known by name and that other people mattered. 403 years ago he looked round this, his newly-built chapel, and perhaps said “this is looking rather good, I wonder if my school will be ready in three years’ time.” It was, and so this year, 2019, we are privileged to honour 400 years of a great school that has served generation after generation after generation.
It is a privilege for us all to be here, let’s have a wonderful, rich, special celebration reunion day."