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Celebrating Significant Anniversaries.

By Greg Hughson in All Sorts

personal and work examples from the writer's life highlight the importance of celebrations in all our lives

This year the University of Otago is celebrating 150 years since it was established by people of deep Christian faith in 1869. The year will be full of opportunities to celebrate. For example, everyone is invited to a community picnic on the University Clocktower Lawn from 5.30pm this coming Friday 15th February. Please come along. Also, significantly, I am chairing a committee which is responsible for planning a 150 year University of Otago celebration Church service to be held at Knox Church, at 10am on Sunday June 2nd. Our “spiritually enthusiastic” and ever growing largely Christian Pacific Islands Community on campus have many events planned. Hence, last Monday I was invited, as University Chaplain, to share a reflection and prayer at the launch of our Pacific Islands Community 150th celebrations for the year. The venue for my reflection and prayer was our University Centre for Innovation on campus, a place where the latest scientific research is tested. I chose to read from Psalm 19 vs 1-7. Senior academics from the University were present as well as 40 or so Pacific Islands senior students and University staff. Psalm 19 is a reflection on God’s Glory in Creation. It includes these words:
“God made a home in the sky for the sun; it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom, like an athlete eager to run a race. It starts at one end of the sky and goes across to the other. Nothing can hide from its heat. The law of the LORD is perfect; it gives new strength. The commands of the LORD are trustworthy, giving wisdom to those who lack it.”
Last Monday was a beautiful sunny day, so I began by celebrating the creation of the Universe. I reflected on the origin of the sunshine, pouring in through the windows. I reflected also on the creation and expansion of time, space and light 13.7 billion years ago, and on the power of sunlight to enable photosynthesis in plants, without which carbon in our atmosphere could not be transformed into the plant carbohydrates we depend upon for life.
I went on to reflect on the faith of the Rev Dr Thomas Burns, a Presbyterian minister who helped establish the University of Otago in 1869. He was a man who could discern God’s Glory in Creation. A firm and devout churchman, he also possessed farming skills from his childhood upbringing back in Scotland. He was also a man who knew that the Law of his Lord was perfect, giving him the ethical grounding, spiritual strength and insight needed to lead our University as Chancellor until his death in 1871.

Like the Psalmist, Thomas Burns knew from personal experience that “the Lord’s commands are trustworthy and that God gives wisdom to those who lack it.”
A large portrait of Thomas Burns continues to hang on the wall of our University Council room, where very important decisions continue to be made, in his presence, under his gaze.
Our University continues to seek to bestow “wisdom to those who lack it.” (Psalm 19 vs 7). Our motto is “Sapere aude - dare to be wise”
Throughout this year and on into the future we will celebrate that our University, established by deeply committed Christian people who drew on God’s wisdom, continues to be a place where wisdom is nurtured.
Next Sunday, 17 February Hilda and I will have been married for 40 years. We were married in Hamilton on 17 February 1979. This is another very special occasion to be celebrated! For 19 of these years, almost half of our married life, I have served as Chaplain to the University of Otago. It has been, and continues to be a privilege to be invited to reflect on scripture and to pray, within a largely secular institution. I believe that the Rev Dr Thomas Burns would be happy that there is still a humble Chaplaincy team, serving in the University he helped establish.
May the year ahead contain elements of celebration for us all.
Rev Greg Hughson University Chaplain