Graduations at Cliff College: occasions of joyful celebration

15 November 2023

By the Revd Jonathan Hustler, Secretary of the Conference

The range of opportunities that being the Secretary of the Methodist Conference gives is wide and varied. It was a huge privilege last week to give the address at the graduation ceremony for Cliff College. It was also a privilege to speak at the Cliff Dinner about the Cliff College Alumni Network.

Over the last ten years, since I joined the Connexional Team, I have been a frequent visitor to Cliff. Cliff hosts many of our connexional residential meetings (for example, as I left, some of my colleagues were arriving for Stationing Matching). Some of our connexional posts are located at Cliff and the academic staff are members of the Connexional Team. There has been close working between Cliff staff and other members of the Connexional Team in Ministries, in Evangelism and Growth, and in Children, Youth and Families. 

Alongside that, Cliff is a centre for undergraduate and postgraduate learning, validated by the University of Manchester. It attracts people to study residentially, part-time or online from a range of Christian traditions. So, addressing the graduands was, in a sense, engaging with that part of the work of the College which might appear to be tangential to the Methodist Church, but that would be a mistaken impression. As I reflected on the testimonies given by some of those receiving awards and had conversations with those attending the events over the weekend, I was reminded how distinctly Methodist an institution Cliff is and how in all its activities it serves as part of the Methodist Church.

In part, that is because Cliff is fundamentally a Bible College. The Revd Dr Andrew Stobart, one of the Vice Principals, reminded those at the dinner that the core of theology as Cliff understands it is engagement with the Word of God in Scripture; that engagement is undertaken within the Wesleyan tradition, recognizing that Scripture is interpreted in the light of tradition, reason and experience, and acknowledging as we do that work of interpretation that we live with contradictory convictions. Another distinctively Methodist insight is the recognition that the insights from the study of Scripture are not simple for academic interest but are to be lived out in mission. As he introduced us to the new suite of awards that Cliff offers, Dr Stobart stressed that each degree will have a practical aspect to it.

I was also struck by the way in which the cohort of graduands and the faculty reflected our Methodist values. The range of Christian traditions points to the ecumenical contribution: our scholarship has always been a gift to the wider Church. The wider Church is not confined to Great Britain and the number of students from overseas is impressive – I dined with those from Russia, Switzerland and The Netherlands who in different ways were contributing to the life of the academic community.

Graduations are always occasions of joyful celebration and that, in spite of the grim November weather, was the case at Cliff. The joy was not simply the recognition of years of hard work or the reward of achievement; it was also the sense that through study and through those who were taking the fruits of their learning into ministry, a Methodist Church makes a positive contribution to the life of a University and to the enrichment of society as a whole.