If we were daunted by the prospect of five speakers at Theology Dinner, John quickly put our mind at rest by reminding us that there were 8 speakers at lunch and 7 at breakfast during Mansfield's inauguration celebrations in 1886. On this note, he introduced our first speaker, previous Principal and true Mansfield man, Donald Sykes. John described Donald as a polymath and a kind and caring tutor, and Donald rose to speak.
Donald began by recalling W.C. Fields' instruction to "smile first thing in the morning and et it over with", reversing this statement to promise us a smile at the end. We did of course smile throughout, for Donald's speech was, as those who know him well will affirm, infused with his usual degree of gentle wit and irony. One of the key sentiments of the speech was to suggest that there is no "Mansfield Type", a claim which was only too proven by the variety of attendees at the Theology Dinner. Donald also regaled us with two priceless anecdotes: the time he was allegedly put in a wardrobe in A Staircase (only those attending were privy to the secret of whether or not this really happened), and the student's reply to his "I think I could teach Greek in my speep": "You have done!"
Our second speaker, Charles Brock, was chaplain at Mansfield for some 30 years. John Muddiman recalled Charles' conversion to monarchism from republicanism: during some articularly public wrangles between the Prince and Princess of Wales, Charles declared that he was converted to the breed of monarchism that showed monarchs as being down in the gutter with the rest of us!
Charles continued the W.C. Fields theme by quoting either Fields or Peter Jupp (Mansfield alumnus, seated next to him) as having replied to an offer of a drink of water with "that's what fish fornicate in!". After this bemusing start, Charles took us on a tour of the statues that populate Mansfield, beginning with Milton and moving through the list to Bunyan, who overlooks the vestry. Recalling a competition to hit Bunyan on the "feet" with a champagne cork through the window, Charles revealed that a certain Kirsty (now an eminent figure in the URC) had been the first person to succeed at this difficult task.
Peggy Morgan, our next speaker, was appointed Tutor in the Study of Religion in 1990, having taught at Mansfield since the 1980's. She lauded the foresight of previous Mansfieldians, such as Principal Fairbairn, who insisted that it was imperative for Theologians to study other religions aside from Christianity. Peggy rejoiced at the presence of Plato in the stained glass array in the Chapel.
Joel Rasmussen, our recent addition to the Theology Fellowship, then stepped up to speak. John Muddiman introduced him as the standard-bearer of "Theology of the Future". Unusually for Oxford, Joel's specialism is in 19th Century Theology, and with a wry smile he recalled the days when the latest paper one could take was 451AD. He amazed our older alumni present by revealing that it is now not only possible to study Theology of the Reformation, but that the Oxford syllabus has extended as far as the 19th Century. Not only is the study of Theology expanding to cover more recent centuries, but the comparative religion option is becoming ever more popular, and furthermore Mansfield will be embracing a new Joint Schools option of Theology and Oriental Studies, to complement the existing Theology and Philosophy BA course.
John Muddiman rose to utter his final words, and recalled his early relationship with Mansfield in 1966 - as a spy! Sent over with his peers from Keble to attend George Caird's lectures, he was asked by his "Q"-denying tutor to take notes on just why George Caird was defending "Q". In 1972 George Caird became John's DPhil supervisor, and they got along together quite well, with Caird interfering minimally with John's thesis, and a mutual understanding to not mention "Q". In 1980 John was appointed lecturer in the New Testament by Donald Sykes, and his bond with Mansfield was sealed once he sat down to his lavish plate of fish and chips, which was bounty indeed in comparison with the meagre portions at St Stephen's. In 1990 John was awarded the post of George Caird Fellow, and he chose Mansfield as the seat of his allegiance due to the unstuffy friendliness of the SCR, and the outstanding scholarship of the college.
John concluded by praising the diversity of activities pursued by Theology students at Mansfield, with Blues team players in an eclectic range of sports, including golf, lacrosse, and boxing, as well as MCR and JCR Presidents. Theology students go on to work in a broad number of fields, from the ministry to the City. John remarked that those who chose the City were perhaps regretting letting the ministry option pass them by, and concluded the entertaining and fascinating selection of speeches with a toast to Mansfield.