Almighty row at Trinity as scholars refuse to say grace


A row has erupted at Trinity over whether or not students should have to say grace at meal times. Over the past few weeks a number of scholars and exhibitioners have refused to recite the meal-time prayer when asked to do so at dinners in hall. One student explained why some undergraduates had begun to rebel against the practice. He said, “They oppose [the fact] that academic achievement is being seen as having a religious connotation and resent being obliged to participate.”A response by the Chaplain, demanding that the prize-winners deliver the recitation, has opened up a rift between the students and the College’s Governing Body. In an email sent on 7 February, the Revd Emma Percy wrote, “The personal beliefs of the individual are incidental; the role requires them to speak the words that the college community wish to be said on their behalf.”The Chaplain also argued that reciting the prayer was not a religious ritual but a tradition that current scholars and exhibitioners were obliged to take part in. She said, “There seems to be some confusion about the difference between personal and public prayer, the individual and the role. The scholar/exhibitioner is asked to recite the grace, it is a personal matter whether they also pray it,” she added.Some students took offence to the tone of the message. One undergraduate, who wished to remain anonymous, said, “Her argument was perfectly sound but the tone was pretty awful and some people weren’t happy about that.”In an anonymous email to Cherwell, another student described it as “an arrogant letter to all students (most of whom are not practicing [sic] Christians) that tolerates no objections.”Following the email from the Chaplain a motion was brought to the JCR by Jonny Wright, a fourth year student. The motion stated that, “despite the Chaplain’s argument, the obligation to say the words of the grace amounts to forced participation in a religious ceremony.”It also noted that, “A scholarship or exhibition is an award for academic achievement, and should not involve any religious obligation.”At the JCR meeting last Monday a motion was passed by 27 votes to 17 to write to the Governing Body requesting a change in College rules, removing the obligation for scholars and exhibitioners to recite grace. The decision was taken to the Governing Body on Wednesday, after the meeting.JCR President Richard Williams said, “The Principal and Fellows were not overly impressed,” and that they laid out a number of objections.“They did not agree that saying grace can be defined as a ‘forced participation in a religious ceremony’…nor [did they agree that] the grace [is] necessarily best understood as a purely religious ritual.“The Governing Body also reminded students that, ‘the exhibition is essentially a gift, a reward for achievement rather than a right we automatically have claim to; moreover these are funded by sources which hold College tradition dear.’ Most of all, the President and Chaplain were concerned for the hall staff.” The Governing Body handed the issue back to the JCR and Williams suggested that a solution will be reached whereby students who do not wish to say grace will not be obliged to.Peter Hughes, President of the Oxford Secular Society, argued that grace should always be considered a religious practice, and therefore students should not be under obligation to perform it. He said, “It seems ludicrous that anyone should be forced to engage in religious practices, and it must be embarrassing for Christians for it to be dismissed as mere tradition.”To become a scholar or exhibitioner students are required to take a vow to observe the College’s rules, including the obligation to say grace in the dining hall if asked. Williams said, “Over the next week or so I’m going to be talking to all the scholars and exhibitioners to devise a system where grace will be distributed in such a way that no one who is determinedly opposed to it will have to say it.” He added, “The University and colleges claim to be inclusive and equally open to people of all faiths and none. Exclusionary practices like this serve as uncomfortable reminders that we still have a way to go.”A statement from Trinity College President Sir Ivor Roberts said, “The JCR is currently considering the best way to maintain the tradition of Scholars and exhibitioners saying the College grace before Formal Hall.”


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