Oration for The Very Reverend David Monteith

By Professor Gordon Campbell

The Very Reverend David Monteith is Dean of Leicester. He is a native of Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland, and so a child of the Troubles. Enniskillen is inscribed in our memories because of the Remembrance Day bombing of 1987. That was the climax of a long series of attacks that had begun in 1972, so David's childhood was touched by the use of violence designed to serve political ends. In the midst of this unhappy world, David enjoyed the shelter and nourishment of his family, and it is a particular pleasure to see that his parents have been able to be with us today. David attended Portora Royal School, a state grammar school that was founded by royal charter in 1608, as an avowedly Protestant school. David received an excellent education at Portora, but failed to become avowedly Protestant, certainly not in the tribal sense in which the term is used in Northern Ireland.

In 1986 David Monteith left Ulster for Durham University, where he read Zoology, perhaps an unusual choice for one who already sensed a vocation for the priesthood. On graduating he moved to St John's College, which is a Church of England Theological College in Nottingham, where he took a  Bachelor of Theology and an MA in Mission and Ministry. David was ordained as a deacon in 1993 and as a priest the following year. His clerical career began modestly with an assistant curacy in Kings Heath, Birmingham. He subsequently moved to St Martin-in-the-Fields. on Trafalgar Square, which, like David, does inclusiveness on a grand scale. At one extreme, it is the parish church of Buckingham Palace and Downing Street; and the other end of the social spectrum, it has for almost a century had a pioneering scheme to help the homeless. On the cultural level, it does classical music upstairs and jazz downstairs.

Thereafter David continued his distinctively urban ministry in a series of London posts, and in 2009 he came to another church dedicated to St Martin of Tours: Leicester Cathedral. He came with a range of interests and passions that clearly reflect his time in urban parishes. Initially his job here was that of Canon Chancellor,  and so he was responsible for education and pastoral work. He developed a passion for the city and its diversity, and in due course became chair of the St Philip’s Centre for Interfaith Dialogue. In 2013 he became Dean of Leicester.

The title Dean of Leicester sounds grand, even presumptuous, as the cathedral is hardly the city. On David's watch, however, the cathedral has in significant part become the focal point of the city. The principal reason for that is the leadership that David showed in presiding over the reburial of Richard III. In some respects the reburial was a distraction, in that the mission of the church does not extend to promoting dead Plantagenets, but David saw the reburial as an opportunity as well as a responsibility, and he led a deeply complex and demanding process through to a triumphant conclusion.  The title of Dean of Leicester had become a reality.

What sort of man is David Monteith?  At a public level, he has the decanal ability to manage large and complex projects. Those who work with David are often struck by his abundant and multifarious talent. Indeed, a visiting bishop recently remarked that David was the most talented priest that he had ever met.  David's job is that of dean, and so he deals with the great and good, but he never forgets that his vocation is as a priest, and so he interacts comfortably with ordinary people. Perhaps his most visible characteristic as a priest is his compassion. This is not a virtue that has derived from David's capacious reading, but was rather moulded in the crucible of his own experience. He had long worked among the dispossessed, and at the point when he arrived in Leicester, David had just lost his sister Sandra, who had died after 18 years of illness. Suffering can be a destructive force, but for David, the experience of suffering has enabled him to assist others at difficult times. Beyond the dean, and even beyond the priest, there is a man with passions and enthusiasms that include paintings, contemporary poetry, theatre and gardening. And in a church that still refuses to sanction gay marriage, David lives in civil partnership with his long-term companion David Hamilton, who is with us today.

David Monteith has transformed the cathedral for which he has responsibility. Not only does it have a new internal appearance and a new external setting, but it also houses a king and so has become a magnet for visitors to the city. This work is not yet finished, nor will it ever be.  The next stage, which will be overseen by David, is called Leicester Cathedral Revealed. This is a £10 million restoration and development project to be completed by 2019 in order to better serve all our communities. David's work lies at the heart of the renewal of our city, and in his priestly vocation he serves all who live in this city. It is an honour to have him among us.

Mr Chancellor, on the recommendation of the Senate and the Council, I present to you David Robert Malvern Monteith, that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws.

Delivered by Professor Gordon Campbell on 14 July 2016

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