Revamped Grace

Lisa Barrington - News Reporter 19 June 2009

A group of Newnham students have written a new secular grace for formal hall, claiming that the traditional Christian version does not fit well with the college’s inclusive multi-faith ethos.

The new grace is written in Latin but omits mention of God. Reacting against the ‘too Christian’ grace read before the weekly formal halls, the new one reads: ‘’Pro cibo inter esurientes, pro comitate inter desolatos, pro pace inter bellantes, gratias agimus” (‘’For food in a hungry world, for companionship in a world of loneliness, for peace in an age of violence, we give thanks”).
Holly Corfield-Carr, one of the original proponents of the change, told The Cambridge Student (TCS): “The idea was to have a grace that offered a neutral vote of thanks that all members could relate to, but not explicitly multi-faith or atheist.”

Ms. Corfield-Carr explained students’ concerns that “a college like Newnham, which was founded as a secular college for women, should have a religious grace read in Latin. Those that defend the Latin and Christian grace on the grounds of tradition and as being a part of Cambridge life may have forgotten that to follow tradition for tradition’s sake would mean that many elements of Cambridge today would be very different, and that Newnham College might not exist at all.”

Despite initial press reactions to the supposed ‘scrapping’ of the Christian grace, Terri Apter, Senior Tutor at Newnham, explained that “there is no question of the original grace being banned by the college. A group of students merely asked for an alternative.”

The change was first proposed in Easter 2007 and, two years of negotiations later, the new grace was finally read aloud by Newnham’s Principal, Dame Patricia Hodgson, at this year’s last formal hall.

The move has proved controversial, not least in terms of what language the grace should be read in. Despite students’ original request for an English grace, Latin was felt to be more appropriate – a fact which concerned Professor Mary Beard, a fellow at the college, who in her blog criticized its inappropriate use in a modern and secular grace.
A consensus has been reached whereby the person leading the grace can now choose whichever version they feel to be the most appropriate.

The traditional grace was written by Jocelyn Toynbee in 1962.

Lisa Barrington – News Reporter