from medieval Latin, lit. ‘by or with the living voice’
On 22 March, I reached a long-expected milestone in our Durham Journey: my viva voce. The viva is an oral examination and a companion to the written thesis. It provides the opportunity for the doctoral student to demonstrate to scholars in the field that the student can defend the main arguments in the thesis and defend the approach and methodology used. While the examiners may be familiar with the doctoral candidate, the weight of the examination lies with the contents of the thesis itself. In order to pass, the thesis must offer a significant original contribution to the field of knowledge. That is to say that the author (that would be me) is the only one who knows this much about this subject. The examiners are there, in part, to make sure that the thesis project shows sound research, treats the material in a fair manner, demonstrates rigorous methodology, provides conclusions that are supported by the data presented and offers that significant original contribution.
The examiners were selected by my doctoral supervisors and approved by the University. In this academic model, common throughout much of the UK, there are two examiners: an internal examiner, who is on the Durham University faculty, and an external examiner, one who is from outside of Durham. Both are accomplished in the field and experienced at conducting doctoral examinations.
My completed thesis was just under 100,000 words. That translates to about 335 pages, including the front material, appendixes, bibliography, etc. It represents years of thinking about and discussing topics near and dear to me. It reflects hours in the libraries and at my desk. It shows the questions and ponderings that have kept me up at night.
When I traveled to Durham for the viva, I was only there a few days. In those few, precious hours I took long walks down memory lane. I visited my office at 50 North Bailey where I did much of the initial work. I walked through the Cathedral and took a deep breath amidst the whirlwind that this journey has sometimes been. I strolled past our old house and walked familiar paths that the family and I had taken hundreds of times before.
The day before the viva my primary supervisor, Rev. Prof. David Wilkinson, and I spent a few moments in prayer in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral. The Venerable Saint Bede’s tomb is inside this chapel. Regarded by many as the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholar, Bede (673-735 AD) completed his ‘The Ecclesiastical History of the English People’ in 731 AD. He lived and served in and around Durham during his ministerial and academic career. Because of Bede’s significant influence, Durham has been a center of learning, and of course theological education, for 1,000 years. As David reminded me of this, he told me that the mantle now passes to me: I will always have a place in this line of scholars, no matter what the result of my forthcoming viva. As we prayed and reflected upon this, I was once again overwhelmed by the feeling that this work was not just my own. We, the entire family and I, have felt a strong call to this study, to this place, and to the task before us. I simultaneously felt the weight of the undertaking before me and the uplifting confidence that we were following the call on our lives.
I approached the viva with an awareness of the gravity of the situation, but also with excitement to discuss my research with two distinguished scholars in my field. They took the time to read my material in-depth. I was ready to learn from the questions and their comments. Yes, I was a bit nervous, but I was also looking forward to it.
The viva itself could not have gone better. We had a wonderful conversation and I passed without corrections or revisions: the best possible outcome! I was thrilled to hear, “Congratulations, Dr. Haynes!”
As I left the Palatine Center, my feet barely touch the pavement as I walked. I called home with the wonderful news. I wish I could have seen the grin on my own face as I made my way down the familiar footpath to the River Wear and across Prebends Bridge. This eighteenth-century bridge (a young one in these parts) is one of my favorite places in Durham. This spot provides an outstanding view of the Cathedral. Downstream there is a former mill at the waterfall. Upstream there is a beautiful bend in the river that provides for some wonderful walks. There is an intersection of footpaths here. From this bridge, you can walk up the towards the Bailey and to St. John’s College, Cranmer Hall, my office, libraries, and the City Centre. In the other direction, you can also walk along the river and towards the rail station. From there you can catch a number of services north to Scotland or south to London.
That afternoon I walked across the bridge having completed my doctoral project. I paused at the intersection of those footpaths, beside the lamppost and bench where I had lingered several times before. With a flood of emotions, I recalled the first time that I walked down this path. I was leaving Durham after visiting the University to help discern if this was where God was calling us. Having met with professors and students, visiting libraries and halls, I was heading out. As I left Durham that morning I had this overwhelming sense that I had left something behind. I was not sure exactly what it was, but I knew that I had to return here to get it. It was 4 years and 1 month from visit to viva that I stopped at that intersection again. With an overwhelming sense of gratitude, scenes of our journey flooded my heart. I had come back to our Durham home to get what I had left behind: that which was yet in front of me and was now complete. My God use that which He has done in us thus far to bless others for His Kingdom for years to come.