Kings College London and its renowned choir responded enthusiastically to a request from the Desmond and Leah Tutu Legacy Foundation to be part of a series of lead-up events to Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu’s birthday. The institution rose to the occasion with aplomb and deep sincerity.
Archbishop Tutu’s enduring message of love, impact on justice and peace, sense of fun, spirit of forgiveness and optimism, and joyfulness, generosity and wisdom – all these qualities and more were celebrated at the special 90th-birthday service at Kings College London in his honour on 5 October 2021.
The evensong, a hybrid in-person and online event, was held in the Strand Chapel of King’s College London, of which Archbishop Tutu is a Fellow and where he studied theology in the 1960s. It was led by the dean, the Revd Dr Ellen Clark-King, with a homily by the college chaplain, the Revd Tim Ditchfield, and attended remotely by the Archbishop and his wife, Leah Tutu.
Their daughter Mpho Tutu van Furth commented during the proceedings in the digital-platform live chat that her parents were enjoying the service, music and sermon.
The readings from the Book of Isaiah and the Gospel according to Luke, and the music performed by the world-renowned Choir of King’s College London, were contemplative of the Archbishop’s life and work, including the message of loosening the bonds of injustice and letting the oppressed go free.
The moving tributes delivered after the formal service focused on special moments shared with the Arch, and his impact and legacy, including his lasting inspiration to young people as agents of change.
Wishing him a happy birthday, the Revd Dr Clark-King said there couldn’t be a King’s College London graduate who lived out more clearly the university’s motto of Sancte et Sapienter (with holiness and wisdom). She recalled experiencing Archbishop Tutu’s “infectious joy” and the laughter he brought, especially with young people.
The Revd Ditchfield recalled an indelible sermon by Archbishop Tutu at King’s College in the 1990s in which he shared his “inclusive message of God’s love”, and the personal impact this had on him.
He also spoke of the Archbishop’s “modelling of forgiveness of those who abused power”, and how he had shaped the church, the world, the college and others in a “continuing, ever-expanding circle of influence”.
He mentioned the Arch’s sense of fun, infectious laugh, sense of joy and delight in the world and all people, and referred to his message of God’s unconditional love for “all ethnic groups, all religions, all genders, all sexualities …”.
Second-year King’s College London students Thea Turton and Khushal Yousafzai, president and vice-president respectively of the college’s Theology and Religious Studies Society, spoke about Archbishop Tutu’s lasting legacy within their department.
Turton mentioned the ups and downs students had experienced over the past months and thanked the Archbishop for his continued optimism and inspiration as she conveyed her birthday wishes to him.
Yousafzai said, “Your spirit of forgiveness and your optimism inspires us in how we lead this society … Your life reminds us of how far we have come as humanity and how far we can go if we face the challenges of life as one family learning together.”
Tutu Foundation UK trustee Miguel Fragoso said the opportunity to attend the 2019 Desmond Tutu International Peace Lecture in Cape Town and to meet the Archbishop personally was “a milestone” in his life.
He noted that the foundation works under the principles of ubuntu and is proud to work with communities in spreading the message of forgiveness, justice and equality.
John Battersby, an ambassador for the Tutu Foundation UK, said, “On your birthday, as on every day, you are a beacon of hope in a troubled world. You have been a beacon in my life since I first interviewed you in 1974.” He recalled that his subeditors at the time captured Archbishop Tutu’s spirit with the headline “The diminutive bishop who packs a mighty punch”.
He described the Archbishop as “a voice of the voiceless”, who “erected a beacon of hope and human decency to counteract the tidal wave of the past …”
His message of peace and love inspired the youth with “the transcendental message of hope and infinite human potential”, he added. “May your spirit of inclusiveness and spiritual generosity … and your presence reign forever. May your special day reflect the wisdom and love that have permeated and continue to permeate your life.”
Archbishop Tutu’s kindness was lauded and a speech he delivered at the University of the Western Cape at the time of his 75th birthday was recalled, where he used humour and self-deprecation to convey the message to hundreds of students that they could “make a difference in the world”.
The speakers celebrated his legacy in bringing people closer together and fostering leadership in young people.
Evensong and Tribute video can be viewed below.