I suppose it’s about time I write another post! I’ve been in Oxford for four days now, and it’s already been such a wonderful experience. Though it’s nothing like I expected, the houses and city are gorgeous and so unique. The house I live in (#9) dates back to 1880, and some buildings in the City Centre (downtown) are centuries older. While Oxford is definitely a lively city, it’s also very quaint and community-based. The shops and restaurants shut down early in the evening (just like the sun does…), and the pubs are the only busy places at night. And they’re bustling! Each has its own personality and specialty.
During the day, so far we’ve enjoyed exploring, grocery shopping (everything is natural and preservative free…such an adjustment!), eating (crepes, sandwiches, burgers, brownies, pasta, and the classic fish and chips…I don’t care what they say, it’s all been good so far), taking pictures, and shopping. Goodness. One store, Primark, was like broke-shopper’s heaven. It’s a huge, two-story shop with amazing clothes, shoes, and accessories…all for great prices! I tried to hold back since it was only the third day here (though I definitely ended up buying a couple things), leaving with a promise that I’ll definitely be going back throughout the semester!
In the evenings, we’ve had fun walking in the City Centre and soaking up the night life, popping into different pubs, Skyping and catching up with family and friends back home (iMessage and Textplus…the blessings of technology), watching movies as a new family in House #9’s awesome common room, and just getting to know each other better! I love everyone I’m traveling with and couldn’t have asked for a better group!
I was inspired to write this post tonight after doing something a little different today. (I can’t believe I just used the word “inspired.” Sorry. I don’t like it. Way overused. Anyway…) This evening, about 20 of us made the twenty-minute long trek across town to a church called St. Aldates for its evening service at 6pm (that’s noon for you folks back home…I still can’t get over the massive time-change). We walked in, and I was instantly blown away.
Before coming to Oxford, I had England pinned as a country with a lot of churches. In the building sense of the word. What I mean is that I had believed it to be a place filled with religion but very little relationship. Whenever I imagined English Christians, I imagined a group of extremely serious people dressed in black all flocking to a massive, deep gray church with ceilings that reached the sky as the bells tolled slowly outside. I imagined them all sitting perfectly straight in red oak pews as an old, monotone minister rambled off passages of Scripture methodically. It sounds like I was imagining a funeral…
Well, let me just say for those of you who have the same preconceived notions: it’s not true. There may be some churches like that in England, as there are in America and I’m sure every country on Earth, but that is surely not what I experienced tonight. We entered a beautiful church that was not overly-large but still a good size. It was classic-English looking inside and out, with gorgeous ornate carvings on the pillars (yes, it had pillars inside) and ceiling. The architecture was astounding, and I had a hard time believing I had actually come to this place to worship. And though the building was phenomenal, the people were casually dressed and friendly, and the stage was set up with all the modern equipment you’d expect in a contemporary American church: guitars, microphones, TV screens, drums, etc.
An older and very English looking man walked to the front, and began the service with prayer and opened the way for our time of worship through song. Now this was the real turning point for me. I had expected to hear a lot of “English songs,” maybe ranging from hymns to unfamiliar modern songs. And while we sang two I had never heard before, the rest were some near and dear to me. We sang “Blessed Be Your Name,” “The Greatness of Our God,” “Before the Throne of God Above,” and “Beautiful Exchange.” And as I stood there singing, I realized the beauty of what was going on around me. People from different countries and different states were all joined together praising one God. Our accents blended together and vanished as we glorified our Savior (or “Saviour”) in a hymn, a ten year old praise-and-worship song, and contemporary church songs. It was then that my stereotype of “English Christians” was thrown out the window and replaced with a beautiful new truth from the Lord: that passion for knowing His heart is not just found in Americans but in followers all over the world. We read the passage in 2 Corinthians 4 that compares us to jars of clay–nothing on the outside compared to His beauty within. And while I had imagined English churches to be simply beautiful on the outside, tonight I found that beauty to be nothing compared to what is on the inside. Tonight I experienced just a taste of it, and I can’t wait to see God’s work in this city and in my life even more!