So I thought last Sunday was moving…
This afternoon, I walked with a group of six guys and six girls through Port Meadow for a 3:00pm church service at a place called St. Margaret’s. (See my Port Meadow post for pictures of the area). We walked past a village of cute houses and then a small road that ran past fields and fields and fields. The walk took about thirty minutes, but it was well worth it just to be out in the middle of nowhere experiencing God’s astounding beauty. Fog was rolling over the hills, and everything just seemed still.
We came up to a town of just a few houses, passed by a yard with miniature goats (adorable!), and then turned the corner to find a pretty little cemetery. Two huge willow-looking type trees hung over the old tombstones marking the graves of men and women who had died centuries ago. I felt like I had stepped back in time….I’ve been getting that feeling a lot here recently.
We walked through the small graveyard up to the church door made of a beautiful dark wood with black hinges and designs. The small stone church building was gorgeous and so “European-looking.” The whole setting looked like the perfect picture of a genuine, old English countryside. But the inside was even better.
I opened the door and stepped into one of the most gorgeous buildings I’ve ever been in. And not because it was massive and embellished like Christ Church or St. Mary the Virgin’s, but because it was beautifully simple. There was a small center aisle that separated about ten rows of pews that sat maybe four people on each side. There was a small organ in the back, and a stained-glass window overlooking the alter at the front. The inside walls were grayish-white, and the floors were polished stone with word carvings all over (we saw the name John Smith on there…don’t know if there’s any connection). The ceiling was sloped up to a point like a stereotypical house with dark wooden beams supporting it. The whole image was lovely, especially since the non-electrical church was totally empty and dark except for the few glass windows in the back and front. We felt like we had stumbled upon an old, abandoned church and had fun exploring the building and its grounds.
As we were walking around outside (wondering why no one else was there…), we found a sign that said the afternoon service was only offered in the summertime. Let down.. But determined to make the best of our journey, we all went into the church and created our own service. And let me tell you, it was beautiful.
With a group of twelve students from Abilene Christian, chances are we’d have a few Bible majors in our midst. Turned out we had two, in addition to a couple of musically-driven people. Some of the guys put their heads together, and in just a few minutes put together a wonderful service of Bible-reading and song. Sitting in the pews of that old, empty church listening to the Word of God was surreal. There’s no other way to describe it. As we were singing “It is Well With My Soul,” “Amazing Grace,” and “All Who Are Thirsty,” I was stunned by God’s glory. We were all sitting in the pews, not focusing on each other or what was around us, but just openly and wholeheartedly worshipping God. Our voices were all there was, and I can honestly say it was some of the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard. Not because we are all wonderfully talented, but because we were singing from the heart.
As ACU students, we simply had to close-out with “Highways, Byways” and then circle-up for “The Lord Bless You and Keep You.” And let me tell you, those songs sounded the best they ever have to me…and that’s coming from someone who tears-up at hearing all of ACU sing in chapel together. Once again, it had nothing to do with our voices (the “amens” in “The Lord Bless You and Keep You” were actually pretty rough…), but because they were sung with such honesty and joy. We left the church happy and full, having experienced God in our own way in His house where people have worshipped since the 12th century. It was one of the most wonderful and unique experiences I’ve ever had, and it made me so proud to be a child of God as well as a part of the ACU body. Getting to worship like that with my friends and fellow-students who are earnestly seeking the Lord was indescribable.
I still can’t believe I’ve only been here eleven days and have already seen and experienced so much! There’s something really special about this land and the people and history here. It just connects you to the past in such an unbelievable way. I hope everyone has the opportunity to come to England at some point in their lives. Oxford really is such an eye-opening place filled with a kind of beauty you just can’t find in America. I saw just a glimpse of it today know there is so much more to come…