I spent my last couple of days in Sheffield relaxing and getting together all my plans for the rest of the week. I would be traveling literally all over the country, and I didn’t want to leave all my plans for the last minute, as I tend to do. It was really rainy all the beginning of this week, which made it even more enticing to just stay indoors.
But before I knew it, Wednesday arrived and it was time to make my last big move (with all my stuff) back down to the London area. I would be moving back to Fleet, to be precise, a small town about a 40-minute train ride west of London. This was where I stayed the second and third weeks of my time here, so it was nice to move back to a familiar place.
Thursday I had planned to visit a church in Oxford. They did not meet until the evening, so I decided to travel up a little early and see the city. Also, I knew that several other SMU students would be there in the Oxford summer study abroad program. I got in touch with a couple of friends and decided to meet up with them. It was really good to see some familiar faces.
They had only been in the country about a week, but it was also good to have someone who was familiar with the city to be able to point out all the cool sites to me. I shared stories of my travels and hopefully some helpful pointers on living and traveling in the UK and got a real-time inside scoop of the study abroad program. Although what they are doing seems very interesting, I am glad to be doing what I am doing.
(Photo right: Christ Church in Oxford)
We couldn’t hang out forever, though, and soon my friend had to go do his own thing. But he left me with some more interesting places to visit in the town. I still had a little while to walk around and actually explore in several of the Oxford colleges.
(Photo left: Oxford College)
Soon it was time to meet up with the group I was there to visit, so I walked out to a guy’s flat where the group mayBe would be meeting. People gradually arrived, and before long we had a nice little dinner together. This group as represented by this particular meeting was made up of several young couples with young children and a couple of older members. They were all very welcoming, and I quickly felt right at home.
After dinner, we went through a resource that they have. They focus on particular topics in 6-week cycles, and this cycle is about journeys. We talked some about labyrinths and how that can be a representation of our life journey with God. It was very much based in discussion.
After we got through the questions, we spent some time just talking while tea and dessert were served. Then we went through a printed worship liturgy. It was all pretty straightforward, but it was interesting to see how it worked, because they recently lost their leader. Different people would step in at different times to guide discussion or worship. This also had to happen, because periodically children would distract parents who were involved in the service.
At the end of it, I wound up staying with the guy whose flat we were at. He graciously let me stay at a moment’s notice. This also allowed me some more time to talk with him about the group.
Thursday morning I left Oxford pretty early to run back by my room in Fleet and grab a few things. I then headed back to the train station to get a train up to Birmingham. There is a group that I found out about several weeks ago that meets one Friday a month for some worship and dancing. This was the Friday, so I went up to visit and see how this “dance club” type of church worked.
I was basing my trip on a card I received about 6 weeks ago, and upon arriving in the city and trying to get into the place it was supposed to be, I realized things had changed in that time. Luckily, I had a number for the lady who is in charge and does the dj work. I called and got the real time and place (which was thankfully later and not earlier) and waited around for things to finally start.
It was being held in a bar, which was interesting, but I knew this one would be a little different. I will not lie, but I was a little dissatisfied with it overall. I found a card that said that there would be worship from 9 to 10, and then the bar would be open and the djs would be around for normal club dancing and partying until 4am.
When I got there, they were still setting up the sound equipment and were having technical difficulties. The dj’s microphone would not work. She said that she normally talks over the music some, but would just have to let the music speak for itself this time. She put on some music with a heavy dance beat. Some of it was explicitly Christian in content, some less obviously, and some of it just instrumental.
It was pretty empty for the first hour and a half, and people did not really start showing up until I had to leave. I knew I would not be able to stay until 4am. Who knows what happened after I left, but maybe it was more than just a dance party.
Grace, pt 2
I stayed in Birmingham with a guy I met last weekend. He and his wife were really nice, and on Saturday I got to hang out with them some as they played Mario Kart (and beat me badly in it) and went into town for the afternoon.
It was fun to spend time with them, but before long I had to catch a train back to London to meet with another group that only meets once a month on Saturdays. I visited Grace’s smaller service, Gracelet, a couple of weeks ago, but this is their bigger, alternative worship service (the one they are more well known for). I got there a little late, but they were having a barbecue so I easily slipped in. This is what they consider the end of their Grace year, and they take August off for a trip to the big Christian art festival called Greenbelt.
It was good to see some people I recognized along with a few new faces. I got to talk with some people before the service started. Then we all went into the church for a service related to getting along with people in the community who sometimes annoy you. There was some Scripture reading and creative reflection all tied together within this service and even back to the first service of their year.
At the end, we had dessert and people started to leave. I soon had to catch a train back to Fleet, but not before I had a few last conversations with some of the members of the community.
More Traveling and York
Sunday afternoon I again hopped on a train to head out to York. There is a group that meets out there that does a service in York Minster called Transcendence. It is labeled as an “ancient future mass.” Even just having the service in the minster sets a certain tone of awe, but to add to that, the service was structurally very high church/traditional.
(Photo right: York Minster)
We were greeted and throughout had a lot of led responses, some of which were sung. All the songs we sang were very old hymns or chants, but were all sung to background tracks that were more modern dance beats. I did not understand what was going on at first, but after a while I really noticed how the two styles complemented each other nicely.
We did some processing around the church while chanting and there was a fairly straightforward sermon. After that, everyone was allowed to wander through the minster and visit different designated stations for prayer. Finally we gathered together again to close. In all, there were over 100 people there, making this by far the largest group I have visited. It included people from another emerging group called Visions, regular attendees of the minster, and many people who come from all over the place (other churches, tourists, etc.).
I got to talk to some of the people who lead the service after it was over as we packed everything up and went to a pub. They only meet for Transcendence once a month, so it is a pretty big deal and they had a ton of equipment, but it remarkably did not feel like a show or an event.
I’ve got one more week and it will mostly be spent in London getting some last-minute interviews in, and hopefully a little less running around.
(Photo left: York Minster inside)