Thursday, April 21, 2016

Finding our place in Cambridge

Week One.  Cambridge is a University town about the population of Dunedin and like Dunedin has around 25,000 students.  The main University area is compact and you can walk or cycle everywhere.
St John's College - one of the many Cambridge colleges from the air - off the internet. Sue and I plan to go to evensong here tonight.
"Finding our place" has been true in a number of ways.  First of course we needed to find our accommodation at Westminster College.  This is provided through the generosity of the Cheshunt Foundation which is now part of the United Reformed Church.
The front of Westminster College (URC spent 7.2 million pounds upgrading this in 2011)
We have a small one bedroom flat (the Garden Cottage) with an ensuite and living/dining room.  Cosy and very adequate.
Our little cottage.
Westminster has its own library which looks very good, but I also have a desk in our bedroom which I can work from.
The Westminster Library which I am still to explore

The desk in our "Garden Cottage"
We have sought to join in with the small Westminster Community which is mostly students training for ordination, a small staff, and some others on sabbatical.  The United Reformed Church seems to have a large number of small, struggling congregations, many of them in large historic buildings needing considerable upkeep.  I gather numbers of students for ordination are also declining. Westminster has a short chapel service every morning, as well as lunchtime prayers in the chapel, and occasional chapel communion services.  This has been formal, quiet and very traditional liturgically, although I gather some URC congregations are more contemporary and informal in worship style such as we are used to. While the chapel worship could not be described as high on the engagement, energy, excitement or inspiration levels, it has had a quiet peace about it. [As time goes by we are finding that worship here, and in the URC in general is quite diverse and so there are people and worship that is much more lively, inspiring and engaging.]  Finding our place in this hasn't always been easy as there are things people are assumed to know.  Where to sit in the side facing choir type chapel?  Where did people get those orders of service? Who is this person leading our worship? When is it finished?  What is that hymn people are singing and where are the hymbooks to get the words? I guess this isn't meant to be a seeker sensitive service, but it wasn't easy for this long term Christian to find his way.
The small chapel at Westminster College
In seeking to find our place in the Westminster community here, it seems that people are grateful to have visitors who know how to listen.  Only a few have asked us about ourselves and New Zealand. Most have preferred to talk about their own situations.  Sue and I will have to be careful we don't fall into a pastoral role here when that is not our job.  Having said that, we are appreciating getting to know people here, especially the students who invited us out for a drink after the communion service and dinner last night.  The pub culture here is different to NZ.  Of course the word "pub" comes from "public house" and many of the pubs here are like houses with different, somewhat separate rooms where a group of friends can meet and talk.  Different to the large drinking establishments in NZ.
One evening we went to one called "Sir Isaac Newton".  You guessed it - Newton was a student here in the 1600s.
One of the locals
The scientists among you might appreciate this picture on the wall in one room of the Sir Isaac Newton pub.
Finding our place here has also meant trying to grasp something of the class structure of this ivory tower.  Thanks to Westminister and the Cheshunt Foundation, I have the status of "visiting scholar".
You might not think that very important, but without it I wouldn't have been able to get my precious library card that gives me access to the resources of Cambridge.  Sue was trying to go into the main university library and they turned her away.  When she asked if she could come in with me, they said they didn't think I would be able to get a Cambridge University Library card because Westminster isn't a college of the university.  Turns out that because Westminister only teaches theology, it doesn't qualify as a full college.  The lesser mortals who study at Westminster don't get the precious library card and are limited to libraries of the Theological Federation.  Hence the importance of my "visiting scholar" title.

The class system is alive and well in academia here.  One staff member here even talked us through finding our place somewhere between student and staff.  It's not often I roll out my "Rev Dr" title, but I can see it will be needed from time to time here.

Having grumbled about the class system and the way people seem so concerned about status, I must say that the staff we have encountered have been extremely helpful in many different ways.  I have explored some of the main University Library (which automatically gets a copy of every book published in the UK - part of the way books get copyright here).
University Library

I have also found my way to the very small, but practical and helpful Ridley Hall library.  This is at the college where Matt McDonald's brother Rob is a tutor.  Rob is going to help set me up with some people to interview on my study leave topic.  So far I have written the interview questions and listed the people I will see.

The last part of finding our place that I will mention is getting around the town/city.  The spring weather has been fine and sunny, though cold.  Great walking weather and Sue and I have enjoyed some good exploratory walks around the town.  People have advised us to buy bikes and we will explore buying one. Rob and his wife Anna have kindly offered to lend us one for our time here.

Until next week,

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