Oxford trip 3-8 May 2018
From 3 to 8 May 2018, a group of 7 students and 2 staff members of PThU visited Wycliffe Hall, an Anglican college in Oxford, UK. The studytrip was part of the course Mission-shaped Spirituality, a course that belongs to the tracks 'Missional Communities' and 'Thinking God Interculturally” in both Masterprogrammes of the PThU in Groningen. The trip consisted of academic exchange with students and lecturers at Wycliffe Hall, such as lectures and presentations; introductions to various new and existing missional churches in and around Oxford; and a visit to Southall, a multireligious suburb of London with an Anglican multifaith ministry.
Our first day in Oxford!
By Mariëlle Splint, in cooperation with Zung Bawm
Having experienced the usual nausea before going on a trip the day before, I was now jumping with joy when my classmates and I were gathered at the PThU to depart in rented van to Oxford. After a very short night on the Stena Line ferry from Hoek van Holland to Harwich, and some minor delays because of bad traffic and the inability to deny ourselves a full stomach when arriving at Oxford, we entered a building covered in idyllically green vines through an atrium where trees were blooming and birds sang of spring. I am proud to say we entered the Regent Park College classroom only five minutes late, barely disturbing Prof. Paul S. Fiddes in his lecture concerning a paper by the World Council of Churches’ vision on mission, church and ecumenism, finishing his lecture with great élan countering the tendency of the WCC’s paper to only be concerned with the Church; ‘since the Church exists for the world, it shouldn’t concern conduct within the Church itself, but throughout the world as well. Besides, Who’s world is it anyway?’
After having had lunch at Regent Park – fish and chips! – and installing ourselves in our lovely accommodations, we were invited to join a lecture by Ethicist Matthew D. Kirkpatrick on the way community as opposed to individualism creates a mission mentality within a congregation. It was interesting to note the differences between the lecturer of that morning, who had a more inclusivist tendency regarding different faiths, contexts, non-believers and salvation, and the firm exclusivism of the Ethicist. Whereas in the Netherlands I have experienced some hesitation about stating your faith as Truth in such direct ways, this appeared to be the norm in Wycliff Hall College. Against my personal expectations, I wasn’t alarmed by this, but energized and inspired to think about what it actually means to call yourself a Christian, and how we can encounter God in all other human beings since all are created in His image.
Then, having enjoyed a cup of – what else – tea, the next lecture was given by a student who had just finished his dissertation. The subject matter of this lecture, “Mission and Worship in ‘A Secular Age’”, really interested me because of its relevance for the Protestant Church in the Netherlands. Ben Baker made a case for reinventing worship relationally through sacramentalism, reenchanting the world and synthesizing the dualism of worship and mission, the transcendent and the mundane through incarnation. Relationality is a term that was present a lot today, especially regarding revelation and incarnation of the triune God. After some pizza, the series of lectures was closed by Prof. Benno van den Toren, who advocated cultivating proper confidence (instead of just commitment) and openness when encountering interreligious and intercultural dialogue. This personal lecture revealed the difficulties the Church faces in a globalizing society, where it is all too easy to become destabilized in one’s own faith when confronted with people who adhere to different religions. Pluralism may lead to relativism, which in turn may lead to question the position of the Church in the world. Van den Toren urges us to deepen our faith thoroughly, in order to be prepared for interreligious dialogue without being swept away by the firm claims other people make. Interreligious dialogue itself is also a means to attain this. Through dialogue, one can discover where one stands and deepen one’s faith.
This was only the first day of our Oxford trip, imagine what else we might learn and encounter!
Grateful to be here.
Sunday 6 May
By Emese Mihaly and Gloria Verdina
Time was our controversial friend. On the one hand weather was our greatest ally, making every moment filled with bright sunshine, and on the other hand it was our enemy because of it fast track. Sunday was no different. After our breakfast, we divided into two groups to experience some real English services. Some of us went to St. Mary Church in Barton, while some went to Emmanuel Church in Bicester. Both congregations were unique in their own way.
Emmanuel Church started in December 2002 and was originally a church planted from St. Aldate's and St. Ebbe's in Oxford. They are part of the Church of England and the Parish Church of St. Edburg's in Bicester. Emmanuel Church is what is known as a 'Fresh Expressions' Church and a charismatic, evangelical, Anglican church. In December 2012 they moved into their own building and have grown from an initial congregation of 25 people to around 350 including 150 children and young people.
Besides the warm welcome, the very first impression about the Emmanuel Church in Bicester was its vitality which you could easily palpable in its loudness. Children were running around, laughing happily, people talking to each other, laughing, sharing stories and experiences they had since their last meeting, curiously looking at us, who we are and that was in common: we were also looking around, trying to figure out who they are. After a few encounter with members, we found our seats and waited for the service. Going with the Mission-shaped Spirituality in mind, we arrived at the best time: the community had their first service about prayer. The sermon was rather easy-flowing and a true introduction about the exceptional meaning of our relationship with our God. Lots of cookies, cakes, coffee and of course, teas were offered after the service, and our little group had the opportunity to have a conversation with Ian and Erica Biscoe, the ministers. We talked about how was the church founded, their roles, the community’s ‘personality’ and their bright and focused vision on more church-planting.
After our return to Wycliffe Hall we had lunch together with the other group at Wycliffe Hall, exchanging all our fresh experiences.
The afternoon gave us the opportunity to wander around the beautiful city of Oxford, to spend some alone-time visiting museums, reading a book or even sleeping. After dinner we visited the 8:15 service of St. Aldates church filled with young, Christ-energized people.
Sunday was mesmerizing in every angles: we had personal time of our own, but also, we came in fellowship with our Heavenly Father in community.
Monday 7 May
By Jonas Zejfart
On Monday we had to say “goodbye” to Oxford and begin our journey back to the Netherlands. The last place to visit before going to catch the ferry was “a little India” of England, the city of Southall. We arrived there around eleven and we started our tour in the local parish, where we drank coffee and spoke with our host, the King’s centre training manager Peter Tate. He gave us some introduction into the inter-religious activities and relationships in the area as well as to the life of local church. Afterwards our wonderous journey began.
First, we visited the biggest Sikh temple in Europe: Gurdwara Sri Guru Singh Sabha. We had to cover our hairs with a scarf and take off our shoes, before entering. Inside we met one of the leaders of the Sikh community and he explained to us, that this Sikh temple (as well as all bigger Sikh temples) provides free food and drink to anybody who comes inside from early morning to late evening every day. Despite the huge amount of food they cook, the dish was really delicious. After lunch we spent a pleasant hour learning about the Sikh religion and spirituality in beautifully ornamented sanctuary. Since we didn’t have more time, we had to move to another stop which was a local Hindu temple full of statues of gods. The Hindu priest didn’t speak very good English, so mutual understanding was a bit difficult and thus we quite soon headed to the last religious site, which was Southall mosque. Encounter with an Abrahamic religion was very engaging and when we realized that we won’t convert the imam, we went to nearby cafeteria to sum up our experiences. Some of us were leaving with a bitter feeling that the inter-religious dialog which is mostly initiated by Christians, because Christians for some reason always need to speak with other people (or is it something European, to have dialog about everything?), is in fact slightly motivated by a desire to convert everyone to Christianity. Or better to say by the desire that they will convert themselves.
Despite this aftertaste, we saw unique and genuine relationships, a lot of good will and attempts to understand each other. For me Personally it was the very first time I saw such a multicultural place, where various faith communities live peacefully beside each other. The last thing we did in Southall was buying a dinner with intention of eating it somewhere along our way to the port. The food proved to be so extremely spicy that many of us left the country with tears in our eyes. And there was evening, and there was morning, the last day.