At the moment, Emma and I are nearing the end of a two month sabbatical at Westminster College, Cambridge (http://www.westminster.cam.ac.uk/). It is a centre for training URC ministers, the URC (United Reformed Church) being a union of UK Presbyterian, Congregational, and Church of Christ churches (http://www.urc.org.uk/). It is one of the privileges of being Presbyterian to spend time here, enjoying free board in a little cottage, eating and worshiping with the college community, and writing. We also get to experience Cambridge.
Cambridge is an interesting place. Compared to home in Auckland, although there are a range of students from around the world, it feels quite monocultural and well to do. It is full of amazing colleges where many greats like Wilberforce were educated. The river Cam is delightful as a place to have a punt, for walking and riding. It is full of tourists and has a really great feel. I love the names of the parks, like Jesus Green or Christ’s Piece.
Everyone here seems to bike, so we have joined the party hiring bikes and doing a lot of cycling around the town and out on the bike trails to St Ives, Ely, Newcastle, or Saffron Weldon – a great way to see the countryside. Some of this we have done with members of the Cambridge Cyclist’s Touring Club (CTC) in Cambridge, a social cycling group in Cambridge. They have been warm and welcoming and great company (http://www.ctc-cambridge.org.uk/). We have got to see many small villages, all with village greens, pubs, and churches.
For an Aucklander, the weather has been a challenge, it has to be said. Although the locals tell us it is quite nice at the moment, we have found it cold – about the same as a normal Auckland winter’s day (aside from when there is a real southerly flowing through). It has also rained on most days. While the CTC cyclists were very road-smart, the cyclists here are in many cases, mad. They cut through traffic crazily. Very few wear helmets. It is quite chaotic and dangerous. The pedestrians are equally dangerous with people walking out in front of bikes and cars – you have to be on your guard at all times! Many times I have had cause to question the spatial awareness of locals – I wonder if that is the English rugby team’s problem. We will find out in the next few weeks of rugby tests I suppose.
The pubs are fantastic but vary madly in price. If you come here, ask the locals! You can get two red wines for £3 ($6 NZ) in one pub, and across the road pay £9! That said, the pub culture and food is great – if you like that sort of thing. Because of travelling, we haven’t got to church much, but the Holy Trinity night service is great – great worship, preaching, and a mainly university student feel. Loved worshiping there.
We have also jumped in the Tardis and watched Coronation Street live, two years ahead of NZ. Basically the cast is the same, but they have all swapped partners. Soaps are all the same! It will be fun going home and filling in the gaps.
The URC is a very mixed church, with evangelicals and liberals living together. The sexuality issue remains unresolved and is yet to be fully tackled. That will be an interesting journey indeed with varying views as there always are. Aside from that elephant in the room, I think the URC has a positive future with strong unity and signs of renewal.
I had an instant connection with the principal Neil Thorogood who lived many of his formative years in the Cook Islands as did I, and his passion for mission. The college is in good hands. The NT lecturer and soon to be General Secretary of the URC, John Proctor, is a wonderful man full of the Spirit and it is exciting to see him take up his new role in the URC. I have connected with many students and other Sabbaticals. There are some great people heading out into ministry.
I really encourage other PCANZ ministers to take up this opportunity. It is a great springboard for weekends traveling in the UK and Europe. If you do, fly from Stanstead (easy by train) or Cambridge itself. You will be warmly welcomed and cared for. The College is also undergoing renovations and is a great B and B for any travellers – a short walk from the centre of town.
Soon we head to Israel for another part of our adventure. I am looking forward to that greatly.