Sabbatical Diary – July 21

What are you doing here …

Oxford is, at the same time, a very old city and a very young one. The city dates from about 912, and there was teaching a Oxford documented as early as 1096, and expanded greatly in 1167 when King Henry II banned English students from attending university in Paris. The first overseas student came in 1190, and this marked the beginning of Oxford long heritage of, and commitment to, international scholarship.

The image of the Oxford dons “of old,” which could easily include the twentieth century, was generally of older anglo men. There was a time, I can’t find out when it may have ended, when it was believed that the time required in taking a doctoral degree ought be around nineteen years. The result was, you didn’t reach professorial status in your twenties.

It is a city of a bit over 150,000 people, and at least 22,000 of those are students at the university. Since the undergraduate population is just over 11,000 that means there are potentially spouses and partners of students in higher degree programs that bring the average age of this “old city” younger and younger.

Why all this attnetion? I’ll only be here one Sunday for worship, and while there were two delightful young boys, maybe 5 and 7 being shepherded by dad in the taking up of the offering, and a couple hands-full of what I’d consider to be university aged worshippers, the age demographic at worship did not reflect the age demographics of the community. There was a time when one could not receive a degree from Oxford without being a member of the church. Those times are gone now, but college chapels abound, and in many the grace before meals still happens; some in Latin. Note: The (at least visually identifiable) cultural diversity that I have experienced in the the town, and at worship, have been extraordiary.

My other observation is that there is a phenomenal amount of drama and music in this community – much of it classically grounded. Now, our tradition of Chrisitianity, that is Episcopal/Angliican, is heavily rooted and grounded, I believe, in both music and drama.

Tradition is not dead here by any means, only a couple of years ago there was a vote of the student body about its desire, or not, to continue to sit all examinations in dark suit, tie (with the appropriate cognate for women), academic gown and mortarboard. Greater than eighty percent of the vote was in favor of continuing the practice.

Connecting the dots: The juxtaposition of old and young is a beautiful. Detroit just celebrated 313 years. Not comparable, but you have to get to 313 before you can get to 500 or more, and it is still means we are in our fourth century. St. Paul’s is but ten years from its 200th anniversary. We sit in an area not unlike Oxford with a plenteous mix of youth, wisdom, education, and arts. Our Cathedral Community is deeply invested in music, visual art, and community art that is both musical and visual. Our worship is liturgical drama of a high quality, but with opportunities available. Not only are these characteristics similar, but so are the demographic outcomes visible on Sundays and many other times. It does not take a degree in rocket science to see that both of us need, it seems to me, to get far more serious and intentional about ways to make connections.

This reality puts another, very different, very important, spin on the question that I am being asked, and that I believe our Cathedral Community is being asked.

What are you doing here …

********  The Sabbatical Diary is published with gratitude and appreciation to the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Detroit, Michigan for granting me sabbatical time and funding, and to the Graduate Theological Foundation, Oxford Foundation Fellowship, which made access to Oxford University for reading and research possible.