I don’t think I’ve ever been a pilgrim, not unless you count the frigid trek from Fern to Granberg in the negative-thirty-degree winter wind-chill of Northwest Iowa. I remember when I was little, thinking the only pilgrims were the guys in funny clothes that sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. Sadly, pilgrimages are one of the many things that England did first and we sort of copied.
Two weeks ago my program took a trip to St. Albans, a small town 59.6 miles away from Oxford. Here we visited one of the two remaining saintly shrines left in England after the Reformation in the 16th Century, the shrine of St Alban. St. Alban was martyred by the Romans sometime in the third century after sheltering a Christian in his home and taking that Christian’s blame. Pilgrims often make the journey to St. Albans to pray at his shrine in St. Albans Cathedral. I had the chance to pray at this shrine, and my prayer sounded something like this: “Hi God…this is weird. What am I supposed to say again? Uh… thank you for St. Alban. And for all the other saints. Okay. Amen.” Eloquent, I know.
Since that day, “pilgrim” has been my theme. After the awkward saint-praying experience, I read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and pretended to read Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The one conclusion I came to is that pilgrims come in all shapes and sizes—from Christian (who symbolizes something that I haven’t yet identified) to the gaudy Wife of Bath to the 21st Century visitors of St. Albans.
Thinking about pilgrimage-ing made me think more about praying and worshipping, which leads to another difference I’ve observed in my almost three months in Oxford. I’ve attended a couple different types of churches here, including a High Anglican service, but I’ve even seen service differences in the evangelical churches in the area.
One of my favorite parts of British church services is practicing my British accent in the responsive readings. For example, a line like “Loving Heavenly Father, we have sinned against you” comes out, “Lahveen hehvenleh Fatheh, we have sinned agaynst you,” a completely different sentence than the one from my lips. Thus, I find myself mimicking the open English vowels as much as possible, especially saying GOHHHD with a lot of h’s.
The worship songs are pretty similar to Northwestern’s P&W, which is a great comfort when I’m feeling homesick. One song in particular, however, differs substantially from our repertoire. The chorus is as follows:
God’s love is BIG
God’s love is GREAT
God’s love is FAB
And he’s my mate.
Those really are the words of a worship song—“fab” and “mate” both made their way into a Sunday morning worship service, vibrant hand gestures and all. I didn’t think I would be worshipping in a different language this semester, but sometimes I get very surprised.