Friday, June 28, 2013

Oxford Day 7: Cambridge in the Rain: The American Cemetary, Reformation, Rowan Williams and John Bunyan

Our day started early here, bus pulling out at 7:30am here (that would be 1:30am Texas time). We headed west from the relatively civilized environs of Oxford out to the hinterlands of East Anglia, to Cambridge. For those who don't know, Cambridge is to Oxford what Yale is to Harvard. The second school, founded because folks thought the original was getting too secular. Of course for Cambridge, that happened in the 15th century. Man, stuff is old here...

We stopped on the way at the Cambridge American Cemetery. This is the final resting place for over 3,500 American soldiers and the memorial for another 5,000+ whose remains were never found. Most of the bomber crews who flew missions over Europe and never came home are recognized here. It is a powerful place to visit, especially on a rainy morning. (Btw: for y'all in Texas, the daytime high here was 66 with a partly cloudy sky, I hear it was a bit warmer down there for y'all). 

Below is the memorial wall on your left, a reflecting pool and the American flag. This is taken from the chapel which is under some renovation. A truly beautiful place. Cambridge University donated the land and the cemetery was dedicated in the 1950's. To the right you can see the beginning of the many acres of crosses and stars of David that cover this field of green. 
 As I walked the wall to look at the names the 10am bells began to chime a hymn. "For All the Saints..."

Along the wall are many, many names. For example, lest we think Latino surnames are new phenomenon in America, I came across three Gonzales'. They were, in order, from Iowa, Texas and Pennsylvania. Men who died in service of our nation, 70 years ago.  I also came across the name of the one who was to be the Kennedy boy to be President, Joseph Jr. Although written about another war and boys who died for the other side, I think these words are appropriate..."Academia Harvardiana: Non Oblita est Filiorum Suorum." I am grateful that Cambridge does not forget as well.
 Leaving those hallowed grounds, we traveled into the college town. We walked around and found this plaque (or rather our Baptist professor who loves Luther made sure we found it). Here, on these grounds stood a tavern where Luther's works were discussed in the early part of the 16th century and the beginning of the English reformation (the actual theological reformation) began.
 From that old Tavern site we went to the church in which the first Evangelical (in the Lutheran sense of the word) sermon was preached in England in 1525. From this very pulpit below in the church of St. Edward, King and Martyr. This church, by happy coincidence, was put under the control of the principle of the college, rather than the bishop. As such, when the preachers began to proclaim reformation doctrines the bishop could do nothing to stop them. From Cambridge then began the English Reformation.
 This weekend also is commencement time at Cambridge. So we were able to see many students and families about enjoying the festivities in their robes and regalia. Fun to see the joy and excitement in their lives. One of the most beautiful places we visited was the chapel of Kings College. The largest Fan Vault ceiling in the world. It is a spectacular site, even on a cloudy day.
 As we were walking about the city, we happened upon a procession of one of the colleges, led by their principle on the way to commencement. I looked twice to realize that the principle leading the way was none other than the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rev. Rowan Williams. Dude, I was like 5 feet from Rowan Williams! Gotta be a church nerd to care, but it was pretty cool. He even smiled at me before I took his picture. Graduation day even brings a smile from the calmest of Brits.
 After seeing Rowan (I feel we are now on a first name basis) we walked around to the River Cam and took pictures from the "Backs". This is the most beautiful views of the colleges. Here is the King's College chapel, taken from the River bank. BTW: Ms. Diana, I got a rock from here for you.
 Leaving Cambridge, we discussed leadership, Reformation history and also stopped in Bedford to see the site of a man who had no formal power, but amazing personal and individual leadership. John Bunyan. We saw his tomb in London yesterday, today we saw his church. The Bunyan Meeting, founding in 1650, still operates today. This lay preacher took on the church authorities, spent more than a decade in jail because of his beliefs that he, even though not educated, should be able to preach and teach the word. A tinker by trade (basically a pot fixer), he had barely any education yet wrote one of the seminal works of Christian literature, The Pilgrims Progress.
The freedom of the Reformation was, to me, not a rejection of the authority of the church so much as a reminder to that authority that leadership is about the people, about the followers. John Bunyan was a leader of a worldwide movement of people who had been trapped by the formality of the church, unable to feel the joy of God's presence in their lives. While I have fun watching the formality and traditions of the Cambridge graduation, it is a leadership lesson to be reminded that those things should be fun. They should not trap us into undo formality. We should not begin to think that those traditions are God's will for us and by honoring them exclude others. Recognizing the gifts of all the people of God does not require rejecting the office of Bishop. But it does require that we recognize that a tinker just might be gifted to serve God and proclaim the good news.

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