Our service is filmed in Oxford and features some of the well-known as well as some lesser-known sights of Oxford. Sue Steers reads Psalm 96 and Jenny Narramore shares an important part of College life in Christ Church. We also have a short reading from ex-slave and abolitionist’s autobiography The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano. Our organists play five hymns: Thine be the glory, John Strain, Ballee; Be still for the presence of the Lord, Laura Patterson Downpatrick; Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, Alfie McClelland, Clough; How deep the Father’s love, Allen Yarr, Dunmurry; Blest are the pure in heart, John Strain, Ballee.
As a visual experience Oxford never disappoints. As the seasons change, as the weather or the light changes even in a single day, so the buildings repay careful scrutiny, with the colours of the stone reflecting the sun, the rain, a glowering sky or the bright blue backdrop of recent sunny days. There are less tourists now. Even the lure of Harry Potter and Inspector Morse are no longer sufficient to cram the streets with eager faces, although the city is busy enough despite the pandemic.
But here are a few images I took recently over a couple of days.
The latest issue of Faith and Freedom (Autumn and Winter 2020, Number 191) is now available and on its way to subscribers.
In this issue Professor Emily Klenin shares her research into a significant Unitarian Universalist Church building. Geography, History, and the Inner Light: Decorating a Unitarian Church in Central Pennsylvania, 1899 – 1932 explores the story of a unique building. The Unitarian Church of Our Father was established in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1902 and as the new church was built it became the venue for a remarkable experiment in art and design thanks to the involvement of local millionaire M.T. Garvin. According to Professor Klenin there is no evidence that ‘that any of his contemporaries thought him personally interesting’ but Garvin was a secretive and generous philanthropist who bequeathed his department store to his staff and funded the creation of this church in the American Gothic Revival style with Arts and Craft influences. Born a Quaker, M.T. Garvin became a Unitarian and built the church with its Chapel of the Emancipators decorated throughout with stained glass of the highest quality created by the Bavarian firm of F.X. Zettler. The ‘emancipators’ memorialized include William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker, Joseph Priestley, William Penn, significant American Presidents and many more including a rare window celebrating the League of Nations. Devices and symbols incorporated in the windows are explained by Professor Klenin. In a masterful article Professor Klenin describes the building, its decoration and the influences that led M.T Garvin to create it. Blending theological knowledge with artistic appreciation and considerable technical knowledge she gives a brilliant account of this remarkable building:
The southeast window in this way becomes a focal point for force lines (a structural notion native to engineering…but borrowed by modernist painters) linking windows with pulpit, south window with south window opposite, and southeast with northeast and northwest. But there is more. The light from without, specified textually at the bottom of the window, also finds a vertical counterpart high above the pulpit, in the wooden bas relief showing Quaker founder George Fox, facing the congregation and accompanied by a text stating that he is ‘preaching the Inner Light’.
David A. Williams is a distinguished emeritus professor of astronomy and a former President of the Royal Astronomical Society. In Is anybody out there? he examines the most recent research that deals with the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe. How many ‘exoplanets’ have been found orbiting stars in the Milky Way? How many might be in the habitable zone? How long might civilizations last? How might they get in touch? All these things are discussed.
Coronavirus, conspiracy theories and paranoia is the topic discussed by Dr Charles Stewart, a pharmaceutical physician. Dr Stewart looks at how the current outbreak of Covid-19 began and ties this in with various conspiracies and fears. The Rev Frank Walker tells the story of Sebastian Castellio, the Pioneer of Toleration which includes discussion of the role played by Michael Servetus. Catherine Robinson is a member of the Unitarian congregation in Oxford which meets in the chapel of Harris Manchester College. In ‘A Sincere Communion of Souls’: Unitarians in Oxford 130 years ago she tells the story of how the congregation was founded in Oxford, a place then viewed by some Unitarians as ‘a bastion of conformity and orthodoxy’.
There are, as always, some insightful and important reviews – Jim Corrigall on Alastair McIntosh’s latest theological reflection on the climate crisis, Riders on the Storm: The Climate Crisis and the Survival of Being; and on Guy Shrubsole’s Who Owns England? How We Lost Our Green & Pleasant Land & How to Take it Back. Professor Alan Deacon reviews John Barton, A History of the Bible: A Book and its Faiths, a ‘beautiful, affirming book’ which looks at the creation and history of the Biblical texts and their relation to faith and the church. Finally, David Steers reviews a remarkable account by Gladys Ganiel and Jamie Yohanis of the theological impact of the ‘Troubles’ on members of one Irish denomination in Considering Grace. Presbyterians and the Troubles.
Emily Klenin’s photographs of the windows of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, Pennsylvania can be seen at this link:
An annual subscription to Faith and Freedom costs £15 (postage included). Contact the business manager:
Business Manager, Faith and Freedom,
16 Fairfields, Kirton in Lindsey,
Gainsborough, Lincolnshire. DN21 4GA.
It’s also possible to pay via PayPal via clicking here.
Whenever I am in Oxford I always tend to take pictures as I walk about. This is easily done with modern mobile phones and if the pictures are unlikely to win any prizes they at least can give pleasure to the photographer. I took a lot of pictures when I was an undergraduate at Oxford, in those far-off days using a Russian Zenith EM camera, which was then the cheapest SLR camera that was available. I was reminded of this as I walked around Oxford recently because of certain items in the news. One of the inevitable consequences of being at Oxford is that you rub shoulders with all sorts and conditions of persons, including many would-be politicians. There were not a few from those days who went on to be government ministers both Labour and Conservative, at least one was party leader and another one looks like becoming Prime Minister. But when I was a student at Christ Church I shared rooms with a person who was an activist in the Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA). This had the side effect of frequent visits to our rooms of his associates from the (to me) rather dull and pointless world of Oxford student politics. For now I will draw a veil over the various political figures who were around in those days. For the most part they didn’t really impact that closely on my life but one of them came to mind when I was back in Oxford recently. One frequent visitor to my roommate was another OUCA activist who would come to discuss issues with his colleague, on one occasion pacing around the living room in a very heated way complaining about a story that Cherwell, the student newspaper, was threatening to run about him. Most of the time his presence didn’t impinge on me nor I on him but he couldn’t always ignore me and so on one occasion, when his friend disappeared for a while, asked to have a look at a fresh roll of film I had just had printed. “These really are marvellous photographs” he said. “Really quite excellent photographs” he enthused. He went through the prints one by one and then through them again, all the time praising each of them to the skies. Such use of light! What a composition! How ingenious! On and on he droned. A friend of mine who was visiting found this very amusing. This was standard ‘hack’ behaviour, to butter people up and ingratiate yourself so completely in the hope that one day you might vote for them in some election or other. The years go by and I had thought that this particular individual had never made it into politics. But at some point he does appear to have been elected to Parliament and recently achieved significantly high office and so is involved in the manoeuvres that will see the appointment of a new Prime Minister. Of course, maybe he really did think my photographs were superlative. Who knows? But being a successful politician is rather like being a great actor. You have got to have sincerity. If you can’t fake sincerity you will never be a great actor.
Oriel College gate
White Rabbit in the covered market
Tom Quad, Christ Church