2018.07.22 Finally! Registration Day at Exeter College. I woke up excited but strangely unsettled. What am I doing here? Do I even want to be here? Am I willing to put in the work? And even if I do, can I cut it? Will the other “students” be friendly? Am I ready to leave the comfort and convenience of this hotel for the austerity of a college dorm? And of course, what should I wear? (I am mindful of the fact that the last time I stressed out about what to wear on the first day of school was well over forty years ago.)
The biggest question, however, was logistical and I had been fretting about it for months. How will I, a budding senior citizen traveling alone, get my two heavy bags and assorted accessories the 400 yards that stretch between me and my destination? The streets are, as previously noted, confusing, “paved” with cobblestones, and teeming with crowds of tourists, mostly boisterous, energetic, and sometimes impatient students. And finally, the chilling words from the school’s information packet danced before my eyes. “Please note that your room will be situated between the 4th and the 9th floors of your building. No one will be available to assist with your luggage and there are no lifts.”
Although I was anxious to get started, I took a few minutes to read my daily devotional. The message, which, as usual, had been written specifically for me, said (loosely paraphrased), “Settle down. This is not all about you. Relax, have faith and watch for direction and blessings from Me. The rest will fall into place.”
Those words resonated but I couldn’t sit still long enough to properly reflect on them. After my cursory reading, I jumped up and dashed around the corner to my usual coffee shop. But this morning it wasn’t a coffee shop. It was HILLSONG CHURCH! With Sunday worship just getting underway.
I knew Hillsong, a world wide network of churches based in Australia, primarily for their worship music but had never attended a service. I hadn’t planned on going to church because I had “too much to do”. But it was instantly clear that I was supposed to be there. I forgot about being in a hurry, grabbed a coffee, let one of the friendly guys in a red vest point me to a seat, and peacefully soaked up the music and the message for the next hour and a half. The sermon, which, as usual, had been written specifically for me, said (loosely paraphrased) “Remember Whose idea it was for you to come to Oxford. There is a purpose for your time here, and for what comes after. Trust Me, be vulnerable and authentic, and enjoy.”
“OK ,” I said. “Amen. And thank You.”
After the service I hurried back to the hotel, quickly finished packing and took my bags downstairs. Then I moved them, one at a time, to the college. Three ten-minute round trips. Not so bad. The porter checked me in, handed me a room key and said “Stairwell 3.” With my heart in my mouth, I set out to find it, dreading the prospect of nine flights of stairs. Well is seems that Stairway 3 serves only THREE floors and my room is on the second, Much ado about nothing! With room key and name tag in hand, I was now official!
The champagne welcome reception was held in the Fellows’ Garden. It is a lovely walled space that, as the name suggests, is reserved for the fellows of Exeter College. We got to meet many of the faculty, and then were led out into the quad to queue up the formal dinner in the Great Hall. The Hall at Exeter, built in 1618, is imposing and beautiful. It is not, however, the hall featured in the Harry Potter movies. That would be the Hall at Christ Church College, which is older (1520), larger, and even more grand. But these realities did not dampen our enthusiasm. We gleefully took videos and pictures of one another as if we were indeed at Hogwarts.
Steps to the Great Hall Taking It All In!
As we continued to marvel at our surroundings, there was a thump at the door, and the Oxford dons, in their impressive (and in a few cases not so impressive) robes filed in. We lesser beings had been instructed to stand, which we did. When the occupants of the head table had taken their places, there was a loud thumping on the floor. A mace, maybe? Then Latin words were intoned, all were seated, and the festivities began.