A recent visit to Cambridge led to me staying at Westminster College. I didn’t fancy a Travelodge and Air BnB was pricey! Lucky for me though – it’s a lovely place to stay AND the added bonus of a chapel to explore.
Westminster College is a teaching arm of the United Reform Church. I know I’ve seen URC churches in towns across the UK, but I’d never really thought about the church as a whole. From what I understand:
Work and worship, as is typical of the Reformed way, are one.
The chapel was particularly peaceful in the evening. Founded in 1859, a public fundraising campaign in the 1890s led to the design and building of the college in 1897-99 by architect Henry Hare. (He also built Oxford Town Hall.) The land the college was built on was donated by two amazing biblical scholars Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson. Twins, they inherited a fortune, taught themselves ancient languages and biblical scholarship and journeyed to the Sinai peninsula and discovered manuscripts that altered biblical scholarship forever.
Here they are:
I feel pretty inspired by them. You can read more here.
I felt Westminster was really welcoming. As a sucker for an icon, I was really pleased to see this one. Bishop Konstantin had only been appointed in 1996. I’d love to know more about his visit.
The stained glass at Westminster is beautiful. It feels very pre-Raphaelite (unsurprisingly). The blue colour is the light – it’s multi-coloured when it’s not pre-Breakfast exploration. The glass itself is by Douglas Strachan and it would be well worth popping in to see. I loved this Nativity, the three wise men being the part of the story I am fondest of. They felt a bit Narnia to me!
Strachan is considered the most important Scottish glazier of the twentieth century. Interested in vorticism, futurism and cubism, he had also worked as a political cartoonist. You can find several examples of his work in Aberdeen, at St Magnus Cathedral Orkney and (closest to me) East Rounton, North Yorkshire. His style is described as ‘drawing with lead’ or one that uses broad swathes of colour bordered in white. There’s a lovely set of Westminster’s glass here.
The carving was just as elegant in the church. I’d love to know who the craftsman behind this was.
Touching also, were the memorial plaques in the passage leading into the church, commemorating men from the college who had died in the war. There was also a book of remembrance and a lovely community display.
I really loved my visit to a United Reform Church building. If you’re wondering about their spiritual lives, this is taken from their website:
Who is the United Reformed Church? We are a family of Christians, worshipping in the name of Jesus in about 1500 local churches from Orkney to Cornwall.
- ‘Reformed’ means that we delight in the Bible, we do not fear change, and we try to run our churches in ways that take everyone’s insight and contribution seriously.
- ‘United’ is an important part of our story. We started when English Presbyterians merged with English and Welsh Congregationalists in 1972. Churches of Christ joined in 1981 and Scottish Congregationalists in 2000. We still work as closely as we can with Christians of all traditions and styles.
- And we are one ‘Church’. We aim to grow through supporting one another and taking decisions together.
All our tasks and posts are open to women as fully as to men. We are an intercultural church, where people with varied ethnic roots enrich each other’s Christian living. Our people hold a range of opinions about theology and church life.
With falling numbers of congregations (not unique to the URC), Westminster College has taken some decisions to ensure the survival of the college. Recently they sold the manuscripts from the monastery of St Catherine in Sinai, that Gisbson and Lewis had collected. The money was used to fund a comprehensive restoration plan of the college. Chatting to staff this now means they can use half of the college as a B & B (where I stayed), which will hopefully then fund the continuation of the college as a theological college. Smart move, all told, more secure futures for both the manuscripts and the college itself.
If you’d like to stay there, get in touch with the phone, or book online. Pop in the chapel while you’re there.