Speak always about God.
A day in the life of an ordinand
- Tim Davies, S. Stephen's House, Oxford
The chapel bell tolls as the sun rises over the chimneys which pepper the sky of east Oxford. It rings to call the community gathered in St Stephen’s House to Morning Prayer. Staff and students flow into the House Chapel and join together to begin the day. Beginning in this way provides tutors and ordinands a firm foundation to for the day, week, and term ahead. This sense of community is one which underpins the life of the seminary. We meet together twice a day for the Offices, three times a day for meals, and socialise in the Common Room in the evening. The strong links formed by this communal life shapes the character of the college, whilst also shaping us.
Following Morning Prayer comes the source and summit of our Christian life, the Mass. An ordinand serves whilst the priest invites those present to draw near in faith and receive our Lord in the most holy Sacrament. It is a real joy to have the daily Mass and it is so crucial for the day’s prayer life, work life, and social life to find their home in this holy sacrifice.
Breakfast soon follows and once more the conviviality of the communal life is found in St Stephen’s House. We all sit, eat, talk, and laugh before the work of the day commences. The work which occupies us is varied, and no two days are the same. For some they will have a morning of lectures and reading, others will may have meetings with tutors, and for some the morning can be occupied with a range of tasks.
Whilst we care deeply for our spiritual well-being, we also care for our physical well-being. Many students can find opportunities to get out and stroll around the beautiful city centre, taking in all of the architectural masterpieces and the city’s history. For the more sporty amongst us, the College has formed a 7-a-side football team and organise games against Theological Colleges and Chaplaincies. There is no pre-requisite for immense skill, instead what is required is a keen spirit and a sense of trying your best; as the saying goes, ‘God loves a trier’.
The kitchen bell at 1pm once again calls us back together as we share the stories of the morning whilst enjoying lunch. Having been fortified, the afternoon is more easily tackled. Ordinands may find time to get back to the work they had been engaged with in the morning, catch up on admin and other tasks on their to do lists, or to go to their term-time placement. The term-time placement is a great opportunity to engage with a context which will help form and prepare us for our time when we leave St Stephen’s House. Some find themselves with a parish, some with College chaplains, and some with charity schemes which help those in need.
To revivify the busy ordinands, tea and coffee is served in the Common Room at 4pm. This is seen to by the ordinand who is on ‘Chapel Duty’, and amongst this job they also read the readings at the Offices, serve at Mass, and at the end of the day do ‘lock up’ duty. This all helps foster a sense of serving those whom you are living alongside; a skill which will be put to much use in future ministerial lives.
As the day draws to an end, the chapel bell once more tolls and calls the community to chapel for Evensong. We bring all the joys and struggles of the day and, as the late great Michael Ramsey once said, ‘be with God with the people on your heart’. Unlike Morning Prayer, which is said, we offer up our praise and thanksgiving in the evening in a sung manner. The Officiant leads those present in the hymn, psalms, canticle, and concludes the Office with the Marian Anthem. As part of Evensong, the Officiant also prepares a short homily to give on Monday evening, and on Thursday evening a ‘Third Reading’, which consists of a short snippet from the writings of a favourite Church Father, spiritual writer, or theologian, is read. Additionally, the Principal gives a short address on Tuesday evening and the Rosary is prayed on Wednesday evenings. A highlight to end of the week is Benediction which immediately follows Evensong on a Friday. Through its beauty it strengthens the efforts of the ordinands and tutors and leaves the corridors surrounding the chapel with the lovely smell of incense.
Dinner is the final timed event in the life of the college day, and after that ordinands are then free to explore Oxford’s social hubs, attend various musical events, or for some head to bed for an early night. A quiet hush falls on the College as the Greater Silence begins at 11pm, giving all those who live here chance to rest and recuperate before the arrival of the next day and all of what it holds for us.