In a life spent mostly on the road, it is important to get out of the taxi and walk around. Not least for physical exercise, but also because it enables me to see things which I would never otherwise have seen.
Getting out and walking offers a much more enhanced perspective to very familiar streets. For ten years, I have worked in and around Abingdon and Wantage. Every day, on my way driving to and from work, I have spent a lot of time, mostly sat in traffic, on Saint Clement’s Street, said by the county and the city councils to be Oxford’s most polluted street.
But instead of driving through on Monday night, there was an opportunity to park up and to walk around the tightly packed, terraced streets delivering invitations for the parish church’s upcoming open days during the Oxford Open Doors weekend.
Billed as “a celebration of Oxford…its places and its people”, Oxford Open Doors is a weekend of events and openings of venues, many of which are routinely closed to the public. Oxford is a remarkable place in many respects and much of its most remarkable life enhancing architecture and even sacred spaces are closed, for most of the year.
The renowned architectural authority Pevsner doesn’t have all that much to say about our building, whereas he devotes more than twice as much space in his Buildings of England to another more recently built local church, which worships in a much higher up the candle style than we do.
We are not the most decorated church in Oxford, nor even the most architecturally remarkable. We are not even that old; nothing functioning in our church is older than two hundred years – although we do have on the floor in our narthex what is said to be the oldest bell in the city, cast in the thirteenth century.
But we are none other than the house of God and we are open not just for Oxford Open Doors, but faithfully worshipping every Sunday and serving the local community throughout the week, across a whole range of parish facilities.
Walking, rather than driving, offers a wholly different and more detailed perspective, to very familiar streets. Monday night’s short walk around the parish saw two attempted dog bites, some properly artistic guerrilla crochet, two gentlemen coming to their doors in an intoxicated state and a fellow engaging me in conversation as to whether I believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus – I do.
And inscribed on the parapet of a small knee level wall outside an unremarkable block of 1960s flats in Saint Clement’s Street is an inscription ‘WE WALKED EVERYWHERE WE DISCOVERED PLACES’, with no other explanation as to why it is there, nor whom it commemorates.
Or, as G K Chesterton once put it, “There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world til we come back to the same place…”
As published in the Herald Series on Wedneaday, 11 September 2019
Oxford City Council, Working group established to improve air quality in Oxford’s most polluted street, 30 October 2017, as retrieved 10 September 2019
Buildings of England
G K Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, 1925