Yesterday I attended the last ever service at St. Cross Church, Oxford. I say last ever – it may still be used for the occasional service, but it was more or less the last one to be held there. St. Cross was my church between 2004-6, and I’ve been back to visit a few times since then – it’s a beautiful old Anglican church (some parts 800 years old) which has a very villagesque feel to it, and a similarly rural-feeling graveyard and cemetery which (not to sound too morbid…) I quite often go and sit in. Had my lunch there today, actually. It’s one of my favourite places in Oxford.
Anyway – the area around St. Cross is now almost entirely offices and businesses, with very few residential properties, and the congregation for the church had shrunk to the point where double figures for a service was an achievement. But despite, or perhaps because, of this, it has the warmest welcome and friendliest congregation of any church I’ve ever been to – it was a very difficult decision when I moved to the larger, more student-orientated, much less attractive Oxford Community Church, but even with two years’ absence I welled up during the farewell service. It was lovely to see fifty people there, saying goodbye – and, as the vicar pointed out, the church is not a building, it is a group of people. Even so, as the small attendance numbers made the running of St. Cross unfeasible and expensive, it was sad to think that people have been meeting there to worship God for centuries, and that was coming to an end. Its next incarnation (if plans go ahead) will be as an archival space and reading room for Balliol College – who will restore the chancel and do much-needed work throughout the church.
As I sat there, I thought of all the people who had encountered Jesus and praised God in that room, some perhaps for the first time, some spending their whole lives attending St. Cross, and I was pleased that I could join them all in a long line of people who have loved St. Cross Church.