Wesley House in the 2000s
The Revd Ruth Ridge
I studied at Wesley House from 2004-2007. During my first year I lived off campus and for my second two years I lived on site during the week and commuted home at weekends. Having never studied theology before I studied for the B.Th., Theology for ministry and matriculated into Fitzwilliam College. Although the degree was awarded through the University of Cambridge and I had a tutor at Fitzwilliam, lectures were all held around the colleges of the Cambridge Theological Federation.
The Wesley House community was made up of a mix of students, some living on campus full-time, some of whom commuted as I did and some who joined us for Methodist Theology and Spirituality and Community evenings on a Wednesday. The rhythm of each day was set by Morning Prayer, followed by lectures. On Wednesdays we shared a meal in the evening, but during the rest of the week students catered for themselves or shared food informally in the Common Room.
Accommodation in Wesley seems to have changed relatively little through the years. During my time in college, married students and those with families lived in flats in the Rank building, whilst single students or those studying away from home had the choice of either a set (bedroom and study/living room) or single room on A, B or C staircase. Each corridor had a shared bathroom and a tiny ‘gyp’ kitchen. As in 1950, heating still went on mid-October and was switched off mid-May regardless of the weather. The boiler was temperamental. One of the only spots that was always warm was the toilet at the bottom of A staircase and we would often pop in there to thaw out!
Morning Prayer each day was organised on a rota basis with each week being the responsibility of a different tutor group. On Tuesdays we followed the order from the Methodist Worship book, but on other days the group were allowed relative autonomy, although the daily lectionary formed a helpful basis. This led to some wonderfully creative worship which employed all the senses. I remember one particular sequence of worship through Lent which drew on images of the passion and involved the chapel floor being scattered with nails so that every time someone moved around you could hear the clinking. I also remember one student making a crown of thorns and speaking powerfully about how the thorns had pierced his hands as he shaped it, a very moving time.
Wednesday was the centre of the college week. It began with prayer breakfast, held in tutor groups with one person taking responsibility for food and one for prayers. Wednesday was also the day for ‘in house’ training with an emphasis on Methodist tradition and practice and it finished with a community meal and a speaker, usually a well-known Methodist, with discussion of contemporary issues in the Methodist Church. The evening closed with compline in the chapel, a wonderfully peaceful end to a busy day.
At weekends the site was much quieter as many students returned home to family and placement churches. Sundays, however, often involved going out as a team to hear one another preach, followed by a discussion/assessment of the act of worship. It was interesting to see the different contexts in which students were placed, which ranged from churches in London to villages in the fens and even chaplaincy contexts such as prison.
A large influence on life at Wesley House was the Cambridge Theological Federation. Wesley students shared lectures, libraries and social activities with a number of other theological colleges in the city and this enabled a breadth and depth of theological and liturgical experience. Fortnightly Federation services were led by different traditions in turn and at their best offered a window into a different branch of the church. Once again certain memories stand out – open air worship for Pentecost with students all praying in their own native language, an Advent service reflecting on different artistic images of Mary and Orthodox vespers with incense!
At Wesley we were also fortunate to share our premises with two fellow institutions; The Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations and the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. This allowed for more informal relationships and discussions to take place and I have particularly fond memories of enjoying the booth set up in the quad for the festival of Sukkoth.
Although students followed diverse pathways through their theological studies, the community at Wesley was a close knit, friendly and supportive one. Staff and students enjoyed a relaxed relationship and worked closely and constructively together. End of term reviews were a chance for everyone to let off steam as the events of the term were relived with great hilarity. I have very fond memories of my time at Wesley House and feel that it provided a firm foundation for ministry.