When September arrives it always reminds me of beginning my theological studies in Salisbury, England, when JoAnn and I arrived in 1973, knowing no one, getting used to living in a foreign country, and having a great time figuring out the language. It was English, but unlike anything I’d heard before. My fellow students were from all over England and Ireland, and the variety of dialects at first presented something of a challenge to understand.
Pictured above is what was the Salisbury & Wells Theological College. It’s now become something called the “Sarum College,” and it appears that now you can go there for conferences, retreats, ecumenical studies, etc., but it’s no longer an actual theological college. The building itself is wonderful. The main building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was built in 1677. It has a marvelous sweeping staircase as a feature of the dignified entrance hall. The College Chapel (along with the dormitory wing) was designed by William Butterfield and built in the 1870’s. Dormitories stretched out towards the back, and they were interesting in that there was a repeating arrangement of a small room and then a few large rooms. This was a hold-over from the days when the young gentlemen students would have men-servants to see to their needs. By the time I was there, each room was a student’s room, and the lucky ones got the bigger rooms.
I didn’t have to contend with that, however. As a married student I was able to find a flat nearby, and we lived in what had been the servants’ quarters on the top floor of the archdeacon’s house. Number 23, The Close, was our address. How well I remember it, with a fabulous view of the north side of the majestic Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
I did manage to get one of the smaller rooms at the College which I used as a study, and it turned into something of a meeting place for many of us. It came to be known as "the grotto" because of the rather nice Marian shrine I had there, plus the perpetual "churchy" fragrance which was the result of my keeping a few grains of incense on the bulb in my desk lamp. We had what we considered at the time to be elevated discussions about theology, the pitiful state of the Anglican Communion, and how it would all be different when we were ordained and could be out in our future parishes - each one of which would undoubtedly become a model of Anglo-catholic worship, excellent preaching, and faultless pastoral care. Needless to say, things didn't work out as we expected, although in my case it turned out even better.
As the song says, "Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow..."