[This is our second attempt to publish “Traveling to Birmingham.” If you received the first one, you’ll notice some differences. The first one came to you because of a premature touch on the “Publish” button. I told you we’re just learning how to do this blog thing! –the editors]
We didn’t get off to an auspicious beginning. We shouldn’t have had a problem. In preparing for this trip to Birmingham to visit Campus, Globalscope’s campus ministry at the University of Birmingham, I did everything right. I ordered our train tickets on-line. The instructions were clear: I need to pick up our tickets at the Oxenholme train station. Not to worry. Last night I carefully copied down the confirmation number. Always prepared.
When we arrived I went immediately to the little machine that spits out tickets in exchange for another look at your credit card and your keying in the confirmation number. I was confident. As I said, I had prepared. Just one minor problem: I had miscopied the confirmation number. I was only off by one letter, just one. There’s precious little forgiveness in the world today. The little machine withstood all of my protestations that I had in fact purchased the ticket, that I had most of the confirmation number, and that I am a generally honest person not trying to rip off Transpennine Railways. Unmoved. So I turned, looking pitiful and desperate, to the nice man behind the window on the opposite wall. He sold tickets; it was his business to assist travelers. But he didn’t resolve issues. He seemed remarkably unmoved. Typical British stoicism, I suppose. I was missing just one letter, but it was the crucial one.
I had to buy two more tickets. Expensive ones, though they were the cheapest available. I temporarily toyed with the idea of skipping the trip altogether. It would serve Transpennine Railways right. But we really did want to see our friends at Canvas.
Abby and Derek Sanders, who lead the Canvas team, had reserved a room for us at the nearby Awentsbury Hotel, and we didn’t want to disappoint–ourselves even more than them.
Awentsbury Hotel is a stately old house that has been carved up into more tiny bedrooms than you would suppose it could hold (the better to yield the maximum return on the owner’s investment, undoubtedly. He must be doing very well.)
It’s fitting, though. We’re here to visit a ministry that works with university students. This is their kind of housing. We shouldn’t be residing in five-star splendor while trying to offer a bit of encouragement to these young people who are subsisting on a missionary’s stipend. And of course we did not expect to be living in the relative luxury we enjoyed in San Miguel, where rents are very cheap and the dollar strong against the peso. Here the currency is the British pound, and although the exchange rate is in our favor—about $1.30 to the pound, the best we can remember), Birmingham is a large city with large city costs.
Actually, we’re grateful the Sanders found this hotel for us. It’s just five minutes from the university and equally close to Canvas, the campus house. And it offers internet connectivity which, after an intermittent start, settled into reliability the next day. It’s been a little disconcerting to learn how tethered we are to the internet. We went through withdrawal that first evening. We couldn’t do email, which meant missing the replies our lawsonsontheloose.net blog has been yielding. It’s fun staying in touch with our friends and family even at this distance.
My biggest concern when I first scoped out our lodging? The toilet is down the hall. That’s not unusual in hotels like this one, but it’s been awhile since this was the norm in our travel and in the meantime I’ve grown more accustomed to a certain nocturnal habit. A trek in the dark in a strange place requires more alertness than I can usually summon in the middle of the night.
In addition to our time with Sanders and crew, we wanted to run one errand in the city. As reported earlier, Joy’s camera died and now her iPhone is wheezing. The trip proved futile. The new iPhone 7 might be available in the next month or so!
But we enjoyed looking around. A couple of observations:
New Street Station and the Parish Church of St. Martin bring together in dramatic fashion old Birmingham (the present Victorian church was constructed in 1873 on the site that has hosted a church since 1263. It adds a certain gravitas to the city’s busy-ness, a quiet retreat for thinking on things of the spirit.
- The New Street station is as modern as 2016, a new facility that has replaced the familiar one we knew so much better. In our opinion the changes have all been in the right direction.
- The juxtaposing of the old and new symbolizes the dynamic of this city.
- As does the amazing ethnic diversity so apparent in the people we met in the station and on the sidewalks. Never in the brief time we were in town did we see people with white skin outnumber those of other hues. In a never-ending human parade we could identify Africans and Hispanics and Asians and Europeans of various nationalities; we could also identify Christians and Muslims and Jews and Sikhs and Hindus and Buddhists and others we couldn’t label but were equally expressive of the diversity. It gave me a little clearer insight into Brexit, England’s recent decision to leave the European Union and the fear and resentment of immigration that is fueling so much debate in England and other member nations of the Union. It takes a moral courage not to reject others who are not “our kind.”
We didn’t have enough time with the young people in the Canvas ministry, but we really liked what we saw. The ministry’s home is a humble building at the end of an alley. It wouldn’t appeal to the Wall Street set, but “uni” students can feel right at home here, and it’s just minutes from the university.
One feature we really liked in the main room was a display of maps showing other Globalscope ministries in the world: Thailand, Mexico, Spain, Germany, Chile, (newer ones are being planted in Nottingham (England), Uruguay, Scotland and Australia and a second university in Spain), with others on the drawing board. University of Birmingham students involved in Canvas realize they are part of something much bigger than this one gathering.
As I said, we were only with them briefly, but we were there long enough to be impressed. We met with the newest interns Tuesday morning. I had been asked to bring a word of encouragement and challenge to them. Actually, they challenge and encourage me. At some personal sacrifice four young people (from Yorkshire, England; Arkansas; Alabama and Tennessee) have interrupted their own studies to spend some months assisting in this ministry (and learning whether they want to be campus ministers themselves). We wanted to hang out longer with them, but they had a full agenda to prepare for the return of university students for autumn term—and we had a train to catch to return to the Lake District.
And this time we had no trouble catching the train. The little machine gave us no trouble at all.