Ali Hodkinson, Final year Ordinand at St Stephen’s House, Marston Street, Oxford 

EXPLORING the buzz and bustle of East Oxford, many people would be hard-pressed to notice that an Anglican theological college and former monastery lies nestled behind the bars and restaurants of Cowley Road.

Like universities and colleges up and down the country, St Stephen’s House is welcoming a host of new freshers – first year students arriving in Oxford to begin their studies.

Freshers’ Week is a staple part of any university experience with all of its many ups and downs, and life at theological college is no exception.

While possibly a bit less raucous than at other institutions, the theological college Freshers’ Week still contains the same basic ingredients: wide-eyed students arriving laden with clothes, books and laptops, empty laundry baskets that will inevitably be dragged home full to the brim; new faces, new friends and, of course, the odd drink or two as freshers struggle to take everything in.

What really set Freshers’ Week at a theological college apart from other colleges and universities, however, is that, while many other students are free to sleep off last night’s excesses until noon before hobbling down the the bar to begin their next event, those students training for the Diaconate and Priesthood are thrust immediately into the praying and worshipping life of a Christian community.

Term begins and ends with Mass and, while we’re encouraged to enjoy ourselves at the many social events on offer, we’re also expected to be in the chapel for 7.30am every morning. The chapel bells are often a rude wake-up call!

You could say that the aim of any Freshers’ Week is to create a sense of community – to create an environment in which those who arrive, often lost and alone, quickly come to realise that they belong to something bigger than themselves.

For Christians, the act of praying together is an act of community. Coming together morning and evening in prayer as the Church has done since the very beginnings of Christianity, is the beating heart at the centre of our life together at St Stephen’s House.

We are here to be formed in and for the worship of God and for the service of his Church. It is a common purpose that unites us, that identifies us.

Given the many things trying to divide us at the moment – from wars to the refugee crisis to the homelessness on our own doorstep – maybe it’s not such a bad idea to look at our fellow human beings and, instead of viewing them as strangers, try to work out what it is that unites us.

What it is that transforms us from individual strangers into a community. We’re very lucky here at St Stephen’s House to have the bells that call us to worship as a community. What is it that calls you?