London’s famous All Souls Church

“We just got ourselves some church!” Terrible grammar, I admit, but sometimes you just gotta say what you just gotta say, even if you are an English teacher or preacher.  The final prayer had just been spoken when Joy and I turned to each other and uttered this, our sentence of highest praise for a worship experience. We’d been to church! (OK, so my use of church is also inadequate, since church is not fundamentally something you go to but are a part of, but you get my drift.)

We were among the hundreds in London’s famous All Souls Church on Sunday morning. The reputation of All Souls drew us there. For 25 years John R. W. Stott, who spent most of his life associated with All Souls, was rector. During those years and later he wrote 50 books, many of which I read in my formative years. I never met him but admit he was highly influential in my own development.

Rector Hugh Palmer. He does have an unfortunate height disadvantage, you’ll notice, but he compensates for it very well.

Today’s rector is Hugh Palmer, who is also chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. The rector of All Souls is appointed by 10 Downing Street (the Crown Appointments Commission). If a person can judge by one sermon, then the Commission did its work well in naming Palmer. He’s an engaging, compelling speaker. He treated the Bible with respect as he translated the scriptural lesson into the language and experience of his auditors. With humility and confidence he pulled us into the story. He’s in a series of sermons on the several “Meals with Jesus” in the Gospels. Today’s installment was “The Awkward Guest,” dealing with the self-righteousness Jesus always found intolerable, even when the offender was his host. Needless to say, I was silently amening. (This was a British worship service, after all, and decorum is maintained. You amen silently!)

Joy snapped this photo just minutes before the service started. It doesn’t show the people in the wrap-around balcony.  Note the small worship orchestra right front and the screens at the front and sides, adding a modern touch to this older building.
We didn’t hear the pipe organ, but I suspect it is used in the more formal service at 8:00.

The service was decorous, but not at all stuffy. On an average Sunday the congregation numbers about 2500 in all the services, with 60 nations regularly represented. And they sing! As one who has bemoaned the decline of congregational singing in America’s megachurches, where musicians seem to be entertaining themselves onstage before congregants who don’t open their mouths. It was fun belt out the words along with a roomful of other people actively engaged in joyful worship.

Joy and I were especially moved by the Stuart Townend’s “Vagabonds,” played and sung with gusto. The words are pure gospel; they describe the church at its best. I’ll print some of the words here, but let me encourage you to go to You Tube and type in Townend’s “Vagabonds” and listen both to the lyrics and the creative, captivating music. I am still humming it as I write.

Come, you vagabonds, 

come all you ‘don’t belongs’

winners and losers, come, people like me.

come all you travelers tired from the journey,

come wait awhile, stay awhile,

welcomed you’ll be.      


Come all you questioners looking for answers

and searching for reasons and sense in it all; 

come all you fallen, and come all you broken,

find strength for your body

and food for your soul

The chorus extends the invitation as from “the King of all kindness” who welcomes us in with “the wonder of love and the power of grace.” Then, lest we miss the point, the third verse offers this variation on the theme:

Come those who worry

‘bout houses and money,

and all those who don’t have a care in the world;

from every station and orientation,

the helpless, the hopeless,

the young and the old.

Singing this song in the heart of a London teeming with immigrants and strivers and failures and “movers and shakers and givers and takers, / the happy, the sad and the lost and alone” sent shivers down the spine of at least one erstwhile preacher who still gets excited about the church that believes and lives these words. As the final stanza spells out, this is church not just for the religious but even for those who can’t stand religion, the “fiery debaters and religion haters, / accusers, abusers, the hurt and ignored.”

As I said, “we got us some church” Sunday.

The Hat finds a moment of solitude, another opportunity to worship.

Our other big event since our last post was a day trip to the Cotswolds in south-central England with a couple busloads of other tourists. My never-faithful cellphone weather app predicted rain, so we bundled up in our best rain-resistant duds and carried our never-to-be-used-during-the-day umbrellas and headed west. It wasn’t a sunny day, but it also wasn’t a rainy one.

Bibury, the smallest of the Cotswold villages we visited.

We were off to see Bibury (a special place for our friends Bob and Bonnie), Bourton-on-the-Water, Burford and Stow-on-Wold, these ancient villages and towns that, in the words of our guide, “time forgot.” Because the nineteenth-century’s rapidly developing railroad system did not reach these rural communities, they were spared the often destructive modernizing of the Victorian era. The result: houses and buildings dating back several centuries—at least to the 12th century, lovingly preserved to retain a sense of what England used to be.

Parts of this ancient yet still functioning church date to the 12th century.
Even centuries ago donors received special recognition for their gifts to and through the church. This sanctuary wall plaque is still saying thanks for donations to the poor and to children

We had originally hoped to spend at least a couple of days in this picturesque area, but since public transportation is not available in some places, to do so we’d have had to rent a car, an expedient I’m trying to avoid. Look what happened to this one:

I told you driving is difficult in the Cotswolds. This poor car never made it out and has been mummified.

We opted to join a tour group. The result was a good overview of the area but no opportunity to get a real “feel” of the local culture. Still, Joy’s pictures capture some of the allure of the Cotswolds.

Too picturesque for words.

The buildings are mostly built with the gold-tinted stone quarried in these hills. Since the local economy now depends primarily on tourism, the residents are making (sometimes begrudgingly) every effort to keep things as they were.

This famous setting is often used in promotional pieces for the area.

I remembered some things from an earlier Cotswold visit several decades ago but had to be reminded of the beauty that abounds here in the forests, cultivated farmlands, characteristic stone hedges, the narrow (narrow!) roadways, the abundant walking paths, and during this season, the proliferating flowers.

Our beautiful new Indian friends Divyaja Singh and her daughter Annada and son Aparaditya.

Our experience was wonderfully enhanced by a chance meeting as we waited in line to board our coach at the Victoria Coach Station. Standing next to us were Divyaja Singh and her teenage daughter and son, Annada and Aparaditya. They are ex-pats living in Dubai where Mr Singh—who stayed at his job so his family could be in England—works as an engineer for UPS. We were charmed by this intelligent, articulate, warm and friendly family. Annada and Aparaditya are 16 and 14, a fact we found hard to believe as they seem so mature. Fortunately, the world is getting smaller all the time, so we hope to meet them again one day either in Dubai or in their native India.


Joy took several pictures of this elegant swan, always a crowd pleaser, the essence of quiet, graceful dignity.
You don’t need a whole vineyard to produce luscious grapes.
And a river runs through it…


17 thoughts on “ALL SOULS and COTSWOLDS”

  1. Loved this post – might be your best yet in my humble opinion – as I continue following you all on your journey.

  2. Barb and I were blessed to attend All Souls when John Scott was preaching there each year in August. Such a blessing. Guthrie

  3. Thank you for the whole blog, but especially about the worship service at All Souls. I wish that I could experience something like that! The joy of a whole congregation singing is something wonderful to be a part of for each one of us. Something that many church leaders need to think about.

  4. We are enjoying traveling with you (though vicariously) through these fascinating and beautifully illustrated blogs. Keep ’em coming, please!
    Thank you!

  5. Didn’t you visit Cirencester, Roy? That’s where David and I, Barbara, (Valencia – Spain) were living, really close to Bibury! Beautiful… yet boring! haha

  6. Dr Lawson you continue to inspire me. Barry and I became ‘Anglican’ Christians here in Northern Virginia. We are members of The Falls Church, Anglican and Dr. John Yates is our rector and was a personal friend of John Stott and John’s son served under Dr Stott as he ‘researcher’. Barry and will be ‘retirees’ next year at this time and we want to BE you and JOy…exploring all of God’s great world.

  7. Your pictures and comments on the Cotswolds brought back many fond memories. Shortly after we arrived at Springdale in 1989 Jim and Carol Ann Crum took us to visit some of those villages where we had our first cream tea. Since I owned a car while there we were able to visit the area often. Frances felt that God intended for her to live there.

    1. We also were treated by Jim and Carol Ann Crum several years ago, when they joined us to a trip to Yorkshire and beyond. I had hired a car from a company called Rent-a-Wreck. The car lived up to the company name, breaking down in York. The Crums were excellent travel companions, weren’t they?

  8. Thanks for the account of the stirring worship service at All Souls, especially the inclusive and welcoming words of Townend’s “Vagabonds.” And a day in the Cotswolds is always worth enjoying, both for the present and accompanied by the charming haze of past visits remembered.

  9. Just listened to “Vagabonds”…stirring and glorious! A taste of heaven! Thank you for pointing us, once again, to God’s grace and love. Our hearts and prayers accompany you.

  10. Dearest Roy and Joy,

    Our meeting at Victoria Coach Station as we all boarded the bus to Cotswolds till we said goodbye is undoubtedly the highlight of our trip to U.K. We were at Kent Leeds the next day and all of us missed having you with us on that trip?

    Your very kind and generous words for the children mean a lot to us. My husband and I feel encouraged by this wonderful gesture of appreciation. Thank you. The interaction between you and children that day is a treasure for life that we collected during this trip. I could easily let them sit with you for lunch the moment I saw you welcome them so warmly. Thank you for your lovely company, they left the dining table richer and happier that afternoon.

    We look forward to keeping in touch with both of you. As you very rightly say that fortunately the world has become smaller, I’m sure we will meet again in India or Dubai! Annada and Aparaditya join me in thanking you for your amazing company and your blessings. Thank you for featuring us in your wonderfully exciting blog! We feel honoured. Look forward to your visit to Dubai soon!

    Warm regards,
    Divyaja Rathore

    1. Thank you so much, Divyaja. You know what that meeting meant to Joy and me, I hope. We haven’t stopped talking about you and your outstanding teenage children. We have Dubai on our bucket list, hoping we haven’t seen the last of your family!

  11. I’ve enjoyed your trip so much. We’ve never been to England and I’d hoped we could do some traveling when Ken retired on 05 but we haven’t been able to do much. Ken does well to be at home, after having Mursa infection in Feb. and it has come back 6 times & it just causes such weakness. It just wipes him out for days and then he’s been in rehab 6 times this year.

Leave a Reply