“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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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 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.
JOYS PICK OF THE PICS