We wrapped up our time in London with a visit to and conversation with people at the London City Mission. While I’ve met a couple of people from LCM before, this was my first opportunity to actually hear in-depth conversation about their work. LCM dates to 1835 with a desire not only to speak about the Gospel but embody that conversation with people working to alleviate the squalid conditions of the poorest people in London. These people worked among the people and conditions you read of in Dickens’ novels. [you can read more about them here] Nearly all of the workers are lay people working to bring hope, compassion and healing to neighborhoods in East London. Speaking of Jesus is their foundation, but the opening conversation is rarely about Jesus, but about a hope for health and wellness for individuals and neighborhoods. The stories can be simultaneously tragic and a little funny, both at the same time.
One of the temptations of the work we’ve done in learning from London is to see all of this as a source of a few “tricks” or new methods to somehow magically transform church life and fill up a few more pews. There is, for sure, a wee bit of that in what you can see in these lively churches in London. Method and technique matter. Quality of effort matters. But as we travel around London, we see a bunch of different churches doing a bunch of – what can appear to be – contradictory things. You can see praise bands with video screens in churches built in 1847 on Sunday evenings and other churches filled up with the smoke of incense on a Sunday morning. But there are a few strings that hold them all together:
There are a lot of differences between Fort Wayne, Indiana and London, England. But here are a few things that are the same:
We’re wrapping up a full day and are starting to see the end of the road, so to speak. Today we were off to St James Piccadilly. This historic church is in the middle of a swank commercial/business district. Christopher Wren designed and built St James in 1676 and is significant because it was one of the very few churches Wren wasn’t restricted for some reason as to the size and shape of the building. So, Wren built his vision of the perfect church. One of the significant things is that the building has clear, not stained glass, windows as Wren thought that the view outside a church was the best thing to see while in a church. Once, his windows looked out on pastureland. Now, you can sit in the pew and see the bustling city for which you pray inside the building. The church had been bombed [it seems like we’ve looked at a lot of bombed churches…] in 1940 and then restored. St James has this deep sense that ministry is to be about embodying the love of Jesus in tangible ways in the world.
We were back to the Highbury Centre for lunch and a presentation on new ideas for Christian witness in the world. We have a lot of ideas…
This evening a few of us had an opportunity to go to a play by the Intermission Youth Theater Company. We’ve looked at and met some of the people connected with IYT in the past as well as some of the kids. The ministry is supported and sponsored by Holy Trinity Sloane Square and seeks to work with at-risk kids between the ages of 16 and 25. This time we actually got to see a play. The play, Ring of Envy, was an adaptation by the cast of Shakespeare’s Othello. The dialog slipped between Shakespeare’s original words and street-speak. To put it mildly, it was spectacular. The young man who played Iago gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. We’d go again if we had the time to do so.
We’re getting close to completing our work here and have a mountain of ideas to share with you all.
See you soon!
Peace from London
We’re all pooped. It’s a long, long week here in London. It’s good, it doesn’t really fall into the category of a forced march, but it’s very long days. We began at 7:30 am and ended at 10:45 pm. A good day, but very, very long.
Today was Holy Trinity Wednesday. Our day was spent in Kensington and Chelsea, truly one of the richest neighborhoods in the world – and it’s easy to tell. The Mercedes cars are the cheap cars rolling down the street. As you can imagine, this creates an interesting setting for ministry. The first half of the day was spent at Holy Trinity Sloane Square. Holy Trinity Sloane Square is a very traditional sort of place. Famous neo-gothic architecture and very, very liturgical worship [the proper words are Anglo-Catholic]. Father Nicholas, the priest, tells a great story of how there three attempts have been to close down HTSS – the first by Hitler, who dropped a bomb on it and blew off the roof, the second by the Lord Cadogan [who owns the land the church sits on] to build apartment flats, and the third by the Diocese of London when the church dwindled to 12 worshippers. Over the past 15 years or so, the parish has rebounded to a healthy state, yet challenged by an outward perception of money and resources.
We then walked the half-mile down the street to Holy Trinity Brompton. HTB [as it’s known here in London] is a huge, thriving congregation that in terms of worship styles is the exact opposite of HTSS. HTB is a bit of London’s version of a mega-church, with a significant dose of humility. HTB is also the home of the Alpha program. Alpha is an introduction to Christian faith that spans a 10-week period of time. More than 25 million people have participated in an Alpha program somewhere in the world, nearly all of them people outside of faith – agnostics, atheists and de-churched people. We went to an Alpha class at HTB this evening. They’re in the fourth week and about 600 people were there for dinner, a presentation and small group discussion. It was quite amazing.
We found our way back to our home base, spent some time reflecting as a group and crawled back to our rooms. We all hope you had a blessed day and knew God’s presence.
Peace to you from the London four.
Today was an early day. Morning Prayer at 7:30 am, Breakfast at 8:00, out the door by 8:35 am and off to the London Overground [which is like the Underground – or the Tube – only it’s Overground…] to travel to the East End. The East End is the historic working-class area of London, once filled up with factories and dockyards, lower-cost housing, tenements and slums. This area was heavily affected by the London Blitz [bombing] during WWII, so has an interesting collection of buildings – old, brutish sort of modern, new, ramshackle, restored and the like. It’s a wide-ranging community now, very ethnically and economically diverse. Several communities are the most diverse in the world. In one case, more than 100 ethnicities [and their languages] are represented. As you can imagine, it is an area filled with deep challenges and rich possibilities.
Our first stop was St Peter’s Bethnal Green. St Peter’s was one of twelve churches planted in the mid- to late 19th century to serve working-class families in this area. It had a precipitous decline and about 8 years ago only had 20 active, older members. Those members decided that they didn’t want their church to close and chose to work to bring new life to their place. The priest over this time, Adam Atkinson, tells of the challenges that the work of finding new life in their neighborhood entailed. While exciting to talk about, this is not and has not been easy work. Essentially, it has meant meeting the people in the surrounding neighborhood and working to care for issues of the surrounding community. This sort of stuff changes people, places and communities in ways that are not always easy to control.
After lunch and a bit of reflection, we were off to St George in the East and the Center for Theology and Community. St George is an historic church in the East End, built at the beginning of the 18th century. It was hit by a bomb in 1941 and half of the building continues to live on as a shell – a reminder of the war. After near-closure, the congregation has begun to thrive as it has started to serve its neighborhood. The Center for Theology and Community is a group that does demographic and statistical research into what is happening in churches in London in order to understand and bring clarity to the work happening in several places. They also provide work in community organizing and development for the East End.
At the end of a very long day, most of our group were off to the Olympic Village to worship with a church that meets in a restaurant [it has not building of its own] while Luanne and I went for dinner with a London pastor-friend to hear about the work happening in his church as well as that of his wife here in London.
We think of you all quite a bit and reflect on our lives in Fort Wayne and the work of Trinity as we visit and talk with people here. We’re all prepped with an abundance of thoughts and ideas and are anxious to bring back what we’ve thought about.
Peace to you all from London.
We are all trying to gather ourselves together as we begin our charge through the week. Today began with breakfast [We all ate early today, as there was a tribe of 45, we think German, kids staying at our place. It’s convenient to get there before they do…] and Morning Prayer at 8:30 am. [That’s 3:30 am your time. Yes, I was thinking about you.] We were off to a church called St Edmund the Martyr. This little church, very close to the Bank of England, has existed in one form or another for more than 1,000 years in this spot. Some of its ministry is as a center for spirituality and a site for the development of church planting in London. At St Edmund’s we heard of the strategies the Church of England is using to try to re-engage with a huge community of non-Christians. [When you count EVERY known Christian in London, no matter the stripe, this number exceeds 7.5 million people. That’s a lot of people.] It’s amazing to see and hear of the deep creativity that’s going into this work, as well as a willingness to experiment and learn from mistakes. It’s also remarkable to hear of people and places that look around themselves and don’t really perceive a problem. As Scott said to as we were leaving, “I see why we’re here. We don’t want to end up in the same situation!”
We journeyed back to the Highbury Centre [our home away from home for the week] for lunch and presentations from a number of people. The first was Will Clarkson who is responsible for what is called “Fresh Expressions” in the south London area. One way to think about Fresh Expressions is it is throwing everything and the kitchen sink along with the cat, the dog, the goldfish, three balls and a pillow at the church’s lack of reaching de-churched and un-churched people. We then heard from a guy, Tim Thorlby, who does statistical research on these things. One of the things Tim essentially said is that when you’ve fallen as far behind the curve as the Church of England, it is A LOT of work that is left for you to do.
We heard of the work of a pastor who works essentially without a church – Frances Shoesmith, and an old friend, Annie McTighe, who also doesn’t have a traditional church building. Both find their work primarily in forming relationships and using non-traditional spaces to do their work.
Luanne and I had an interesting opportunity for this evening. We popped back into downtown London with two other classmates to St Paul’s Cathedral to hear the new Bishop of London speak about her faith journey. There have been 132 previous bishops of London, dating back to 186, Sarah Mullally is the first woman to serve in this role. She had a very fascinating back-story, having served as the chief nursing officer in the British health system before becoming a pastor then bishop. As she reflected on the numerous blessings and challenges ahead of her church, she noted that as the church works to speak to people in this time and if we get it right so that people will hear of the love of Jesus in ways that change their lives, this work will change us, too.
Peace to you from London!
Sunday. Church Day. Our group fanned out over the city and experienced a variety of places and styles of worship. Luanne and I were off to St James Piccadilly. St James is a rather progressive congregation in the center of London. As they don’t really have people who live near the church [apart from the homeless, which are present at the church], they attract people from around London as well as from around the world. We ran into a couple from North Carolina on their fourth visit to St James, a guy from California visiting his mother, two from Indiana, someone from Ohio [in our class] and a Minnesotan. One of the priests, a friend, is from California. There were dogs [a lab and a miniature dachshund] as well as a really good sermon. At St James, communion is celebrated with the congregation gathered around the altar [this morning there were about 130 of us, plus dogs].
Scott was off to Holy Trinity Sloane Square. Sloane Square is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the world [and home to the annual Chelsea Flower Show] and Holy Trinity is a very high - church, very liturgical sort of place that seeks to engage this very interesting neighborhood. Great worship, a really good choir [their paid, by the way] and a big heart illustrate the work of Holy Trinity. Holy Trinity will also experience international visitors on a regular basis given its work and location.
Kierstin was at St Peter’s in Bethnal Green for two liturgies. The first was a more formal, traditional style worship with the second an informal, slightly chaotic family worship time. Bethnal Green is a working-class neighborhood that is now filled up with a whole bunch of different people: industrial workers, unemployed, hipsters, young families and even aged folks. Given where it is, international folks are a bit rare at St Peter’s, but visitors from the neighborhood are not.
After lunch, our group gathered for Evening Prayer at Westminster Abbey. Westminster Abbey is that ancient church where the kings and queens of England are crowned, married and sometimes buried – so it’s chocked full of history. The church was full for evening prayer and the choir was beautiful, although the sermon was a wee bit tedious…
After dinner, we were off to Holy Trinity Brompton. Holy Trinity Brompton [HTB] has had a huge influence on church life in London. It’s one of the largest churches in England and has led the way on outreach and evangelism. They are the “mother-ship,” as it may, for the Alpha course, an introduction to Christianity for non-Christians. Their worship is very contemporary, very lively and very Spirit-oriented.
In all, we spent at least 4 hours in church! We’re excited to hear from the people at the places we visited and reflect on what we saw today.
We hope you had a great Sunday! We all missed being with you.
Greetings from London!
Well we’re properly here and a wee bit less jet lagged after some sleep. One of the things to remember is that air conditioning is not a really big deal over here. While the weather is a bit more temperate [highs in the mid 70’s], things do get a bit stuffy in some places, particularly the Tube. The Highbury Centre, where our class time is spent as well as where we’re staying, isn’t air conditioned either, so it’s open windows and chirping birds.
Today our classwork began in the afternoon, but we had scheduled free time in the morning – this allows the whole class to get to the city and get a bit oriented before our formal work begins. In the morning, we took a trip down to the Tate Modern Art Museum. The Tate Modern has become one of my favorite places to visit. First, it’s free – a big plus! But more than just being free, It’s a reminder that there is a huge conversation going on about what it means to be human, what is the meaning of life and how should we understand the world. Too often it feels that we in the church world somehow think that if we offer the same answers to these questions as the church did several hundred years past, our work is done. The Tate Modern is a constant reminder that we need to work A LOT harder to speak effectively and sincerely in our time. It’s hard, hard work we’re called to do.
I’m also attaching a photo of a few of us here. Luanne [blue shirt, green backpack], Dr. Miller [blue shirt, yellow backpack] and Kierstin [white shirt, print backpack] are walking across Millennial Bridge toward St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Have a great Sunday! We’ll pray for all of you at church tomorrow. Pray for us, too.
Well, with a couple of small delays and smooth flights we landed in London at 9:30 am London time, 4:30 am your time. Yes, we’re tired! We hauled ourselves around London, particularly as this is Kierstin’s first time here we wanted her to see a few things. We were off to St Martin-in-the-Fields. While most Americans know St Martin’s for the fine music programs that take place there, St Martin’s is most famous in London for the significant work they do with homeless and addicted folks. They run the largest homeless ministry in London. After lunch in St Martin’s crypt [the proceeds help pay for their charitable ministries] we went across the street to the National Portrait Gallery [there are WAY too many famous paintings there!], walked down to Buckingham Palace, hopped a subway to the British Museum [the Brits really did loot well!]. After a couple of coffees interspersed through the day to fight off jet-lag, we made it to the Highbury Centre, where we’re staying for the week. We had dinner with our instructor, Jason Fout, who was most anxious to hear about all of the things happening at Trinity. After dinner, we’re back to the Centre for an early evening. I think all of our group is soundly asleep!
Fun fact for the day: The last time Dr. Miller was in London; all of the paper money was a bit different! He’s walking around with a pocket of money no one wants!! Go figure.
If you’re interested in a few pictures for the day, go over and look at Jesus on the Go.
As an aside, we think we got seven miles each for the Journey to Jerusalem.