Every morning on the way to class, I pass by the old, brick church on the corner of Queens Gate and Harrington Road. Standing promptly in front of the aged building is the symbol of Christ on the crucifix which always catches my eye. When we first arrived in South Kensington, I used this church as a landmark to remember how to get back home. I had no idea of the stories that were held inside. On a weekday morning when I had a little extra time, I decided to wander in for a few minutes.
When I entered the large wooden doors, I was greeted with the high ceilings and darker atmosphere I’ve accustomed myself with when visiting churches and chapels around London. However, the hall was smaller, more intimate than those I’ve seen before. Even more surprising were the couches and small café bar set up as a makeshift lounge area. As I soaked in the quiet church, Chris Lee, one of the pastors, offered me some tea. Along with the refreshments he offered me information about the church and took me around the building kindly.
St. Augustine’s is one out of three churches of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB). I asked Pastor Lee how old the church was and he laughed and told me, “very old.” In fact, it’s older than any church that I’ve been to back at home. St. Augustine’s began in 1865 when Reverend Richard Chope used his garden to worship in Anglo-Catholic tradition. As the number of attendees increased, the Church Commissioners requested a parish to be served by the church of St. Augustine. The building is constructed with a brick and marble exterior and filled with colored mosaics and stained glass. The feel and look to the church stands in stark contrast to the pristine white residential buildings of the rest of the Queens Gate surrounding area. The functions the church hosts I found were surprisingly modern. They hold concerts for alternative, Christian rock bands and interactive youth group events. Their next big upcoming event is called Focus which is “the annual teaching week away for members of HTB, its church plants, and other church friends.” I collected the pamphlet for it on my way out and it’s depicted as a weekend camping getaway of fun, community, and faith (more information can be found on HTB’s official site). Before I left, Pastor Lee invited me to join their Sunday service. Wanting to experience a service in a building as beautiful and rich with history as St. Augustine’s, I attended the 4:30 pm service. I never imagined myself going to a full service at a Christian Anglican church. Even though both my dad and my sister are Christians, I’ve never made time for church, always thinking there was something better I could do on my Sunday mornings and afternoons. After walking out of the large, wooden doors I wouldn’t say I was a changed person, but I would say that I was enlightened tremendously.
Before going to the service, I must admit that I was very nervous stepping out of my comfort zone. My nerves were soon calmed when one of the members of the church greeted me and picked up a polite conversation until the service started. I was pleasantly surprised when the service first started with a few songs sung by a five membered band soothingly strumming guitars. It wasn’t choral music which what I was expecting, instead it was more contemporary rock. Soon, everyone in the church was standing up with palms held out open to the air and sang along with the songs of worship. It was a powerful thing watching everyone sing together without really needing to read the lyrics on the helpful monitors for newcomers to follow. A real sense of community and connection was occurring within each individual in the church.
The excerpt in that afternoon’s service was from the Corinthians and the reverend evaluated what heaven was going to be like. As he read the passage, I enjoyed how he took the words and made them uplifting rather than preaching. He introduced the image of heaven with the one we typically think of when we’re kids. We think heaven as a place of white fluffy clouds filled angels and light. Then, by analyzing the chapter out of the Corinthians he concluded how heaven is in fact a place where there is no pain or worry and that you’ll be one with God.
I myself am unsure if I truly believe in heaven. I want to believe that there is a place where there is no pain and no troubles and we could remain in an eternal bliss if you have done well with your mortal life. I suppose since I’m so young, I don’t want to think about what will happen to me after this life. Whether it is ignorance, fear, or youth, the service broke through those aspects and inevitability got me thinking of these topics.
If I had to describe the service in any way, I would say it was an out-of-body experience and unlike anything I’ve really observed before. Everyone was extremely kind to me. The lady I sat next to named Phyllis who was a regular member of St. Augustine’s told me about the lively feel of HTB. She said it was always refreshing to take a little time out of her busy schedule to be with friends and connect with God. She then told me how HTB and specifically St. Augustine’s was a great place to learn and understand not only the ways of God, but of religion and Christian faith.
She was right. I learned so much from my experience. HTB isn’t simply a place of worship, but a place where people can gather to converse with friends. Along with their services and prayers, they also put on several outreach programs including marriage courses, depression support groups, recovery courses, and job seeking courses. HTB supports the community of South Kensington. People of all walks of life come to St. Augustine’s and are treated as equals.
I truly enjoyed my time at St. Augustine’s and plan on going to next Sunday’s service with an open mind and a more confident spirit.