I apologize in advance about the length of this post, I have too much to say.
Perhaps some of you recall my previous blog posts in which I mention the small Christian denomination known as “Swedenborgian” that my family (Mom’s side) has always participated in. My Grandpa and Grandma ran a San Diego Swedenborgian Church, and upon my Grandma’s passing my Grandpa decided he couldn’t run the church on his own and he gave up preaching; due to some conflict they ended up attending another church in San Diego altogether known as “The New Church”. Well new, but not novel, because indeed this denomination also follows the teachings of Good ol’ Emanuel Swedenborg.
Basically, Emanuel Swedenborg came over from Sweden when he was just a young lad, and settled in London. He was smart as a whip, well-educated, and came from money. He never settled anywhere for too long and ended up traveling all over, and often returned to London. He ended up publishing some new religious writings in England, very controversial and forward-thinking for the time. In fact, if he remained in Sweden he would not have been able to publish them at all due to restrictions on press and speech. Anywho, his writings became quite popular, and the first traceable congregation that came together to discuss these writings occurred in London, where I happen to be, and taking a Religious Studies class at that, such luck! So I did my studious research, okay I Googled “New Church UK,” but nonetheless I came across what I needed.
In London, the Borough of Lambeth to be exact (which, fun fact, isn’t even on the map of London we received) I found the Michael Church, and so I committed myself to this being my Adventure. Please enjoy the story of “My New Church Adventure.” Here we go.
Sunday morning, 9:15 I set off. Jump on the District Line train to Upminster, exit on Westminster, and walk to Parliament Square and wait for Bus Route #3 to SOHO – Crystal Palace. Get off the bus at Loughborough Road and walk about 15 minutes to Michael Church, 131 Burton Road. By the way, Burton Road and Burton Lane are two very different streets, going very different directions…so after I realized I was lost, turned myself around and at about 10:30 found myself in front of a quaint little church. Well I had about 30 minutes until the service, so I figured I’d explore, and found a beautiful park with a community run café, shouts out to Little Cat Café! After getting lost, and with my nervousness about this whole adventure, I could use some coffee. I sat at a bench to sip my coffee next to the nicest old man and had a lovely discussion about the whether, but it was about 10:50 and I headed off.
Well this is it, the church steps, through the door, and then through stained glass doors into a small corridor. I’m pretty sure I looked lost because about 3 people in the corridor asked if they could help me, and when I told them I was there to attend the service they were quite curious. (Shouts out to Nancy, Jane, and Greg!) I chatted for a bit and then entered the chapel, grabbed my Liturgy book and took my seat, I had a whole pew to myself. The organ played, and the service began, the congregation of about 14 including myself sang about 6 hymns, listened to 2 lessons, 1 sermon, and 1 recitation. It was all too familiar. Even the old man who sat in front of me and fell asleep during the sermon, I think there’s one in every congregation. It was so familiar, and so comfortable. Following this, there was to be tea, coffee, and conversation downstairs. Ooh, more coffee? I think yes.
Downstairs tea and coffee awaited, I found Nancy, and her husband Greg brought us coffee and the biscuit tin (and hey I’m on holiday, I’ll have a biscuit, or two… Shortbread? Of course!) After about 20 minutes I had shaken hands with about every member of the congregation, and I wish I could remember names. Everyone was so welcoming, and of course there was the,
“Oh you’re from California? I have a friend in Arizona or California, do you know Dean Schroeder?”
“No, I probably don’t.”
“Oh I’m here studying abroad.”
“My major is Environmental Engineering.”
“Water, air, waste, and such…”
“No, Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t the governor anymore.”
“Yes, it has been raining a lot.”
“Yes, yes, this is lovely!”
“Oh, I’ve been here 5 weeks, but I’m leaving this Saturday.
“I know, I’m sorry I won’t be able to see you all next week.”
Enter Nancy… she offers to give me a ride back to a tube station on her and Greg’s way back up to North London, or would I like to come back to their home to have lunch?
Yes, I love food.
About an hour later (yes, they commute an hour to attend this church service) we arrive at their home. Nancy starts setting out the salad, coleslaw, potato salad, olive salad, bean salad, and hummus. I chop up some bell peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. I slice 3 different types of cheeses that I had never heard of, but are pretty popular here. Next come the baguettes. Apparently, in the Summer on a warm afternoon a very British thing to drink would be a Shandy made of beer and carbonated lemonade, it was delicious. (Greg and Nancy had just had their Silver Anniversary party and there was still quite a bit of beer left over still, I was happy to help them out with that one.) Enjoy lunch in the garden? Sounds lovely.
I ate at least one of everything, then had seconds, I was stuffed, and the conversation was light hearted. Plates were cleared, and came the afternoon tea (Earl Grey, what else?). Then came the blueberries, strawberries, and cherries. Then came the cake. Then came the Creme Fraiche. At this point, I feel like the luckiest girl in the world. I finally mention that I must be going, and we look up train times, and I have about 10 minutes before we should leave for the station, just enough time for some home videos. (I’m not joking.) Finally, they drive me to the train station and I catch the Overground to London Euston, then walk to Euston Square and caught the Circle line home. Adventure complete.
I had about 45 minutes of train journey home to reflect upon my Sunday adventure. I always knew that New Church congregations were small, close-knit, community churches, and I was always glad of it. Today I realized how much I truly enjoy that dynamic. I met everyone at that service, I shook their hand, I knew their names, I drank tea and coffee with them. I felt included and welcome. I never attended church much as a little girl other than when we visited my Mom’s side of the family in San Diego, but suddenly I became very proud. I had just attended Sunday service at the oldest New Church building still used as a New Church. It is over 120 years old, and it was familiar, and it was comfortable. I cannot think of a better way to spend my last Sunday in London. Now I just need to add Greg and Nancy on Facebook…