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Learning from London: Day 5

Today  I walked 15,000 steps, had four cups of coffee (including one very tiny macchiato in a Stuart Little-sized coffee cup), a Diet Coke that cost about $4, and some very nice shortbread.  I avoided the sticky toffee pudding, which in retrospect might have been a mistake. So, on to the churches.  We saw 2 today, but for now I'll just write about one. Holy Trinity Sloane Square sits in Chelsea, across the street from Cartier and Tiffany (I didn't visit either).  The church bills itself as “The Cathedral of the Arts and Crafts Movement.” Above are pictures of various elements showing off the philosophical expressions and talents of John Dando Sanding, William Morris, John Ruskin and Edward Burne-Jones, all of whom were champions of Arts in Crafts.  Built in the 1890’s, the church was meant as a testament to craftsmen displaced by the Industrial Revolution. This place was meant to raise the human spirit and soul to God through beauty.  That last bit is literal--the pulpit is about 20 feet in the air. The parish is Anglo-Catholic to the core, for deeply theological reasons.  The rector, Rev'd Canon Nicholas Wheeler quoted former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (and I’m paraphrasing): “The church is meant to be a place cleared by God for people to be who they really are for God.”  That means that the Anglican Church is called to be welcoming, and to remind us all of the defenselessness of Jesus in his own crucifixion, so that we may find comfort and safety in our vulnerability.  The church is to be a welcoming, generous space that is local. It is to live into its own context. The church is to abide, to dwell, to remain, and to endure.  (Speaking of endure, Trinity lost its entire roof during the bombing in WWII, though none of its spectacular windows were harmed.) As a spiritual place, then, the church reflects the life of the community and should be a place where people can come to be set apart in a safely vulnerable way, at all times of the day. It is the only place in that neighborhood where people can sit for free. Thus, Trinity Sloane Square is open every single day from 9 to 7 (and often later). What would it mean if our church were open all the time for people to come for quiet prayer and respite? The church is also transformational. It allows us to create a new relationship with God.  The primary way that it does so, in the Anglo-Catholic way of thinking, is through the Holy Eucharist.  In the Eucharist, we see the incarnation of Christ, right here in this place.  We are reminded of His coming in Bethlehem, of His last supper, His crucifixion, and of His empty tomb.  We are reminded of the experience of taking Him into ourselves and being nourished, just as He nourished and healed others.  Father Wheeler acknowledged that the church is living in an increasingly anxious place, where “Isolation is THE evil of contemporary society.”  Therefore, the church is called to be incarnational, sacramental, and communal. This is a lifelong process, rather than an event. Father Williams was critical of some of the Church of England’s emphasis on more evangelical expressions that de-emphasize the liturgy.  Tradition is important for identity because it grounds our identity. He said: “The church that we inherited is a gift, and we ought lose it running after novelty.”  Thus, we got to see how Trinity responses tradition through two aspects of their ministry.  First, a weekday Eucharist using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer service.  The language was both sweetly familiar and just foreign enough to make me take notice. Certain elements I found difficult, such as the priest facing the altar.  That said, I could feel it grounding me as I knelt with the congregation on stiff needlepoint kneelers.  It was good to be fed in that place. We also visited one of their two schools. Trinity has provided Anglican schooling for 189 years. Anglican schools are free to the students, and the majority of the pupils are not Anglican, nor do they come from the neighborhood.  (Most of the neighborhood’s real estate is too expensive for people to live there.) We saw an assembly of children ages 7-11.  Some were Muslim. Some spoke different languages at home.  They were incredibly well behaved and polite. They took their places on the floor among signs about English Virtues (patience, humility, perseverance), symbols of different faiths, and a graphic representation of the Trinity.  Fr Wheeler used a Beatles song about saying hello and goodbye as he described the Ascension. We all sang another song and the children looked on the globe to see where “the special American guests” live.  Then we asked them questions.   We asked: what are you working on in your writing class?  Answer: how to use commas.   They asked us: what is your favorite part of America? Answers: the Grand Canyon. Washington DC.  The Great Lakes.   They also asked: Do you like your president? (We've gotten that one a lot this week.) I took a stab at the answer.  Perhaps it was Fr. Wheeler rubbing off on me, or maybe it was the grounding power of the Eucharist, or maybe it was the charm of 100 wonderfully behaved children that led me to say: “He is our leader.  Sometimes we may not like what our leader does, but we always need to remember that he is our leader, and respect him for the role that he has.” Some might see Trinity Sloane Square as old-fashioned, or outmoded.  However, after spending much of the day with them, I have deep respect for what they are doing. They are giving practical expression to our theology in a way that grounds us in tradition and leans into our future. They are making a place for the anxiety of this world while reminding us that the love and beauty of God will prevail in all times and places.  That’s an important message for us, even in the midst of difficult politics, changing neighborhoods, and tough financial realities.  I’m very glad for our time with them, and grateful to God for their abiding presence among us.  May they help us to be deliberate in our own theology and practice.   ++++ Now, a confession.  I messed up yesterday when I said I was in Poplar.  Turns out I wasn't. I was NEAR Poplar, in that I was in the East End, and many of the issues facing Poplar are true for the neighborhood where I was. Turns out we don't go to Poplar until Friday.  As Yoda would say, "Not observant, this one is." Stay tuned. Poplar is coming. Also, I'm not sure how much I'll write tomorrow night.  We got tickets to Book of Mormon, so I'll be home late.  May I'll just  post some pictures. Blessings to you all.  Thanks for reading. Copyright © 2019, St. John's Episcopal Church All rights reserved.

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