"So, do you have some sort of goal to your time in London? Something you're studying or working towards?" The fellow asking the question was wearing a black clerical outfit and white collar, sitting on a children's playground with me in Regent's Park in the heart of London. He was about my age, but I wasn't sure if I should call him father. "Well, we're actually here to go to church," was my response. Which is what we had just done at his church.
This morning the family and I left our flat an hour before the worship service began. Even though we're probably only four miles away from the parish where we were heading, we made it there with only moments to spare. We were going to worship with some friends living in London, to get a taste of their particular approach to a Sunday gathering. Since Easter, 5 Sundays ago (!), I have visited a charismatic congregation pastored by a friend back in Indy, snuck in the back of Trinity to hear my friend Tim preach, and last Sunday we went to an evening "cafe church" here in London.
This morning, though, it was high church for us. Literal bells and literal smells. When the procession came in during the opening hymn, the ancient cathedral-like space was filled with incense and smoke from the censer being swung about by the person heading the line. Jack hollered out, "No fire Mommy! No fire!" We tried to explain the reference to the prayers of God's people going up before the throne in Revelation 5, but he was having none of it.
Ang and the kids departed after the first song, and I was left to worship in a company of saints truly reminiscent of the heavenly throng in Revelation. Every tongue, nation, and tribe were represented there, or at least as many as could be numbered among the 75 or so of us sitting on folding chairs, repeating the words of the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Eucharistic liturgy. While the outward form of what happened this morning was rather different than what folks at Trinity might be used to -- priests in full vestments, singing accompanied by organ and trombone (!), an 8 minute homily (some of you are already wanting to visit this parish, aren't you?), and the ever-present haze and scent of the incense -- the Spirit in the place felt instantly like home. Gathered here to remember God in the midst of a city where it's very easy to forget Him, was truly a company of saints. Not the kinds of saints you'd name a parish after. But people who, by believing in the Good News of what God has done for the world in Jesus' life, death, and resurrection, have been made holy, and are thereby made worthy of the saintly title. The hunched over octogenarian fellow who hit me with his cane while sitting down. The dignified West African mom pushing her son in his wheelchair to be first to take communion. The couple Ang and my age who traded off holding their wiggling child so they could respectively sing then read the Scripture at the lectern. This morning the prayers of these people went up like incense before the throne of God. This morning Christ was present as we shared in His body and blood together in communion (though Jack shouted out, as Ang carried him up the aisle, "No people, Mommy! No people!). This morning our warbling voices singing words of Gospel truth rang out the doors of the old church building, out onto the streets of Camden, maybe even drowning for a moment the pop tunes being played over the sound system of the Sainsbury's supermarket immediately adjacent.
And this is why we've come to London. Yes, we're enjoying one of the world's great cities. We're drinking in the sights, relishing the food, moving to the pulsing rhythms of a place with so much life. But we're mostly here to be with God's people. To see what He's up to over here. To learn what we can, and maybe nick an idea or two for our community back in Indy. And that sounds pretty good to me.