I'm so pleased to kick off the week with a piece I'm proud of about a place that means a lot to me, even though I haven't been there in nearly eight years.
A couple of weeks ago, my North Carolina friend (and gifted writer) James Hogan asked if I would write something for the quarterly magazine published by his church, Trinity Episcopal in Statesville. Something on faith and "modern" church, he suggested - modern faith observations. Did I have any related ideas or interests?
I spent a couple of days brainstorming, trying to gather scattered thoughts about so many elements of this umbrella topic that seems to matter to me more and more. How could I cover so much ground in just a magazine piece?
Then my heart and mind hit upon Chapel Field.
I found a new church today.
I wrote this in my journal on the last Sunday of September in 2008. I have one in Georgia, one in North Carolina, and now one in England, of all places.
It had taken a conscious effort that morning to pull myself out of bed in my room at the University of East Anglia, eat a handful of dry cereal, and hoof it from my flat on the outskirts of campus to the bus stop at its center. I stood on the empty corner with a city map wadded in my fist, and hopped on the first 35 bus heading toward City Centre.
Still in the first month of my semester abroad, I’d recently attended a gathering of the campus religious life group called The Christian Union. In a meeting room, nearly one hundred students lounged and listened as, one by one, clergy from local Norwich churches made presentations that seemed more like political pitches: Here’s Why You Should Come To Our Church! If my millennial memory serves, some used PowerPoint, others jogged through the crowd to Christian rock, all of them wore blue jeans and gestured wildly.
Must be hard to sell college students on church in any country, I thought. These pastors seemed to hold back nervous stutters behind their wide smiles. They talked up the worship bands, the lights, being saved by the one and only Savior. They promised free transportation from campus into the city on Sunday mornings. The brand of Christianity that I had thought of as so vividly American – raised hands, closed eyes, pop tunes sweetened with nebulous praise – had crossed the ocean. It didn’t appeal to me any more than it did on my home side of the Atlantic.
And so the church where I headed that last Sunday morning in September wasn’t represented under the fluorescent lights that night with The Christian Union. Instead I had stopped by the chaplain’s office, where a ruddy-faced reverend who looked suited to an A.A. Milne story scribbled a name down on a slip of paper and pressed it into my palm. This church didn’t offer free transport from campus, so here I was, stepping off the 35 alone, trying not to look too confused by the map in my hand and the unfamiliar street corner. I was already five minutes late...
Thanks to James and the Trinity Episcopal team for the opportunity to share this story!
P.S. If you're interested, here are links to the reports I reference in the piece: