Category Archives: London

My visit to London

Two Days in London, Part 2

Through the providential collusion of streams of my life, I find myself visiting London a few days prior to taking a week-long course on the spirituality and theology of the Wesleys; meanwhile, at the same time I am joining with others in “141 Days of Wesley” to read through all of Wesley’s sermons.

I’ll admit it – my boots are not the best walking shoes for warm, sunny days. (I packed them expecting cool, rainy days! [At least I persuaded myself to bring a light jacket and leave my trench coat at home!]) By the time I returned to my hotel on Friday evening, I was tired and fagged out, as after a prolonged squawk. My calves and lower back ached. So, seeing that the next day was going to be another warm one, after my morning reading I retired my beloved boots and reached for my Chuck Taylors instead…
Saturday: The Other Doctor (Wandering Toward Westminster)
(What I was reading: Sermon 6, “The Righteousness of Faith”)

 

Saturday was a much more leisurely day; leaving my jacket, I was better prepared to just wander in the warm, sunny weather. I did, initially, have a handful of postcards; and though I was surprised to learn that the post office(s) are closed on Saturday, I was still able to procure appropriate postage and post all three. (They should go out Monday; it will be interesting to see whether they, or I, arrive first!)

I wandered along toward the SoHo neighborhood – stopping at two nearby outdoors/camping stores (still looking to repair my backpack, unsuccessfully) – toward my only aim for the morning: Forbidden Planet, Britain’s largest comic book chain. I arrived at the flagship store, and quickly found myself lingering at the entire side wall of Doctor Who merchandise: Doctor and Dalek action figures (along with other characters); coffee mugs; T-shirts made up to replicate each of the 11 Doctors’ styles; plush Daleks and TARDISes (Lynn and I had a conversation about how does one pluralize TARDIS?); iPhone and iPad skins; LEGO-like building sets and mini-figures; and much, much more.

A nearby shop had an advert on the window that indicated they offered “free shipping on any order of 50 or more. I did not see such an offer at Forbidden Planet, which is probably a good thing. Had I, I very likely might have given them my clothes to ship so I could re-pack my backpack with Dr Who toys! Thankfully, good-sense (or the voice of my wife inside my head) won out and I managed to leave the store with only a single mini-figure packet. (Though, truth be told, I will be returning next Saturday, as the shop is hosting a special launch party for a new Doctor Who television remote control – though I don’t plan to get the remote, I’m interested in the costumes and activities they may have going on…
I wandered into the SoHo and Leicester Square areas for lunch, past theater after theater of live shows and also the Odeon theaters for films. I contemplated seeing an afternoon show of… something. Perhaps Les Miserable? Or Spamalot? Or Phantom of the Opera, still playing at Her Majesty’s Theater. I opted not to, with the thought that I might not have another such sunny day to wander London, and I could always get Lynn’s input on which show to see next Saturday (and thus feel less guilty that I went to one without her!)
I walked through Trafalgar Square, past the Mall (the Mall is closed for the duration of the Olympics and ParaOlympic Games), and down toward Westminster. I walked by the Imperial War Museum – Churchill’s War Offices – with the intent of returning next week.

I found myself beside Westminster Abbey, but rather than paying to visit it again, I walked across the square and instead went inside the Methodist Central Hall. Built in 1812 – to belatedly celebrate the centennial death of Wesley – Methodist Central Hall is not only home to a Methodist congregation, but is the largest conference center in London. The United Nations had their charter meetings here at the Hall, which can seat 2,000. There was no museum nor much to see, though I did get to go out on an upper balcony and look down upon Westminster and out across the Big Ben.
There was a statue of Wesley in the entryway. Produced in the early 1800s, the sculptor had hoped it would sit in Westminster along with the other memorial statues there. However, the archbishop at the time refused, stating that Wesley was and had been too “factious.” Today there is a plaque memorializing both brothers in the Abbey, but the statute, after sitting years at the entrance to a college for clergy, stands in the Hall.
He was a short man, by the way!
Not long after I made my way along the Houses of Parliament, then caught the Tube back to my hotel.
Like many other large cities – perhaps most? – London is an eclectic architectural mix of buildings. There are ancient walls built in Roman times and still in use; medieval churches supported by tourist dollars and fortifications repurposed to other use; Renaissance, Reformation, and modern all side by side…
And that was Friday – quiet; leisurely, a nice day walking about in the city.
Why subtitle it “The Other Doctor”? Well, one of the exhibits at Wesley’s Chapel was a discussion about one of Wesley’s most popular books from his day, Primitive Physik. It was a book Wesley printed and made sure every Methodist pastor had a copy of; for beyond just caring for people’s souls, as the likely most learned men in their respective communities, these pastors were also approached to help people who fell ill. Wesley was very interested in medicine, and published this book based on his many readings and personal experiments in the area. Wesley, of course, would refer one and all to the Great Physician, for the cure and care of our souls. Not that I would equate the Doctor with Jesus, but the connection came to mind as I wandered Friday…

An interesting observation from Thursday that I had not mentioned: my tour guide at Wesley’s Chapel made a point of showing us the men’s bathroom. Built in 1899, all the fixtures in the bathroom are original, making it one of only three working Victorian era bathrooms in London. He pointed out the imprinted “Venerable Throne” inside of the bowl; as well as the name emblazened upon the tanks and pull chains, “John Crapper.”

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Graveyards and Crypts

Two Days in London – Friday Aside

Of Crypts & Graveyards

I am intrigued by the notion of crypts. St. Paul’s was the first crypt I was to visit this trip, and it feels somewhat awkward to me to be standing and walking over the long tombstones marking the burial places of saints and sinners long since past. I was aware of, and somewhat disturbed, by the inequity shown to those who have died and been buried there: some crypts and memorial plaques along the walls are clearly off-limits so as not to be damaged or defaced; but innumerable tombstones are being worn away by the shoes of countless visitors just like me. (It’s even creepier when you stop to think that these are the final resting places of others’ human remains!)

St. Paul’s was the second burial place I visited in London. On Thursday, after settling into my hotel in the afternoon and not wanting to journey too far because of the minimal amount of sleep I had had due to the overnight flight, I wandered around Upper Tooting until I came to the churchyard of St. Nicholas. There was an expansive cemetary surrounding the church. Where in Arizona we would have parking, sidewalks, landscaping, and open space, here in the churchyard there were graves upon graves. (There was one smack dab at the bottom of a stairway! I had to wonder if the person buried there had some emotional attachment to the stairs… or had, perhaps, fallen down them!)

Considering the length of London’s history, the densely packed population it has supported for generations (I saw a centuries old map of London that actually color-coded the wealth/class of residents!), and its functionally land-locked status, I shouldn’t be surprised at the number of graveyards and crypts. Or the protected status of many of them by the City itself! In addition to St. Paul’s Crypt, I also discovered myself walking over the final resting places of many good Methodists at Wesley’s Chapel – because the Museum and Bookstore are located directly atop them! With space at such a premium, it seems both practical and necessary for space beneath church buildings to be used for crypts. Still, walking in them just feels… weird

I also (briefly) visited Bunhill Fields, a Dissenter’s graveyard. Because it is in Islington and not London proper, when in use Bunhill Fields was outside the city limits, since none of the Dissenters were legally allowed to be buried within the walls of Town. (Since that time one of the Lord Mayors of London had the cemetary encircled with walls.) I discovered that this is where Susanna Wesley is buried (along with other well-known Dissenters such as Paul Bunyon, William Blake, Daniel Defoe, and several others), with her gravestone visible from the window of Wesley’s study across the road.
In years past, worshiping in congregations in the Midwest or visiting those in the East, I always found the numerous memorial plaques strange. They are not as much of a custom out in the West. However, I think they might be a vestigial trace of the greater memorials that exist in older churches and cathedrals. At St. Paul’s, St. Nicholas, and even Wesley Chapel sculpted effigies, large memorial plagues, and gravestones abound. Like the stone forget-me-nots that bloom in graveyards and memorial gardens, these bear sentiments declaring the good works and familial love of generations past.
I need to go back and review my Journal from my visit to Westminster Abbey in 1997 (and may post an excerpt later); but I wonder if I reflected then on there being a very real sense of “the communion of saints” when one is surrounded both by the likenesses and memorials about the previously departed. Perhaps when worshiping in such a surrounding, one does not notice. But, just as reading Wesley’s sermons or Journal strike a chord in me, reminding me of the driven and passionate faith of those who have come before, I wonder if being in their midst regularly would also instill that sense of carrying a flame that has been burning for so long.

Two Days in London (part 1)

Through the providential collusion of streams of my life, I find myself visiting London a few days prior to taking a week-long course on the spirituality and theology of the Wesleys, and at the same time joining with others in “141 Days of Wesley” in reading through all of Wesley’s sermons.

Some time into our engagement, Lynn shared with me her initial impression of me the day she met me at O’Hare airport. She aptly described me as a “Methodist geek,” because I was wearing my sterling silver cross and flame. Today, though I don’t wear that charm as often, I seem to wear my Methodist roots on my sleeve. My first two fully days in London seem to demonstrate both a conscious and subconscious connection to our great Connexion…

Friday: Wandering Toward Wesley

(What I was reading: Methodism: Empire of the Spirit [specifically Ch 2, “Enlightenment and Enthusiasm”]; Sermon 5, “Justification By Faith”)

I woke early Friday. Well rested, I looked at my watch and was distressed to see the first digit was still only a 5! However, unable to go back to sleep I stirred myself to motion without coffee. Over a simple breakfast, I contemplated my day, and decided to spend the morning reading as none of the sites I intended to visit opened before 10am.

I spent over an hour reading both a chapter out of one of the texts for next week and the day’s sermon. Upon completion, I happened to look up St. Paul’s Cathedral, and discovered it opened to guests at 8:30! It was not one of the sites I planned to visit that day, but I figured it wasn’t out of the way, so why not start there? So I jauntily journeyed forth, caught an over-packed Tube, and found my way to the beautiful cathedral designed by Christopher Wren .

Others have visited St. Paul’s and suggested I do the same, and it was a beautiful testament to the faith of many generations. I visited the ground floor, crypt, the “whispering gallery” (a ring along the inside of the beautiful, but very high!, dome), and also walked the outside balcony around the dome, seeing the city from a wonderful vantage point. I somehow missed the bronze statute of Wesley that is in the churchyard (though I was to see the original it was cast from the next day)

A (Heart)Warming Walk

From the time I left St. Paul’s until I returned to my hotel, I carried my jacket in my hands. I expected 64° temps, and instead the day was warming up to a beautiful 80°. I left St. Paul’s and meandered my way north, toward the Museum of London. Walking up a street that changed its name on my map from New Change to Le Grand, I was apparently oblivious to the second and significant name change: Aldersgate Street.

I happened to find myself looking across the street and I saw a strangely named chapel, St Botolph’s-without-Aldersgate. I knew naught of the church at the time, but would later learn that during its time as an Anglican Parish, Samuel Wesley – father to John and Charles – was curate here for a year. (Also, had I known at the time, I could have stepped just around the corner to see a plaque marking the home of John Bray, with whom John and Charles were lodging when they both had their moments of conversion in May, 1738.)

What did stop me was the name of the church and the street, Aldersgate. It is well documented and known among Methodists that Aldersgate Street was the location of a small group meeting where John Wesley felt his heart “strangely warmed,” and when he came to fully experience the assurance of faith he had witnessed in his Moravian brothers and sisters in his passage to and from Georgia. And upon the railings of the combined churchyards next to St. Botolph’s was a plaque marking the brothers’ conversions.

From there I visited the Museum of London. At the entrance I was surprised to find another memorial to Wesley’s conversion- the “Aldersgate Flame.” Designed to suggest both flame and wind, the memorial includes a reproduction from Wesley’s journal of the account of his conversion.

I will admit that I walked fairly quickly through the Museum of London. I lingered the longest in the rooms describing the history of Medieval London through the World Wars. The Museum is located along Wall Road, which includes some significant sections of the ancient wall that surrounded Londinium.

From the Museum I headed east along London Wall and then north along Moorgate. I noticed the open space of Finsbury Square as I walked. I noted the open space as I walked, but did not think or know much of it. I’ve since learned it is one of the last open spaces of what were the Moorfields, a large outdoor space where the Wesleys and George Whitefield engaged in the open-air preaching that sparked the Methodist revival! In Wesley’s day, this was outside of London (north of the Wall, notice), and was where the poor lived and labored.

And so it was, in the early afternoon of Friday, August 17, I walked up City Road and entered the gates to Wesley Chapel, having providentially walked the very streets Wesley had once walked, and preached, upon.

Wesley’s Chapel and John Wesley’s House

Wesley’s Chapel was built in 1778, and his home (located adjacent) in 1779. Wesley would spend his last 11 winters living in the home (he spent the spring through fall months out on horseback, traveling the length of England as he preached, organized societies, and called upon Methodist classes previously organized). He died in the upper bedroom in 1791. The house still holds Wesley’s original furnishings – including a cock-fight chair that he re-designed as a writing desk!

Wesley’s Chapel was built to replace the Foundery, the original center of English Methodism, which when it stood was only a stone’s throw away (though I did not visit the site – the Foundery is long gone).

Behind the altar in Wesley’s chapel is a three-part panel: on the left and right the core of Christian faith and life (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all they heart and with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength” “and though shalt love thy neighbor as thyself”) with the Apostle’s Creed in the center, directly behind the pulpit where generations of Superintendents have shared God’s word with the congregation.

Wesley’s house is tall, but not particularly large. In fact, the rooms are not much larger than the small hotel room flat I am staying in; most of them were apx 12 by 15. The windows in Wesley’s second floor study looked out across City Road to the Bunhill Fields burial ground across the way; while his second floor bedroom window looked out upon the Chapel.

Wesley’s grave is in the Chapel’s outdoor graveyard (and, as mentioned elsewhere, the Museum and gift shop are in the crypt!). I’m apparently not sentimental enough to be in awe of his gravestone – but I was struck that the modern office building built to fit snugly around the Chapel’s yard had windows such that the open space of the graveyard was reflected in two and a half directions. And I had to wonder what it was like to work in an office beside the grave of someone identified by some as the “best loved man of England”…

I did sit in the Chapel for a time. I won’t make a service there (I plan, next Sunday, to attend 10am Matins at Westminster Abbey and 11am worship at Methodist Central Hall Westminster; but of this, I was in awe. This hall was built, over 200 years ago, and within its walls preached the founder of a movement that exploded into the world as a means of positive change. Wesley’s movement – a movement toward holiness in the Holy Spirit, symbiotically fusing elements of enlightenment reason with the the spirituality of those dubbed “enthusiasts” – not only made changes in his day, but was the seed from which other movements would later grow (e.g. the holiness movement, the Assemblies of God churches, etc).

Wesley was the first Superintendent for the Chapel, from its founding to his death in 1791; he was followed by Thomas Coke. In the basement, near the crypt, on the wall, hang framed pictures – from line drawings, to black and white photographs, to modern color images – of all who have served in the position, uninterrupted, from Wesley’s day to today.

Of the Museum, one thing of striking interest I will note. I had read recently that Charles had disagreed with Wesley’s decision to ordain Thomas Coke as Superintendent and send him to America to help organize the Methodists there into The Methodist Episcopal Church. Neither brother intended to break away from the mother Church of England, nor did either in their lifetime. However, the situation as it was with the American Revolution, Wesley chose to provide new leadership and organization to the Methodists in the States.
In the museum, in Charles’ own handwriting, is a verse he wrote, with a note around it:

Charles took any opportunity to express his feelings and views in rhyme:

“A Roman Emperor, tis said,
His favourite Horse a Consul made:
But C- brings stranger things to pass,
And makes a Bishop of his – Ass.”

These four lines refer to his strong opposition to the ordination [of Francis Asbury] by Coke. By using a classical reference to a horse being made a consul, he plays on the first syllable of the surname to indirectly refer to Asbury as an ‘Ass’.

I don’t think I read that particular line in any of my Methodist history texts!
That well sums up my first day in London. From Wesley’s Chapel I meandered back to St. Paul’s, bought some postcards, and returned home for the night.
But my Methodist meanderings of London weren’t (quite) done…

Traveling & Blogging (soon)

I know I’ve fallen back into that “I don’t update this blog very much” category, meaning that whatever goodwill or potential followers I might have picked up during my UMC General Conference posts back in May have probably all gone on to wittier, pithier pastures.

That said, I am alerting you, faithful reader whomever you may be, that I intend to share some updates on this page during the coming few weeks. I will be doing two things beginning next week:

  1. Traveling to London and through the English countryside for about a week;
  2. Studying the Wesleys, their spirituality, and the Methodist revival they initiated in England, during a summer course at Cliff College.

So if you are intrigued or interested, be sure to check back as new posts go up next week.

Incidentally, it’s strange to think about now, but I kept an active weblog long before the term “blog” emerged in our national consciousness. Back in the fall of 1997, when I was student teaching in Germany and weekend-traveling around Europe and the UK, I kept an online web-log of my travels. Granted, I removed it years ago; but I still have the data stored… somewhere….