Flight is an amazing thing.
I looked out from my window at the enormous wing of the Delta airplane that was currently carrying us over the Atlantic Ocean. All I could see was a nocturnal field of clouds stretching into the blurred horizon. I began to think of all the realms of reality tucked away from our sight, visible only to God and His angels. Before me was a garden of sublime white that only He could tend.
Is there anything God cannot do?
What a blur, what a blur.
So we flew out of Boston headed east, meeting the sun coming, so to speak. Around 1:00 AM EST, the “rosy fingers of Aurora” began to peak out from the horizon. A flight attendant handed me a breakfast that felt like a midnight snack.
As the sun rose, I had my first glance of some of the southernmost borders of England. From this altitude everything seemed organized. The patchwork fields and winding roads, the neatly zoned suburbs and traffic patterns (now driving on the left side of the road!). But this is not ministry. Ministry is presence among the people; it requires descent. And descend we did.
I felt relatively certain that my occasional experience with academic all-nighters would have left me somewhat prepared for jet lag. I was wrong. What a miserable feeling, to be launched from Atlanta to Boston, then flung across the Atlantic to the home of Shakespeare, Milton, Cranmer, Wesley, Auden, and Lewis, and be consumed with a single thought: sleep. But this is humanity, like the disciples dozing at Gethsemane.
So we pushed through Heathrow, to customs, baggage claim, and the English “tube” (known in the US as a subway), beginning our introduction to a 6:00 AM London. A sweet, elderly, English couple climbed aboard the tube with us, their mannerisms and accent secretly delighting Laura and I. With each stop that brought us closer to London proper, our train filled up with a demographic sample that reminded me: London is a global city. Most major nationalities were represented in that short trip from Heathrow Terminal to Gloucester Road.
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” (Revelation 7:9-10)
Upon exiting the Gloucester (pronouced glow-ster; the first syllable rhymes with “ow”) Road tube stop, my exhaustion must have reached the level of public knowledge. As I charged towards our lodging with 100 lbs. of luggage in tow, my sweet wife suggested a temporary detour. The exasperated look I gave her over my shoulder prompted a nearby group of older Englishmen, joking and having their morning tea, to pause as one of them exhorted my wife, “Aw, he knows where he’s goin’!” Like I said, I am very human.
We eventually reached our lodging and were greeted by the professor leading our group, a patient, kind, Christ-like man. After locating our room and organizing our luggage, we decided on a short nap which, due to a fault in our alarm clock, became a much longer nap. Upon reviving ourselves, we headed downstairs and chatted with the others who had arrived. A couple among them, Jim and Vickie Gaston – beloved siblings in Christ from our home church, suggested that we attend an evening service at Holy Trinity Brompton (or HTB), most widely known for its development of the Alpha course.
So off we went, amazed by the weather (cool and sunny; an outright oddity from what I’ve been told about English weather!), navigating the sidewalks and roads of London. It was a poignant moment when I encountered the juxtaposition of two images: (1) young, fashionable, healthy people walking out of Harrods with full shopping bags and (2) an unshaven, dejected homeless man sitting outside of a Tesco asking for a few pence. What is wrong with this? What can we do to correct it? “And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked Jesus. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan, “Mankind is your neighbor.”
The HTB service nourished our souls. A series of young, smiling locals welcomed us into the towering, beautiful sanctuary (first constructed in 1829). Very self-conscious of my accent and trying to remember tips from Duane Elmer’s Cross-Cultural Connections, I spoke very little and smiled a lot. The sanctuary’s interior was even more breath-taking than its exterior. Yes, God does not “live in temples made by man” (Acts 17:24), but he certainly blessed us with the art of architecture, and this sanctuary was one blessed example of it; a sacred space.
Worship and gospel. That was the service. A time of praising the Lord and inviting Him into the service (with songs that addressed Him directly and focused on adoring and worshiping Him) followed by a sermon that proclaimed kerygma, gospel, good news. It was passionate, God-centered, biblical, and evangelistic. They lacked nothing for being “low church.” They lived up to their name – loving and worshiping the Holy Trinity – and that is enough.
We retired to our lodging, debriefed with the rest of our group, and sniffed out the nearest Tesco for some good, cheap, British grub (complete with Flakes and “definitively” Prawn Cocktail crisps). My wife’s nostalgia compelled her to take a picture:
And now, friends, as I lay down to rest, pray for us. May His kingdom come, His will be done, on earth as in heaven.