Tuesday morning, I accompanied Jonathan on his daily train trip to London, and then managed to brave the London Underground at rush hour to get from Victoria Stationto the King Cross Station and pick up a train there for my hour and 45 minute trip north to Yorkshire to visit my friend, Keva Green, here. While I was at Victoria station, I noted a sign saying something about the possibility of a strike on Wednesday, April 22. That is today, when I was supposed to come back to London and then back to the house where the family lives south of London. I just checked and have noted the Victoria Station is closed, and so am going to try to change my train ticket and stay one more night here rather than trying to get off the subway earlier and then try to find out how to get to the train at a different stop.
The Underground was a definite London moment. Jonathan pointed me to a down escalator and said, 'Get the Blue Line going north--it will be four or five stops away.' Obediently, I headed down with hundreds of other Londoner's and saw a huge crown trying to get through the turnstiles to the Blue Line. I asked someone there if this was the proper place to get to Kings Cross and she said, 'no you need the Yellow Line.' So I battled my way through the crowd to head to the Yellow Line and saw a transportation officer on my way and inquired of him. He said, 'You need the Blue Line. Do you need to get there urgently?' Since I had only 45 minutes to make the train connection, I answered in the affirmative. He looked at my sympathetically and said, 'you'll find it a bit crowded.'
That was the understatement of the year. I stood packed with the crowd as full train after full train arrived, with just a few getting off and a few more getting on. Finally, I was at the front of the crowd, on the edge of the platform with the 10 foot drop to the subway bottom right in front of me and hoped, 'please, no one shove or I'm heading down.' I managed to push my way onto the next train, and it slowly emptied so that I even had a seat for the last couple of stops. Catching the actual train to Doncaster 30 minutes later was a piece of cake next to this.
Trains are boarded 15 minutes before they take off. The announcer will say which train is leaving from which platform and people stream forward. Seats are reserved, so I found my seat--two forward, two back with a table inbetween. Precisely at 9:30, the train took off. No warnings about taking the seats, or fastening seat belts (there were none). No security checks, nothing. Actually quite nice. I noticed that most people brought their own food on and I was wishing I had because I had been too nervous about this to eat breakfast. However, a trolley did come by in a few minutes with some (very expensive) snacks and I got something to eat and enjoyed the quiet ride north.
During the ride, the ticket taker came around and punched our tickets (no one checks them when getting on the train). Each time someone gave her the proper ticket, she would say, 'Smashing!' as a great compliment. Not understanding that there are really two tickets that need to be handed her, not one, I did not received the affirmative 'Smashing' but a simple 'very good' when I finally produced the correct document.
The stops at the train stations are very short--probably not more than 30 or 45 seconds--just time to get off and the next group to get on. I departed at Doncaster and shortly afterward, my friend Keva found me and we headed to where she lives, about 20 minutes away in one of the many, many villages around here.
I enjoyed a fellowship meeting with her and a couple of local clergy (one Salvation Army and one Anglican) and then we headed out because I wanted her to show me the churches she serves. Because of the huge shortage of local clergy, she preaches in 21 different churches each month and has primary pastoral care for three. We drove from church to church, many with fairly large buildings (the one she lives next two has a sanctuary that will seat 300). With each of them, she would say, well, ths one is worshpping about 20, that one has 7, that one is doing well with 40. The only ones with any real hope of life are those where worship teams have been established and they are doing much more lively worship and using PowerPoint and projection.
It was an enlightening and sobering few hours. Many of these churches, just like our UMC's in the US, had vital and overflowing ministries not more than 30 to 50 years ago. But they refused to flex with the times, buildings got old and fell into disrepair, and depression settled over many of them. They were led by factions who systematically kept people out.
One building in particular reminded me forcefully of the building we in Krum have just left. Remants of the former charm were there, but the whole setting seemed oppressive and unwelcoming. Keva has nearly killed herself here seeking to bring new life. In building after building, she spoke of renovations that she has spearheaded, of ministries started, of some hope returning. One in particular, the Princess Street church, was in disastrous shape. The District wanted to close it and just give up. But the people decided to give it one last try, got some help from another church and bought remodling materials, used free labor (people working off petty crimes), completely repainted, refloored, recarpted and refurbished the kitchen. New energy is flowing in there, younger people are showing up, and there appears there might actually be a future.
Will write more later about the day, but need to join Keva shortly for her Wednesday morning Communion service here and then we'll head out. I've been chatting online with Jonathan while I'm writing and he has suggested an alternate way home for me, so will head back to London this afternoon as planned.