Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

The original title for this blog post was going to be “Walking Into Heartache With Eyes Wide Open” but that was back almost a month ago when I wrote the first half.


A few times this year I have been asked to think about my expectations for this year of service. Toward the beginning, I didn’t know how to go about identifying my expectations. I knew I should try, but I didn’t know how. Really, I had to just wait and see. I had to wait until I was disappointed or upset or confused, at which point I could look back and say, “Ah, that must’ve been an area where I’d had a certain expectation that wasn’t met.” One of the only expectations that I could identify early on was more of a hope: I hoped that I wouldn’t make it out of this year unscathed. I hoped to be changed, made new, transformed; I expected to be uncomfortable, to learn some things the hard way, to experience growing pains. 

At YAGM orientation we heard and reflected on (parts of) a poem called “Passover Remembered” by Alla Renee Bozarth, the full text of which can be found here: https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/passover-remembered/

One part of this poem that echoes in my mind frequently is this:

Some of you will be so changed

by weathers and wanderings

that even your closest friends

will have to learn your features

as though for the first time.

Some of you will not change at all.

The first time I heard this stanza, it terrified me. All of it. The prospect of changing so much as to be unrecognizable upon my return? Terrifying and heartbreaking. The prospect of not changing at all? Terrifying and heartbreaking. There wasn’t a lot that I knew for sure but I knew that I would rather be unrecognizable when I go home than return having not changed at all. Ideally, I think, it would be somewhere in the middle. 

Part of who I am is all wrapped up in who I love. Back in August, my mindset was “YES! I am READY to go and LOVE MY NEIGHBOR because that’s what GOD SAYS TO DO!” How is it possible that I did not acknowledge at that point that this was going to hurt and it was going to hurt badly? How did I not think about the fact that loving people isn’t something that you can just do for a year? Yes, sometimes a relationship will run its course in less than a year, but what about relationships that are intentionally formed to be deep and lasting? What happens when you put an end date on those relationships? How did I not recognize that in choosing to go and love some new people that I was also choosing to love and leave?

Every day, Faiza (the office administrator) leaves the office an hour or two before I do. As she packs her bag to go she says, “Well, I shall love you and leave you.” I shall love you and leave you. The leaving doesn’t diminish the love. It’s not “I love you but I’m leaving you.” It’s not “I loved you and now I don’t love you and also I’m leaving.” It’s simultaneous. I love you. I’m leaving. Fortunately, I always know that I’ll see Faiza again the next morning. But sometimes her daily comment reminds me that I too shall love and leave her and everyone else here. I don’t like being reminded of that. I don’t like being reminded that when I leave here in August, there will be a whole host of people to whom I have to say goodbye (maybe forever) and that’s heartbreaking. I don’t like being reminded that when I go home I will never be able to explain to people that I’ve been so changed simply through the experience of loving and being loved by some people in England. I will never be able to articulate what these relationships mean to me. Nobody but I will ever understand the intricacies and the nuances of the ways that I have been changed by these humans. I don’t look forward to trying to explain it. 


I can’t believe I wrote these words less than a month ago. And in the 48 hours between Monday morning and Wednesday morning, I said a bunch of those goodbyes. For most of them, I didn’t even know they were goodbyes when I said them. All of that heartache that I was talking about before? It took me completely by surprise, five months early. I am at a loss trying to describe this devastation but I will try.

On Monday morning I was told, “You’re going home sometime this week.” That evening I was told, “You’ll be home by Sunday at the latest.” Sunday is a long time away from Monday. I potentially had four or five or six days to say my goodbyes and wrap up some tech things at the church so that they could carry on without me. On Tuesday, I went to work as normal, because what else could I do? I attended my last Morning Prayer without knowing it was my last. I sat in Liz’s office and drank coffee with her for the last time without knowing it was my last. I went to Dulwich Village Infants’ School for (what I actually did know was) the last time and said goodbye to the staff and students. I attended a staff meeting at the church and then went for a walk. I went over to John’s house (the vicarage) because some of the youth group girls had come over so that we could talk about the situation and so I could say my goodbyes to Lilly and Carys. I didn’t know how much longer I’d be in Dulwich but I was pretty sure this would be the last time I saw them. At about 5pm I went back over to the church to pick up my backpack and that’s when I got the email: my flight was at noon the next day. Noon. The next day. 

When Faiza, Katie, and Riccardo had each left the office earlier in the day, we’d said, “Probably see you tomorrow, I hope!” I hadn’t seen Dawn in days. On Friday, I hadn’t said goodbye to the Junior Choir or the choristers or the other kids in the youth group. I realized that with the church transitioning immediately to online ministry (no public worship), two things were going to happen: first, the congregation was going to get a whole lot of mind-boggling information all at once (you can’t come to worship on Sunday, here’s a link to the Facebook page where we’ll livestream it, and also Emily has gone). Second, people who don’t have access to internet or who haven’t given St Barnabas their email address will have no idea what’s going on with any of these changes. And in five months, people are going to be wondering where I went and others will have to tell them “oh, she left without saying goodbye five months ago…” and I am incredibly upset about that.

I’m glad that I had already started doing the emotional work of acknowledging how much it was going to hurt to leave my newfound family in Dulwich. But doing that “leaving” with about 14 hours of notice was probably the most painful thing I’ve ever had to do.

I was thinking about Matthew 5:4 during my first plane ride: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I posted on social media that I was coming home not for attention but because I didn’t want to be that person who suddenly starts posting from the other side of the world with no explanation so that people will be forced to ask them about it. My friends and family have been accompanying me on this journey and it would have been unfair to exclude them (you) from this really important part of it. What I didn’t expect (and totally should have expected) was that I was going to be showered with comments and messages from people expressing how sorry they were and telling me that I can reach out if I need anything. It was honestly very overwhelming. But as I said to one of the people who’d messaged me, it’s good to remember that while I’m leaving behind friends and people who love me in Dulwich, I’m also going back to a place with so, so many friends and people who love me, and that makes it a little easier. Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted. I mourn. I am comforted. And I feel blessed. 

One of the most incredible things about the past three days has been the support I’ve felt from the other YAGM. When this all started going down on Saturday with the news of the departure of the Madagascar cohort, I was immediately really emotional; I broke down crying as I was walking home from the Watsons’ house. It was heartbreaking to hear that a cohort was going to have to leave because I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it if I were asked to leave early. In a flurry of messaging, I got in contact with several YAGM from different cohorts and YAGM who’d reached out to YAGM in other cohorts to find out if anyone else knew anything. Nobody did, really. But we agreed that it was horrible and that we hoped no one else had to be evacuated.

As our futures started looking more and more uncertain, more and more of us started reaching out to each other within the UK cohort and across more of the country cohorts. When the news finally broke that we’d all be going back to the US, we were there for each other. Nicki from my cohort was actually physically there in a coffee shop with me for a couple of hours, so we started to try to process what was happening. Even on Wednesday as I was sitting on the plane while passengers were still boarding, I got a message from a YAGM I haven’t spoken to since orientation. We mourn with and for each other. We comfort each other. We are blessed by each other.

In my last few days in Dulwich, I spent a lot of time with people I love. Last week, I was becoming increasingly stressed out by social media and the news of campus closures in the US and all sorts of other things so Louie (one of John’s kids) and I decided to make a trip into London to visit a museum. We wanted to take our minds off of COVID-19 and I especially wanted to stay off of social media for the better part of a day. We went on Saturday, and it was so comforting to wander the Natural History Museum, look at all the cool things that have existed in the world, and marvel at Creation. We mourned the state of the world and all of the uncertainty. We comforted each other and were comforted by dinosaur bones and sparkly rocks and vegan bacon ketchup and delicious burgers. #blessed

On Monday, after I found out that I would be leaving, I was immediately invited to both Liz’s and John’s homes. I accepted both invitations and soon found myself surrounded by people I love. I got to chat with Liz’s son, Bill, and I got to hang out with Liz’s dog, Bob. Then I got to sit in John’s living room while he, Jackie (his wife), and Liz chatted. I got lots and lots of hugs (against the current health advice, oops). I ate a meal, sat in the same places I always do, and spent time with people who comforted me greatly. On Tuesday evening, after I found out I’d be leaving in just 14 hours, we cried and we comforted each other. I went home to finish packing and then came back to the vicarage to spend the night so that we could leave for Heathrow early the next morning. And we mourned. And we comforted. And we were comforted. And in that comforting were blessings to each other.

Mourning doesn’t feel good. I wish we didn’t have a reason to be mourning. But I am grateful for the opportunity that mourning gives me to be comforted and blessed by my many communities.

Tea: The Sixth Love Language

I asked my Instagram followers to tell me the first thing that comes to mind associated with England or the UK. Here’s a word cloud of some of the answers that I got!

A word cloud where the words are red and different shades of blue on a light blue background: the largest word by far is "tea", followed by "fish and chips." "One Direction" and "Harry Potter" are marginally smaller, "Emily," "Home," "Royals," "Brexit," "Football," and "The Queen" are smaller still. The smallest are "Crumpets," "Halloumi," "Union Jack," "Kinky Boots," "Accent," and "Family.

When I was asked the same question back in April at our Discernment weekend, I think I said that scones with clotted cream and jam were the first thing that came to mind for me; credit for that goes to my grandma. As we can see from the above word cloud, one of the main things that people associate with England/the UK is tea. Prior to coming here, I thought there was no way that people here were that crazy about tea. That had to be a wildly inaccurate stereotype, right? I was a little bit right and a lot wrong about that. Not every single person here likes to drink tea, but many, if not most, people do. Really, it’s not about the tea at all.

On one of my very first days at St Barnabas, I was getting ready to sit down with my supervisors, John and Liz, for a little chat. It wasn’t quite time yet, so I said I was just going to the kitchen to make a cup of tea. When I came back with my tea, Liz and John looked surprised and were sort of laughing a little bit. I asked why, and Liz gently explained to me that it’s really rude to say you’re making tea and then just make one for yourself. “But doesn’t that mean you have to memorize how everyone takes their tea?” I asked her. Yes. The answer is yes. And that is the point. As my (British) friend Catriona pointed out in my Instagram polling, British people don’t always express their emotions as much or in the same ways as people from the US do. You’ve heard of Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages, right? The British Love Language is tea.

Here’s a tweet that summarizes this idea better than I ever could.

When people put in the effort to learn the way I like to drink my tea, I feel like they really care about me. Making Liz’s tea always kind of makes me nervous because I want to make it perfectly but it’s a delicate balance! She doesn’t like it too strong but she also doesn’t want it to be too milky. That means I have to steep it for very little time and pour in juuust a tiny splash of milk. It’s always a gamble whether I’ve done it right or not (and I’ve even poured out and re-made a cup or two for her) but I try to put in the effort because that’s the best way that I can show that I care. A week or so ago, Liz told me that I have perfected her tea which I was really excited about! (John doesn’t like tea, just coffee. The French presses in the church are giant and scary so I haven’t learned how to make John’s coffee. Sorry, John. I care about you too, but you’ll just have to take my word for it….)

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone here likes tea. This means that every time anyone leaves the office to go to the kitchen, they ask the room at large if anyone wants anything from the kitchen. Tea? Coffee? Water? A biscuit from the cupboard? Sometimes that means I come back with very full hands!

Or “able to open the office door with two mugs of hot tea in the left hand and one mug of hot coffee in the right hand”

Something that I observed a few weeks later was that when someone brings you a cup of tea, the polite thing is to accept it (even if you already have a cup on your desk)! The nice thing is that, now that I’ve been here for six months, I pretty much always want a hot cup of tea in my hands, so I don’t have trouble with this little cultural shift.

Last Friday, I experienced what I can only describe as the Most British Thing Ever. Imagine this:

It’s been a long week. People are starting to panic about COVID-19 and the church has been a flurry of activity and many decisions have been made. There are now bottles of hand sanitizer everywhere. There are new posters detailing all of the safety measures (wash your hands, we’re only using bread at Communion, and please pass the Peace verbally or using sign language only) and showing how to properly wash your hands. You are tired. You have arrived at work for the 2pm staff meeting. Someone makes tea for the room and announces that there aren’t any tea bags left. After the staff meeting, you do some quick mental math. You will be at the church for another seven hours at least. With how wild this week has been and your current exhaustion levels, you estimate that you will need at least two-three cups of tea to make it from now through the junior choir rehearsal, the choristers’ pizza dinner, your own choir rehearsal, and the choir social after rehearsal. You need both the caffeine from the tea and the peace of mind that holding a warm mug brings. How could you have run out of tea in the church? After a fruitless scavenger hunt you have to make a decision: you have about an hour–do you walk all the way to the nearby Sainsbury’s Local to buy a (slightly overpriced) box of tea, or do you decide to suffer? You realize that the adult choir members will be sad if there isn’t any tea. THEN you realize that the youth will be very upset, or worse–grumpy–if there isn’t any tea. This decision is a no-brainer. You head off to Sainsbury’s to buy tea.

A photo of Emily holding a green box of tea up to her cheek. The box is about the size of her whole face. The box has a cup of tea on the side with the words "Free the fresh taste"
On my way back to the church with the goods

This was my reality last Friday. Now look at the cupboard:

A kitchen cupboard containing three boxes of 120 tea bags and one box of 160 tea bags, in addition to toothpicks, bottled juice concentrate, sugar, and a box of green tea

We won’t run out of tea for a while! Crisis averted! Sometimes “God’s Work, Our Hands” is making a cup of tea (or coffee) just the way someone likes it. Sometimes it’s rushing to the store to buy more tea.

On building a house you’ll only live in for a year

The first house I built, I spent thirteen years adding room after room. I filled them with babysitters, pets, favorite dolls, that one dress with the velvet bodice, the jeans that Mom sewed lace to the cuff of so we didn’t have to buy new ones yet. Soon I’d filled a room with very emo diary entries and the dress I wore to one school dance. I recently discovered a drawer of Christmas gifts I never used. A room for sleepovers. A room for fighting with my brother. A bigger room for fighting with my mom. Plenty of space in the lawn to play catch with my dad. A fire pit in the backyard for summer nights and a sofa facing the TV, in front of the fireplace, for winter nights. Sometimes I open the door to a room I don’t even remember building. It’s a mansion I get to keep exploring.

The second house I built, I only got four years to work on but I built a nice cottage. It has a room for Hinderlie open mics and an adjoining room for Wine Wednesday poetry nights. This time I set aside a room just for prayer and worship. The dining room has one big round table and different friends join the big round table at different times but somehow it works. There’s a room for sleepless nights shouting at my computer and a room for rehearsing my choir music. My bedroom is always a mess but it’s covered in art made by my friends, ticket stubs from watching their games, and programs from attending their concerts. I built a room where my friends play video games until 3am on school nights and sometimes I don’t go back to my bedroom until the birds are already chirping to greet the morning. The bathtub is stained from the time I dyed my hair purple.

Now I’ve started building a new dwelling place. At first I didn’t know if I wanted to commit to building a whole house as I don’t plan to stay very long, but I need someplace to keep my train tickets and my favorite bridge. I need some kitchen cupboards for the new foods I like now and some shelves for the books full of words I still spell differently and the phrases I’ve had to Google. I need a small back room of a pub for the Bible studies and a tiny little space to curl up and feel sorry for myself. I need walls on which to hang the maps of the cities I visit for fun. I need a special place to hang the map on which I’ve drawn my walk to work and marked all the places I still trip over bumps in the pavement. I’ve circled my favorite coffee shops and the places in town where I’ve unexpectedly run into that one barista who once said “You remember where the cutlery is, right?” and didn’t give me an order number because he remembered me from my previous nine visits. I need a room in which to host the house concerts and I need a cabinet full of mugs for “can I get you a cup of tea?”–enough mugs so that everyone can have a favorite and I can remember how to make the tea for each mug (barely steeped with barely any milk in the big round mug; milky with one sugar in the one with chickens all over it). Because if I don’t build a house here, where will I put the lazy Sunday afternoons that turn into evenings while I sit on the sofa with people who have become my family? If I don’t have someplace to put those lazy Sunday afternoons, I won’t be able to go back and visit them once I’ve moved back into my childhood mansion and it’ll be like those Sundays hadn’t been real. But they are. So I need to build another house.

Christmas… A Few Months Later

I promised a blog post about Christmas traditions and it is very late but here it is.

On a personal note: I used to write a lot. Some folks may remember the days when I wrote an article or more every week to be published on a certain internet media/publishing site. I was able to crank out content on a consistent basis, so you may be wondering why I haven’t been keeping up with this blog like you might have expected. I’ve mentioned before that it’s hard to write a whole lot about work while being respectful and mindful of privacy, professionalism, and confidentiality. The other problem I’ve run into is that it takes so much energy to write these posts. I write two paragraphs and I have to walk away. I finish a post and I’m absolutely exhausted. It isn’t cathartic like journaling is–it takes a ton of energy to make sure that I’m portraying everything the way I mean to, that I’ve covered all my bases in terms of privacy, professionalism, and confidentiality, and that I have taken time to personally process all the things I bring up in the post (that I’m not just externally processing on a public website). It’s much easier to post “here are the songs I’ve been listening to!” because I don’t have to think about it too much. Even this post was fairly easy to write (although long) but I erred on the side of factual reporting rather than adding much of my own commentary because that’s where the energy comes in. And I have to be honest with you–at the moment I don’t really have the energy to devote to things like these blog posts. So, please accept my apologies for the lateness of this post and for my extended silences! Without further ado–Merry Christmas!

Christingle

The first Christmas tradition that I got to learn about was Christingle. It is celebrated by many churches on Christmas Eve but St Barnabas has our Christingle service on Advent Sunday (the first Sunday of Advent). It’s a tradition that started in Germany in the 1700s but was introduced to the Church of England in 1968 by The Children’s Society as a way for churches to encourage people to contribute to collections taken for The Children’s Society. At a Christingle service, children put together Christingles (after which the service is named). A Christingle is an orange with red ribbon or tape wrapped around the center, four cocktail sticks (what in the US we call toothpicks) with Dolly mix, marshmallows, and/or raisins on them, with a white candle stuck in the top. The orange represents the world, the red band represents the blood/love of Jesus, the four cocktail sticks represent the four seasons (or the four cardinal directions–there’s some debate), the sweets represent all of God’s creation, and the candle represents Jesus’s light in the world. This song by Graham Kendrick is one of the special Christingle songs that we sang that Sunday:

Can you see what we have made
For this very special day?
An orange for our planet home
Circling around the sun.

Count the seasons as we sing
Summer, autumn, winter, spring
Sing to God who sends the rain
Making all things new again.

Candlelight burning bright
Chase the darkness of the night
Christ the light, light our way,
Live inside our hearts today.

See the food with colours bright
Taste buds tingle at the sight
Let’s be thankful as we share
God’s good gifts are everywhere

Why then is the world we made
Wrapped around with ribbon red?
Red is for our ransom paid
When our Lord was crucified.

There’s a world I’m dreaming of
Where there’s peace and joy and love
Light of Jesus everywhere
This is my Christingle prayer.

Advent wreath with four red candles and one white candle, decorated with holly, ivy, and evergreen. In the foreground is a Christingle--an orange with sweets on toothpicks, a red ribbon around the outside, and a lit candle stuck in the top.
Me holding my Christingle in front of the Advent wreath

Christmas Markets

There were so many Christmas markets in the London area! Some went up in November and stayed up until January; some were only up for a weekend in November or December. You have to really be on the lookout for them or you’ll miss some! Many of the short-term (one or two weekend) ones are like craft fairs selling homemade goods or showcasing small businesses, while the more permanent ones (at least, the ones that I went to) were mostly a collection of food stalls and stalls selling more professional/commercial-quality goods. I went to the semi-permanent markets in Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, and Southbank Centre. East Dulwich had one over a weekend in December that I went to (listened to some jazz and a trombone choir!).

My absolute favorite was the Scandinavian Christmas Market(s) up in Rotherhithe (20 min walk + 12 min Overground trip). There was a general Scandinavian market and also separate markets in the Finnish and Norwegian Churches. The Norwegian market eased some homesickness that I hadn’t even realized I’d been feeling. It reminded me of some of the Norwegian elements of my family’s Christmas decorations (my dad’s mom’s influence), it reminded me of Poulsbo, Washington’s own Little Norway, and it reminded me of PLU with all of its Scandinavian features (“PLU was founded in 1890 by Norwegian immigrants, and these stones get a new inscription whenever Norwegian royalty visit…” You can take the admission ambassador out of PLU but you can’t take PLU out of the admission ambassador).  

9 Lessons and Carols 

You may be familiar with the idea of a festival of lessons and carols. PLU does one every year with Knight’s Chorus, University Singers, and the occasional handbell choir. King’s College, Cambridge has one every year that is broadcast throughout the UK and all over the world (not to be confused with Carols from King’s, which is a different broadcast). Like the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s, St Barnabas’s Carol Service begins with “Once in Royal David’s City.” The first verse is a coveted solo sung by one of the choristers (youth members of the choir). At St Barnabas, the soloist stands at the front, lit only by the candle that they’re holding, while the rest of the choir waits in the back of the dark sanctuary. We sing the second verse from the back and then process into the church and up into the choir stalls at the front of the room during the third verse. This was the biggest and most preparation-intensive service throughout the whole Advent and Christmas season! There were a few congregation carols and a number of choir-performed carols, which the choir worked very hard for months to prepare for this service. In addition to this preparation with the choir, I also had to prepare to read one of the lessons! It was a great honor to be chosen to read one of the lessons at this enormous, very important service. 

Christmas services

Crib services

We had three services on Christmas Eve. Two were crib services, which are services geared toward children. After talking with a few of the YAGM who are working in churches this year, I found out that not all crib services are the same. In fact, I didn’t hear of any that were like ours. At St Barnabas, this service consisted of telling the Christmas story a little bit at a time with carols interspersed between bits of the story. Kids were encouraged to come dressed up as someone or something in the story and they got to join us at the front when we got to their part in the story. At the first one, there were probably 150 kiddos up there with John and Liz by the end! The second one (which I led instead of Liz) was much smaller and most of the people in the room were adults, which meant I had to gear my storytelling to older children and adults. This was a very different kind of storytelling than I was expecting so I was not in my comfort zone, but it was okay! This service also had a come-and-play orchestra (meaning they all turned up an hour before the first crib service for their one and only rehearsal). It was all very joyful and fun.

Midnight Communion

Let me tell you, the struggle to stay awake for the last Christmas Eve service is an international struggle. This service was very much like the late-night Christmas Eve service I’m used to from home, except this one started at 11:30 and went until 12:30. Oof. The thing that was really cool about this was that the passing of the peace landed right at midnight so we got to say “Peace be with you, merry Christmas!” which I thought was very special.

Christmas Day Communion

This service at 10am on Christmas Day was a lot more well-attended than Christmas Day services usually are at home. I saw many people who’d been in the congregation ten hours before at the Midnight Communion service. We had wonderful music that morning–a small string orchestra accompanied the choir’s anthems and a few trumpeters played during some of the hymns. It was so cool!

Panto

Pantos are a huge Christmastime tradition here. “Panto” is short for “pantomime.” Pantos are a type of musical comedy show. They take the basic plot of a classic fairy tale and the rest is… wild.

Here are some of the features of a panto with some examples from the one I saw (Cinderella):

  • There is a hero who is good in every way (Cinderella). There is a villian who is evil in every way (step-mother). There is usually some sort of good fairy who helps the hero defeat the villain (fairy godmother). There is at least one buffoon for comic relief and usually one older woman character played by a man in drag, usually the mother of the hero (there wasn’t one of these in Cinderella). No complexity of characters here; good people are good and bad people are bad. 
  • There is always always a love interest. They always always end up married at the end.
  • At least one character is a man in drag; in Cinderella, the ugly step-sisters were both men in drag.
  • A panto horse is your classic two people in a horse costume where one is the head and one is the behind. Sometimes a panto will branch out and do a different animal.
  • They pick someone in the audience to embarrass and call onto the stage. When I went with my friends, they’d chosen seats in row G, thinking that was far enough back that we’d be safe from getting picked on. But no, the rows started at about E because A-D had been taken out to make room for the orchestra pit. The man at the end of our row was the one who had to go to the stage and get made fun of for the whole show!
  • They add a best friend character for the hero and they’re never actually from the original story. In Cinderella, her best friend’s name was Buttons. Buttons was also sort of a “buffoon” character, I guess?
  • The sets are colorful and over-the-top and look like they came straight off the pages of a storybook (I think they’re absolutely enchanting).
  • Fourth wall? What fourth wall? There’s a lot of audience participation! You can react aloud to things that happen (Buttons says something sweet to Cinderella and the audience says “Awwwwww”) but there are also some phrases you have to know. For example, the evil stepmother might declare to the audience, “I am going to stop Cinderella from going to the ball!” and the audience would then shout back “Oh no you won’t!” to which she would respond “Oh yes I will!” The audience responds “Oh no you won’t!” and this goes round a few times until the stepmother continues with her next line. There also might be a Dora the Explorer moment where a character is looking for someone or something that’s in plain sight and the audience says “It’s over there!” or “She’s behind you!”
  • Also in the category of audience participation, the characters often teach a song to the audience. They also throw sweets and chocolates into the audience.
  • There are lots of references and jokes to current events, celebrities, recent movies, etc.
  • Instead of using the music from Disney’s tellings of the fairy tale or other traditional music, pantos write their own music (I assume new music each season) which takes the tunes of popular songs and musical theatre tunes and rewrites some (or all) of the words to fit the panto’s story. For example, the evil stepmother sang “Get Out of My Candy Store,” a spoof of “Welcome to My Candy Store” from the musical Heathers. The last number in the show was “You Will Be Found” from Dear Evan Hansen with pretty much no words changed (yes, I sobbed, you shouldn’t even need to ask at this point).
  • Often, companies will do a few “uncensored” or “adult” showings which are not kid-friendly. Even the kid-friendly show I saw had some jokes that were… ahem, designed to go over the heads of the little ones.
  • At the end, the villain will often turn good or have a redemption storyline and the joke is that everyone ends up married at the end of a panto. In Cinderella, only Cinderella and the prince ended up married but evidently either the best friend or the newly-reformed villain will also end up happily married at the end of a panto!

This was a wild ride but I loved it! 

This wasn’t even a backdrop–it’s just the curtain. I wish I’d taken a Boomerang or a video because all of this was glittery.

Decorations

The outsides of homes were either not decorated at all or had very tasteful, understated decorations. I found myself really missing the US phenomenon of neighborhoods where every house has some sort of Christmas decoration out front. People do decorate inside, though! I had the youth group over to my flat to help me decorate. They made paper chains and snowflakes and helped me decorate my “tree!”

My washi tape Christmas tree, decorated by Lilly, Bea, and me. Other parts of my flat were decked out in paper chains made by Carys and Izzie.

Food

There is so much.

Mince pies: tiny little pies filled not with mince (meat) but with a spiced fruity filling.

Christmas tea and mince pies were an evening staple when I was visiting my friend Catriona out in the country. These mince pies were homemade by her mum–WAY nicer than grocery store mince pies!

Christmas cake: kind of like the fruitcake that I grew up with… except not at all. It has more spices and is more like a proper cake than a loaf of bread. It’s chock full of raisins and has a layer of marzipan topped off with a layer of white icing. It’s one of those things where you either love it or you hate it. I happen to like it!

Christmas dinner: basically has all the elements of a US Thanksgiving dinner! We actually had duck, but many people have turkey. Other traditional dishes include stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce, and green beans, broccoli, and/or brussels sprouts. Notable additions are Yorkshire pudding (we didn’t have this at our Christmas dinner, actually) and pigs in blankets, which are mini sausages wrapped in–wait for it–streaky bacon. In British English, the “bacon” that you get with your breakfast is ham (they fight me on this every time it comes up but I will die on this hill) while “streaky bacon” is what US-Americans call “bacon” and eat with our breakfasts. Anyway, pigs in blankets are not wrapped in pastry like I usually see at potlucks in the US; they’re wrapped in “streaky bacon.”

So those are British Christmas traditions as I experienced them! If you’re still wondering what I personally did to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, check out my third newsletter.

Lastly: I’ve started signing my emails with “Cheers, Emily” and adding kisses into my text messages (“Hope you’re well! xx”) so…

Thank you for your support and prayers. I’ll try to be more intentional about keeping y’all updated on my life. xx

What’s On: December 19, 2019

Time for another round of the media that I’ve been enjoying lately!

Music I’ve had on:

  • “Lookout Mtn. Love” by Chapman Whitted
  • “Sparrows And Lilies” by Pat Barrett
  • “Sunflower” and “Haven” both by We Banjo 3
  • the Tangled Blue album “Advent”
  • “Love You For A Long Time” by Maggie Rogers
  • “The Way It Goes” by Oshima Brothers
  • “Tell Me No” by Fierce Flowers
  • honestly, the whole Mirador album by Fierce Flowers
  • this, as usual

Books I’m currently reading/listening to:

  • White Fragility : why it’s so hard for white people to talk about racism by Robin DiAngelo
  • Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear (audiobook)
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Books I’ve finished:

  • The Healer’s Apprentice by Melanie Dickerson (audiobook)
  • Call Me By Your Name by André Aciman
  • Emergency Contact by Mary H.K. Choi (audiobook)
  • WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier

“What are you actually doing?”

I was on the phone with my not-so-little brother yesterday and he asked, “What are you actually doing? People keep asking me what you’re doing over there.” I said “Dude, I don’t even know,” and he replied, “Yeah, that’s what I usually tell them.”

To tell you the truth, the plan was that I would come to St Barnabas and be a youth worker. I’d hoped that there would be some sort of structured role to step into but that was not the case. Youth involvement in this church has been steadily declining for the past 20 years for a bunch of different reasons that I won’t get into here. After some initial failed attempts to put on events, we’ve sort of decided to put a pin in the youth program expansion and focus on the youth who are already active at St Barnabas. This doesn’t take much of my daily time because I only see them a couple of times per week, so I have been finding other things to do around St Barnabas. Here’s what I get up to:

The “Weekend”

You’ll see shortly why I put quotation marks there.

Saturday

My first day off! Occasionally on Saturdays I’ll go up into London but not very often because it’s even more crowded than on weekdays. However, the Overground is a lot cheaper on Saturdays so sometimes it’s worth it, depending on where I want to go. Saturdays are also the day that there’s a community market (think farmer’s market + handmade goods + food trucks) just a 10 minute walk from me in East Dulwich. I don’t usually buy anything there (ya girl’s ballin’ on a budget) but I love to walk through! Usually I will either go on a pretty long walk after visiting the market or go home and watch Netflix (this will probably change in the spring but during cozy season, I really like to just cuddle up under a blanket, light a candle, and relax).

Sunday

Not a day off! I get to church a half hour before the service for choir rehearsal. The service lasts an hour and 15 minutes or so. Every other week I have youth group after the service; youth group is led by three young women plus myself: Frances, Liv, and Freddie. We meet in the church library and ply the youth with sweets. We chat about their lives, sing songs from musicals, and occasionally actually get to talking about the topic of the day. After I leave church I often go to a coffee shop to journal. Sunday evenings are a time to watch Netflix and lounge around in my flat, although I recently attended an evening service at a church near my flat. It’s hard to feel like I’m worshiping on a Sunday at the front of the church in my choir robe. I’ve been wanting a chance to worship somewhere with a more informal feel where I don’t feel like I’m at work. I hope to attend there every few weeks, whenever I’m not too burnt out from the morning.

Monday

My other day off! What I do on Mondays varies from week to week. Some Mondays I lie around all day doing nothing at all (sometimes I don’t even leave my flat!). Some Mondays I venture up into London–an hour’s bus ride–to do things that have huge crowds on weekends or just to wander around and see what I see. Most Mondays are somewhere in the middle; I go to the big grocery store (that’s a big undertaking as there’s really no good bus to take and it’s a 25-minute walk), do a bit of laundry and tidying up around my flat, and spend the rest of the day relaxing.

I am looking into joining a group of local young adults from many of the surrounding churches for a Monday night worship once a month and a meet-up at a pub on a different Monday once a month! I look forward to actually going to one of these events sometime soon (I met these folks at the aforementioned church where I attended a Sunday evening service).

The Work Week

Tuesday

Morning prayer starts at 9 so I usually arrive at St Barnabas at 8:55 or so, sometimes earlier if I really want to drink a cup of tea before prayer. To get there at about 8:55, I leave my flat no later than 8:33, which means that most mornings I wake up between 7:15 and 7:30. This day is the most variable of my work days. Sometimes I go to the local (what in the US we would call) public elementary school to do an assembly. Sometimes I go to the local church school (K-2nd grade-ish) to lead afternoon worship. Tuesdays are also my days to get caught up on whatever tasks I’ve been given like creating flyers for events and graphics for the church’s social media accounts.

Wednesday

I get to the church for morning prayer. There’s an hour break between morning prayer and the midweek Communion service, so sometimes I just have a cup of tea and chat with Faiza, the parish administrator, until that service. Sometimes I get right to work and skip the Communion service. One hour on Wednesday morning is set aside for me to meet with Liz. Liz is my boss, the curate at St Barnabas, one of my Moms-away-from-Mom, and a lovely human being. This hour is for her to check in with me and find out how I’m doing in every aspect of my life here: am I healthy socially, physically, spiritually, mentally and emotionally? We talk a little about work too. Before I leave, she prays with me and for me. I look forward to this blessing every week.

Spoiler alert: on Thursdays I send out a weekly “here’s what’s going on in the parish this week” email. I spend a big chunk of time on Wednesday putting that email together. I choose a verse or two from the upcoming Sunday’s readings and find some art (think bulletin cover) to include at the top. I check (and double check and triple check) that week’s calendar of events to make sure the email is accurate. This is a tough task as I have two churches to check service times and types for, in addition to checking that all the scheduled events are actually taking place.

Thursday

I get to the church for morning prayer. On Thursday mornings, St Barnabas hosts a “Meet Up” for the residents of a local refugee shelter called Barry House. If there are young folks in that day, I usually go in to play with them and, if they speak English, chat with them. How long I hang out there depends on how much work I still have to do on the email that needs to be sent out that afternoon. Thursdays are also the day that the office staff (Faiza and Riccardo) finish up the bulletin for that week with all of the announcements and notices. I usually head back to the office mid-morning to see if they’ve finished compiling that part of the bulletin so I can include any last-minute additions to the notices in my “here’s what’s going on in the parish this week” email. After I send that email, it’s time to prep for Friday. This involves a nice roundabout walk to the nearest grocery store to pick up pizzas. It’s roundabout because there’s a big neighborhood in between the church and the store with no roads going straight through the neighborhood toward the store!

Tuesday through Thursday evenings

I stay for 5pm Evening Prayer with John and Liz and start heading home at around 5:30. These evenings are usually very low-key. I make something for dinner or I eat a little snack and drink some tea, read a book for a while, and go to bed around 10:30. However, every two weeks I go to a young adult Bible study at Frances’s flat (the day changes every week depending on when people are free). Once a month, I attend a poetry open mic night at a local coffee shop. It’s a nice balance of rest and busyness.

Friday

Fridays are late nights so I go in to church late too. Some Fridays I lie in bed until noon, other Fridays I leave for church a couple of hours early and go to my favorite coffee shop near church to blog, work on a newsletter, or write in my journal. I arrive for the 2pm staff meeting a little bit early so that I can make myself tea. After the meeting, I do whatever prep I need to do for upcoming Sundays or school assemblies. Occasionally I’ll have finished up all of my work for the week so I just kind of hang out! The first wave of kiddos shows up at around 5 for Junior Choir. The ordinand, Katie, and I fight with an iPad to check those kiddos in for choir, and then I head to the kitchen to start on dinner for the little ones. A man named Jeremy very kindly brings fruit and crisps (chips) every week, so all I have to do is make squash (kind of like Kool-Aid but made from actual fruit juice concentrate instead of sugar powder) and bake a couple of pizzas. Sometimes I have a couple of high school-age kids (here they’re called “youth”) there to help out, which is life-saving, and sometimes I do this by myself. Somehow, even though it seems simple, this is a really difficult task!

For example, this week I was running between the kitchen and the parish office, with a frantic mental to-do list:

  • check to see if the oven has finished heating up
  • go pull printed booklets out of the printer so it can continue (it quits if it’s about to overflow)
  • check to see if the oven has finished heating up
  • chat with the youth
  • put in two pizzas
  • find my phone (where did I set it down???)
  • set a pizza timer
  • pull booklets off the printer
  • chat with the youth
  • remember that I haven’t made the squash yet
  • make the squash
  • get out cups
  • check the pizza timer
  • look for the pizza cutter
  • panic because it’s nowhere to be found
  • tear apart the kitchen
  • finally find the pizza cutter (in the cupboard with the wine glasses, duh) with one minute to spare
  • pull booklets off the printer
  • get pizzas out of the oven and cut them
  • bring them out to the kiddos who are screaming for pizza because rehearsal ended one minute ago and the pizzas weren’t out there when they emerged
  • go pull the last of the booklets from the printer
  • make copies of the thing that the music director asked me to copy an hour ago but I couldn’t because the booklets were printing
  • b r e a t h e
  • eat pizza

After the little ones clear out, the 8-18-year olds show up for their choir rehearsal. They’re called “the choristers” and they’re technically part of the big choir but they get extra rehearsal time. They eat more pizza and chill out before their rehearsal. When they head out for rehearsal, I get to breathe. Sometimes I FaceTime my family in this little break because it’s a time that actually works! I get about a half hour of rest before the adults join the choristers for our combined rehearsal. Rehearsal is 1-1.5 hours long. Afterward, the adults have some wine or bubbly and the kids eat a bunch of sugar (and leftover pizza). This is the time that I really get to hang out with the children and youth. This is the time when the youth talk to me. They tell me about the things that are tough for them, the drama going on at school, or a funny thing that happened that day. Mostly, I just listen to them talk about boys. There was some Tom Holland-related drama last week. I love this time with them so dearly. I stay as long as I can and then a lovely woman named Vanessa gives me a ride home sometime between 9:15 and 9:30.

Other things I do at work

In addition to the things that I only do once a week, I also spend time in the office working on St Barnabas’s website. I can hear you now, saying, “Oh good! You get to use your degree!” Unfortunately, no. The website is overseen by a “creative agency” so I email them and tell them what updates to do. This poor website was extremely out-of-date when I got my grubby little hands on it, so I got to do one of my favorite things in the world: create a color-coded spreadsheet with all of the things that needed updating. It currently has 97 rows. Some of them are blank, but still. It took me a couple of months but the major changes to the website are almost done! I’m just waiting on some new photos to be taken and shared with me and for the website guys to take out one paragraph on one of the pages. Soon, I’ll have moved from major renovations to general upkeep and I am VERY EXCITED about this.

The other thing that I do throughout the week is chat (or listen to other people chat). The parish office is almost always bustling. Faiza, the parish administrator is there for most of my workday, and Riccardo, the assistant director of music, is also there for much of the day. Sometimes John, the vicar, comes in from his house next door, which is always fun! Dawn, the buildings manager, often has business around the church and stops by to chat. Liz’s study is all the way on the other side of the building but she usually brings her lunch into the office to hang out with us. Katie is only in on Thursdays and Fridays but her desk is in the office too so we chat quite a bit. These are the people I see most often!

There are many other people who are in and out of the office a little bit less throughout the week but whenever people stop by to attend an event, drop something off or pick something up, prep for Sunday School, or just have a cup of tea, we end up putting down our work and chatting with them. This can be tiring and frustrating when I have work I “need” to get done but I remind myself that the people standing in front of me are far more important than whatever I’m working on. The church newsletter that I “need” to finish can go out an hour later than my self-imposed deadline. The posters that I “need” to design and print won’t even really be seen until Sunday anyway so if I have to finish them tomorrow it’s not that big of a setback. The email that I “need” to send to the website dudes by the end of the workday isn’t that urgent; this website has been out-of-date for months so it’s not the end of the world if it’s out-of-date for 24 more hours. The work of loving my neighbor starts with caring for the neighbor standing in front of me, even when I have a million other things I could be doing.

Milestones #1

I struggle to figure out what to write on this blog. Working at a church means that I am very restricted in what I can share online (or at all). I will have to check the church’s archives of permission forms to see whether I can post photos of the kids I work with. Many of the things that I navigate every day have to do with church politics, which I know plenty about from home and definitely know I can’t share online.

Even so, you’d think I’d be able to blog about “big events” that occur or reflections on my experiences. There haven’t been many “big events” so far, at least not ones that can hold their own as individual blog posts, and things that I’ve reflected on in my personal writing and journaling feel too unrefined and personal to share with the internet at this point. So this blog has been largely silent.

So what I’m going to do for today is share some milestones that I’ve passed so far (some of this content will be reused and recycled from my latest newsletter #sustainability).

August 22, 2019

  • Unpacked my two suitcases and backpack
  • Looked through my flat’s kitchen cupboards (all except the one that I was warned not to open because the door would come off and hit me in the head)
  • Figured out which keys open which doors and gates
  • Used my converter to plug in my phone
  • Slept for 13 hours

Later in the first two weeks

  • Learned how to read the symbols on the oven and washing machine (they’re not the same!)
  • Figured out which grocery stores are cheaper but still have good quality
  • Figured out which grocery stores are so fancy that they don’t carry cream cheese
  • Learned that if you put money on your bus pass (Oyster card) but don’t use it in the next three days or so, it takes the money back off
  • Went out for drinks with some gals from the church who are in their 20s and involved in youth group stuff (Freddie, Frances, and Liv)

September 12-15, 2019 

  • Bought a moka pot from the grocery store and made my first cup of coffee, finally getting to use the coffee grounds they’d given us at Churchwide Assembly before I left the States but after I’d left home
  • Someone from the choir showed up at my house with an electric keyboard that I get to borrow for the year. I get to play piano to de-stress now.

September 25-30, 2019

My power converter + laptop charger combo started making the WORST NOISE so I navigated an Argos for the first time. This was very foreign to me: you walk in, place your order on a standalone iPad-type situation, get in line, pay at the counter, get in line again, and wait for them to bring your order out from the warehouse in the back.

Early October 2019

  • Realized that I would be miserable this autumn without an umbrella
  • Investigated the mysterious forbidden cupboard in my kitchen, half hoping there was a microwave inside. Found a large empty sugar canister and a small teapot. The door did not hit me in the face but there were a couple of close calls. No microwave.
  • Attended a poetry open-mic night which was extremely fulfilling and suuuuper good for my soul

Mid-October 2019

  • Cried in a department store because I hadn’t been to a department store since I got here and it reminded me of home. Especially the Disney merchandise.
  • My app told me to take the 12 bus and I said “uh, no thanks, that’s not as good as the 63” and took the 63 instead. Didn’t get lost.
  • Burst into tears and very dramatically fell on the floor at home when I found out that PLU’s basing their whole Christmas concert on my favorite choral piece and I don’t get to attend

Late October 2019

  • Went up into London for some sightseeing, met up with Kait from PLU, got bubble tea which I’d been craving for two months
  • Went up into London a different time with Nicki from my cohort to get Taco Bell for the first time since getting here. It’s similar enough to American Taco Bell for it to be really good comfort food, even if they don’t have Baja Blast here (I just found out that Mtn Dew is illegal here).
  • Had our first YAGM-only retreat where I actually processed some things that I’d been metaphorically carrying around with me for two months.
  • Bought a USB wall plug for my phone cord so I don’t have to carry around my converter everywhere just to charge my phone.

Beginning of November 2019

  • It’s cold. I started wearing a long puffy coat and a hat and gloves every time I leave the house. Midwest friends, don’t @ me. I’m always cold.
  • Finally settled on a couple of favorite coffee shops and I know which coffee shops to go to for different needs (one near the church to work in, one near my flat to work in, one that’s open later than the others, one that has bigger drinks).
  • The baristas at my two favorite shops recognize me.
  • Attended the second monthly poetry open-mic; people recognize me even though I haven’t had the guts to actually read any poetry at one yet. Maybe next month.

What’s On: October 20, 2019

Blog posts in this category are going to be really short! …Except for this one. Moving forward (i.e., after this post), I’ll just let you know what I’m currently reading and the new music I’ve added to my playlists since the last post.

October

Books

  • Vox by Christina Dalcher
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (continued)

Music

  • “One Voice” by The Wailin’ Jennys
  • “Grow As We Go” by Ben Platt
  • “Evergreen” by YEBBA
  • “You, Dear” by Eloise
  • “Falling Slowly” from Once
  • “Wildflowers” by Tom Petty
  • “Touch the Sky” from Brave
  • “Peer Pressure” by James Bay and Julia Michaels

September

Books

  • Dear Evan Hansen by Val Emmich
  • Absolute Trust in the Goodness of the Earth by Alice Walker
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (begun)

Music

  • “Truth Hurts” by Lizzo
  • “Good as Hell” by Lizzo
  • “Cruel Summer” by Taylor Swift
  • “Daylight” by Taylor Swift
  • “Beautiful People” by Ed Sheeran feat. Khalid
  • “Takeaway” by The Chainsmokers and ILLENIUM feat. Lennon Stella
  • “Put It All on Me” by Ed Sheeran feat. Ella Mai

August

Books

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (begun, abandoned)

Music

  • “Hobby” by Dirtyrich and Will Bentley
  • “Wait For It” from Hamilton
  • “You Never Know” from If/Then
  • “Only Us” from Dear Evan Hansen
  • “Found/Tonight” by Ben Platt and Lin-Manuel Miranda
  • “Change on the Rise” by Avi Kaplan
  • “Gotta Have You” by The Weepies
  • “Aimless Knight” by Kings Kaleidoscope
  • “A Little Bit of Faith” by Kings Kaleidoscope
  • “Rain” by Kings Kaleidoscope

Serve the Lord Your God With Love

Over the last week I have been thinking a lot about my fellow YAGM all over the world.  Since leaving Chicago, the other cohorts have been in their in-country orientations and have just begun dispersing to their host communities.  I, on the other hand, have been in my host community for 19 days already. I’m not going to lie or sugar-coat it: that was really really hard for me at first.  I was already alone and lonely in my giant, empty, freezing flat. I no longer had friends right next door or just downstairs to grab for an evening walk or for some singing around a campfire.  I no longer had any friends at all. I could contact my cohort via group chat, and we talked about logistical things (What bank did you use? Are you being given a phone or are you getting a new SIM? When do we get our living stipend?) but we didn’t get to explore a small part of our new home together.  We didn’t get to literally be there for each other as we started the next phase of our YAGM journeys. We just… started. On our own. And it was lonely.

At orientation, Kara, Jackie, and I were often found singing the Prayer of Good Courage with our friends.  The prayer as we sing it, as best I can tell, was written by Kent Gustavson as part of an evening prayer service composed for Holden Village.  It was introduced to me by Kara, Jackie, and some of their friends from Flathead Lutheran Bible Camp, where they use the song every year. The song’s lyrics are

O God, you have called us to ventures where we cannot see the end,
by paths never yet taken, through perils unknown.
Give us good courage, not knowing where we go,
to know that your hand is leading us wherever we might go.
Amen.

Here’s a link to a video I made of the song; the dissonance is intentional, the pitchy bits are unintentional (turn down your device volume). This song was adapted from a prayer that has appeared in several Lutheran hymnals as part of Matins (the morning prayer service). The prayer in the hymnals reads:

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage not knowing where we go, but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. 

I don’t know if he was planning to do this all along or if he decided to use this prayer after he heard us singing it so much, but Dan prayed this prayer with us TWICE in my last 24 hours in Chicago.  When I asked him, he said he was trying to make us cry. It worked, obviously.

I was doing some more digging on this prayer because I just can’t get enough of it.  It turns out that the original version was published in 1941 in a book called Daily Prayer by Eric Milner-White and G.W. Briggs.  Its text reads:

O Lord God, who hast called thy servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown: Give us faith to go out with a good courage, not knowing whither we go, but only that thy hand is leading us, and thy love supporting us; to the glory of thy Name.

The prayer is not attributed to anyone in the text of the book, so according to the book’s introduction this prayer was either written by Milner-White or Briggs, and I think it is usually attributed to Milner-White.

Here’s where it gets crazy. Eric Milner-White was a British Anglican priest ordained in 1909 in Southwark Cathedral (the mother church of the Diocese of Southwark, which–drumroll please–is the diocese that MY PLACEMENT, ST BARNABAS, IS IN). He had attended Kings College, Cambridge and later returned when he was appointed as the Dean of King’s College. While he was there, he introduced the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, which is a Christmas tradition to this day and is broadcast on the radio all over the world.  Incidentally, I went to the chapel of King’s College on choir tour and we sang a choral evensong there, which was such an amazingly special experience (see below for some photos I took).

Milner-White also served as the Dean of York from 1941-1963, which meant that he was in charge of York Minster, which, SURPRISE, I also visited for an evening prayer service while on choir tour (again, some of my photos are below).  

This Prayer of Good Courage was written by a priest less than 250 miles from where I am right now. It has been said and sung by many people I could never know. It has also been said and sung by many people I know well and love.  I literally walked in the footsteps of its creator before I even knew how significant his words have been to my life. As with Scripture, liturgy, Communion, and even Taylor Swift’s music, it is really cool to be able to participate in the recitation/practice of something that means and has meant so much to so many people all over the world. 

I will never know what the adjustment would have felt like for me if we’d had our in-country orientation immediately upon leaving Chicago.  It might have been easier to start in my host community but it also might have been harder to leave my friends in the cohort. All I know is that while my own flurries of emotions have mostly subsided (for now), the folks in the other cohorts are probably feeling lots of different things as they are preparing to make their way out into their placements or are settling in after a few short days in their placements.  The Prayer of Good Courage is such an incredible reminder that even though my first few days away from my YAGM friends were very lonely, we venture together with God’s hand leading us and God’s love supporting us.

So for everyone but especially for my YAGM friends who are entering their host communities and my PLU friends who are starting classes, I leave you today with the sending song from my own camp, Outlaw Ranch:

So go in peace; serve the Lord your God with love, remembering God will be with us all until the end.

(And @ Mom, @ all my “moms away from mom” and @ my Mom Friends: don’t worry, my giant, freezing flat now has some borrowed books and jumpers to fill up space and I figured out where the thermostat is.)

FAQ

Emily facing away from the camera looking at a pink neon sign that says "good vibes only"
From my choir tour to the UK earlier this summer! This display was in a shop in Brick Lane Vintage Market in London.

This is a (very long) FAQ post featuring questions I answered a lot before I left and questions people submitted to me via Instagram. Here are the questions I’ll be addressing:

  • “Wait, why are you doing a mission trip to the UK…”
    • “…when the UK is historically Christian and there are so many places that need missionaries more?”
    • “…when there are so many places that need volunteers more?”
    • “…instead of getting a job? You have a degree in computer science!”
  • “Where ARE you?”
  • “What are you doing there?”
  • “Are you going to come back with an accent?”
  • “Does your phone number still work?”
  • “What is your biggest fear going into this year?”
  • “What’s been the hardest part so far?”

“Wait, why are you doing a mission trip to the UK?”

I have answered this question about ten different ways in the past few months and I still haven’t landed on the easiest or most succinct way to explain it. For this blog post, I am going to try to answer this question by addressing the different implied endings to this question.

“Wait, why are you doing a mission trip to the UK…”

“…when the UK is historically Christian and there are so many places that need missionaries more?”

And what is meant by that is “Why aren’t you going somewhere where there are more people to convert?”

A year of service with YAGM is joining a community in another part of the world—living, working, celebrating, mourning, learning, growing, and worshiping alongside the members of that community. It’s being a part of partnerships between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran and non-Lutheran Christian churches around the world. It’s participating in the global body of Christ, not to convert but to walk alongside people of all faiths.

“Wait, why are you doing a mission trip to the UK…”

“…when there are so many places that need volunteers more?”

This is different from the previous one because what is meant by this is “Why aren’t you going to a developing country where they need way more help?”

I have a couple of things to say about this. Firstly, I was very careful in selecting YAGM as the organization that I would ask to help me do a year of service. I did a bunch of reading on the website and asked lots of questions in my interviews, all to make sure that YAGM was a community that is taking active steps to move away from the White Savior attitude in their mission work. I don’t have the time or space in this blog post to delve too deeply into this complex issue, so I encourage you to do some research of your own (I have linked to the Wikipedia page for starters). Done poorly, even the most well-intended mission/volunteer work can have really, really bad effects on everyone involved (see this article ). I wanted to be sure that I was joining an organization that acknowledges the harm that has been done globally by Christian invasions and colonization and works to find ways to subvert, if not dismantle, systems of oppression (in general, but also specifically ones that we as Christian US Americans are likely to inadvertently perpetuate unless we consciously work toward dismantling them).

One of the scariest things I see from people who have done mission work is extreme othering. When they come home, they talk about the beautiful souls and hearts of the people of (insert country or continent [YIKES] here), as if a week in one community can give meaningful insight into the complexities of a whole country or continent (again, YIKES). I would argue that one week in a community probably cannot even provide very much meaningful insight into the complexities of that community. This article does a good job of briefly addressing the attitudes that they see with short-term missionaries. You can must acknowledge and celebrate engagement with people whose culture is different from your own without becoming a spectator. Or using those people to make yourself look pious on Instagram.

I would be very concerned if YAGM claimed not to have the White Savior attitude but then only sent its members to developing countries where the “recipients” (YIKES) of the volunteer work would mostly not be white. I want to call attention back to what I see as the main goal of a year in YAGM: to build community. I call it a “year of service,” but although service is a large component of this year I expect that the most rewarding part of a year in YAGM will not be the daily volunteer work but rather the relationships that I form and the unique experiences that I will get to have as someone from the USA living in another country for a year. It’s not about sending volunteers to communities that are in desperate need of one (1) US American unpaid worker. It’s about building relationships and community. And with the USA actively alienating ourselves as much as possible, building relationships and community across borders (and oceans) is so important.

The last bit I’d like to say on this topic is that the “service” aspect of my year of service should come as an organic product of my full immersion and participation in my new community. I do volunteer work at home, right? I’ve been part of groups that provided flood relief in Chehalis and participated in community clean-up days in Kingston, I’ve worked in the community garden, I sang in the church choir, and a group of us from church went Christmas caroling in the senior living facility. In high school, I was in nearly as many service clubs as I could fit into my schedule (I was in National Honor Society and I dabbled in the clubs that were affiliated with the Lions and Rotary). Heck, when I was in elementary and middle school, whenever I got my schoolwork done I would ask my teachers what I could do to help them out around the classroom. Service is just what I do as a part of my community. This is the reason I’m doing a year of service. This is the attitude that I hope that I am bringing with me into Dulwich.

“Wait, why are you doing a mission trip to the UK…”

“…instead of getting a job? You have a degree in computer science!”

I’d love to be able to tell you that it was a really hard decision that I put a lot of thought and care into making, but it went a little more like this:

  • October or November 2018: I was thinking and talking about YAGM a lot.
  • January 29, 2019: I submitted my application. God said “You’re doing this,” and I said “Wait, hold on, what if I don’t get chosen?” and God laughed.
  • Early February: I had interviews. God said “You’re doing this,” and I said “Oh God, I really hope so.”
  • Mid-February: I was thinking and talking about YAGM in nearly all of my waking moments. I couldn’t tell whether the voice saying “Don’t worry about applying for anything else–you’re doing YAGM,” was God or laziness or delusion.
  • March 18, 2019: YAGM said “You’re doing this, most likely,” God said “You’re doing this. See, I told you!” and I breathed a sigh of relief.
  • April 14, 2019: YAGM and God both said “You’re doing this in the UK” and I said “Yup, okay, loud and clear!”

So uh… getting a job was never really on the radar. Was I afraid that I was making a mistake? Yes. Did people try to convince me to get a job instead of doing YAGM? Absolutely. Did this throw me off a little bit? YES. I didn’t know who to listen to. Was the voice inside me saying “You’re doing YAGM” selfish? Leading me astray? But then I talked to Pr. Jen about these times when people questioned my plans (don’t even get me started on “You’re too good of a coder to be a teacher!”) and she asked me how I felt deep down when people questioned me like that. I told her that it made me really defensive and I wanted to prove them wrong. And she just kind of looked at me… and then she said something like “Well there you go then.” And that was that.

So there are my answers to the question “Why are you doing a mission trip in the UK?” Also, it’s not a “trip.” I’m living here. I’m not (often) a tourist. I’m not here to dig a well and leave. I’m (hopefully) making lifelong friends and forging ties that aren’t going to go away when I move back to the US.

On to the other questions?

“Where ARE you?”

I am in a suburb of London called Dulwich. I’m working at a church called St Barnabas, which is in Dulwich Village. If I wanted to get to, say, St. Paul’s Cathedral, it would take me a little less than an hour by bus or rail.

“What are you doing there?”

Right now? Learning names. This week? Lots of planning. Ongoing? Attempting to revamp and revitalize the youth program at St Barnabas by providing after-school clubs and supplementing the programs that are already in place. Singing in the church choir. Helping run the church’s social media and helping to create and send out church newsletters.

This week I’m starting a fellowship time for ages 6 through 9ish. Pray for me.

Next week (maybe?) I’m starting an after school study hall space for …older kids. Not quite sure about that one yet. We’ll see what happens!

“Are you going to come back with an accent?”

Honestly… probably a little bit. I pick up other people’s speech patterns very quickly. I’m definitely going to come back using British words for things.

“Does your phone number still work?”

Nope. I’ve switched out my SIM card for a UK one, which I’m only using to stay in contact with Time for God, people from the congregation here, and my doctor’s office. You can contact me via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp (using my US phone number), or use one of those channels to ask for my email address (or contact one of my family members to get my email address).

“What is your biggest fear going into this year?”

I am a big worrier, so I have lots of little fears (What if I don’t make a difference in people’s lives? What if I don’t make any friends? What if the Queen dies while I’m here? Are people making fun of me behind my back for being American? etc.). I can convince myself that most of them are irrational or irrelevant, but what is my biggest fear? My biggest fear is that I will not be able to accomplish everything that my placement expects of me in just 12 months. I don’t want to disappoint them and have them talking after I leave about “what a shame that she was here so long and accomplished so little.”

“What’s been the hardest part so far?”

I haven’t been patient with myself.

  • My jet lag was a lot worse this time than it was the last time I flew to the UK. I had expected that I’d bounce right back like I did last time and that didn’t happen this time for a multitude of reasons. I hadn’t planned for that, so I was frustrated with myself for having a slow start.
  • Certain British accents are a lot harder for me to understand than I bargained for, and some of the ways that US Americans communicate ideas are completely different from British ways. For example, I went to a doctor’s office (called a “surgery”) to get myself set up with a primary care doctor. It took me two or three tries to explain to the receptionist that I didn’t need treatment, just to register with them. There have already been many instances like this and every time, I am quick to get frustrated with myself. We’re both speaking English! Odds are good that we’re both fluent in English! Why can’t I understand them? Why can’t I articulate what I’m trying to get across? Am I just STUPID?

EDIT: I wrote this post a few days ago and I would like to say that move-in day at PLU was also really hard for me. I miss my family but I can FaceTime my family. But when I miss the feeling of being in my favorite place with my favorite people looking forward to new classes and new friends and good conversations and ensembles starting up, having shifts in the Office of Admission and getting hugs from all my friends… I cannot FaceTime that feeling. @ my Lutes: I know you hear this all the time but ENJOY IT. You don’t have to enjoy every second of it, but enjoy what you can. I love you.

If you read this whole post, you’re amazing. Hi, Mom and Dad. 💙💙