Subway Prophet

…and the words of the prophets were written on the subway walls…


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For All the Saints.

I remember distinctly the day I fell in love with tradition and liturgy. It was All Saints day, 2007 at Trinity UMC in Gainesville, FL. For as long as I can remember my church has had the tradition where the last Sunday in October we remember all those who died the following year by showing their picture and ringing a bell. If you knew the person, as the bell is rung, you silently stand in honor of them and their connection to your life. In 2007 I had only stood up a couple of times, and almost stood up a few others, but in general had not thought very much of it.

In 2007, our church lost a young man named Chris Neiberger. He was about my age, we had been in the same Boy Scout troop for a few years, and I had seen his family a bit around church. We had never hung out, and would not have put his name on a list of friends. Chris was an Infantryman in Iraq and died after an IED explosion in Baghdad. His death struck me in a very strange way. It is the first time  I personally knew someone who had died in war, and brought the US war efforts home to me. I had not been able to make his service because of school, however, on that All Saints Sunday as his name was called, I stood. In that little action, standing next to my parents, we honored his memory, a life well lived, and a deep and generous faith. I realized in that moment the power of liturgy and tradition which allow us to make sense of the world around us. What was for many people just a yearly tradition became for me the language I needed to articulate something deep within myself that I could not have otherwise.

As I thought about All Saints Sunday today, I remembered my grandmother who died last December. Yesterday at my church, her picture was shown and a bell was rung, but I could not stand. As much as I wish I could have been there to participate with my family and my church family, the liturgy and tradition which gave me comfort in honoring Chris’ death also gives me the comfort for Granny’s as well. That is the other power in traditions, they are consistent. It does not need me to be there for it to happen because those things are not for me in the first place. The bells are rung whether anyone stands or not because as Christians we stop belonging just to our families and friends; we join a family of believers most of whom we will never meet. Most of my church never met my grandmother. But yesterday they saw her picture, heard her bell, and remembered her for me. That gives me comfort.

Today I attended the funeral of a woman named Mildred. She died right before I began working with North Road and so I never got the chance to meet her though I had met her daughter, a church member, several times. She told me that her mom, who was the child of a methodist minister, would have wanted me there–that is just who she was. It is an odd thing to attend a funeral for a stranger. But, at the same time, there is something very affirming and Christian about it. Since the beginnings of the Church, we have been a people who remembered our dead and the eternal hope which Christ offers to us, so that even though we die, will be given a new life in Him. Christian funerals (and Christian lives) proclaim this hope and celebrate it. It was an honor to be there for Mildred’s service and I was encouraged by the testimony given about her life.

As we enter into the end of the Church’s calendar and prepare to celebrate All Saints’ Day, let us remember those people we have lost who are closest to us, and those we lost and yet never knew:

For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Alleluia, Alleluia!


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Little Wesley Returns!!!

For those of you who are new to this blog (or are not on my facebook) you may have missed the drama. If so, I suggest you check out the back story first here, then read on.

Little Wesley ready to go!

Alright for the rest of you, I need to fill you in on the story. After we last met Little Wesley, he was packed and ready to go. And go we did. Wesley kept me company on the plane and when I got into London. The family I staid with was so excited to see him (alright maybe it was more amusement bordering, but exact emotions are not important!). Ready to see the sights of London, LW and I set off on our first adventure: touring the Wesley Chapel. Wesley Chapel was the central hub of Methodism during Wesley’s life. It was where he staid when in London (which was only during the winter months), and where any Methodist circuit rider could find lodging and rest. This place meant so much to John Wesley that he was buried in the back yard even though it was unconsecrated ground. It was remarkable. After touring the Chapel, Little Wesley and I took some pictures outside by the statue before heading over to pay our respects to Susanna Wesley’s grave. Unfortunately, there are not enough (or maybe too many) visitors to Susanna’s grave that it is inaccessible to the public. Therefore we were not able to get a picture.

The last known picture of Little Wesley

As a result, Little Wesley was tucked away in my coat pocket to keep him warm. After searching all over for a way to get into the graveyard, I realized that it the midst of all the fun I had lost track of time. I ran as fast as I could to the nearby Tube station and was half way to the platform when I realized that the lump in my jacket was gone. Little Wesley was missing! Not wanting to leave behind a fallen friend, I ran back and retraced my steps, from the Chapel to the graveyard and back looking as carefully as I could, but there was no luck. Little Wesley was gone. We put feelers out at the Chapel, but they had not seen him. Having shared this story with a few people we have come with a few possibilities:

Me and LW on an original Wesley pulpit.

1. Susanna Wesley’s ghost plucked the likeness of her son like a burning brand from the fire of my jacket.

2. A small child picked up the fallen Little Wesley from the ground putting her/him on the path of sanctification and Scriptural holiness following in the long tradition of Methodist education and discipleship.

3. Little Wesley, taking his motto a little too seriously, decided that the world was his parish and therefore could not be confined to a ministry of following me around.

Because all three are likely possibilities, the truth may never be known…

The story, does not end there (as if you had not guessed from the title of the post….)! After posting the bad news, I received many comments of consolation. Because (surprisingly) Little Wesley dolls are not popular in the UK, getting a replacement was going to be difficult. Fortunately for me, you, and British Methodism, there are generous people in the US who felt that no England Exchange program would be complete without a Little Wesley. On the same day I learned that both Bobby (the original Wesley benefactor) and my grandmother had sent Little Wesley dolls over to me. Bobby’s arrived first this morning by “parcel” and there was much rejoicing in the common room (alright, maybe there was eye-rolling, strange glances mixed in there as well, but there was definite rejoicing as well!). I am so grateful to have Little Wesley 2 (and soon to be 3) with me now. The adventures can continue!

As did his likeness, Little Wesley 2 has already been facing some rumors of what adventures may be next (all I can say is that there is talk of soaring heights and possible equine accessories…). Because Little Wesley has always been a community mascot I want to put the question to you. What do you think happened to the original Little Wesley? What adventures do you think Little Wesley 2 needs to experience? Feel free to leave your ideas/suggestions in the comments or on my facebook. The fun has only just begun!

The first picture of Little Wesley 2. Many more to come!

If you would like to see some pictures from Wesley Chapel and other Methodist excitement, check out the pictures on my facebook here.


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Sorted

Sort•ed: (past participle) To have everything in their proper place, to have something figured out or under control.

Of all the British words I have learned in my two weeks in this country, this is the one has been almost a theme for me. I really don’t like to move. There is something disconcerting about taking all of your possessions and moving them to another place, unpacking it all, getting settled only to do it all again in a few months. I know that this is an unfortunate feeling for a future United Methodist minister committed to itinerancy, but I think that living in five different places in the past five months has been about four too many. I like having roots. There is a deep sense of comfort to having a home, a community, friends and family nearby and meaningful work to do. That is one of the main reasons it has been so strange to pack up one suitcase full of clothes, books, and some other essential items; board a plane; and arrive in another country with an ocean separating you from all of those roots you love.

When I stepped off the airplane at Heathrow all I had with me was my luggage, camera, and $100 (which quickly turned into £51.29). What I also had was a promise that at 9:00 a young man bearing a sign with my name on it would pick me up from the airport and take me to his house to stay for a week. It was this promise which would be the beginning to what was a fantastic week.

How I met the Logans is a long story, but they were such a means of grace for me in my first week in Great Britain. They welcomed me into their family helped me get oriented  to not just the city of London, but also British Methodism and British culture. Because of them I had a fantastic week in London and Cambridge. There are so many stories from this week that I cannot fit them all into one post, however, I do hope to post some of them in the future. Suffice it to say when I boarded the train for Durham I took with me not only my luggage, but an English phone, a large stack of pamphlets from all over London, 1,000 pictures, and the beginnings of a new community in this country.

When I left the safe comforts of London and the Logans and entered Durham I once again became uprooted. Now I had to navigate a University bureaucracy in which I as an exchange student operating outside the conventional structures for international students was was utterly clueless. Again though I boarded the train with the promise that at the station, Debs, one of the British students who had studied at Duke last year, would meet me at the station. With her help and that of the persistant and patient administration I managed to get my room, my ID card, my finalized schedule, and a vague understanding of how this year was going to work.

Do I have everything figured out? No. Are there still many things which are up in the air? Of course. However, as we begin our induction week (orientation), and I meet my fellow students who will be on this journey with me over the next year I can’t help but come back to my (already messy) room and, for the first time in a long while begin to feel sorted.

P.S If you would like to see some of my best pictures from London check out my Flickr photo stream here.