Janice and I went to a new ward Sunday. We are in London with one of BYU’s Study Abroad Groups. The local stake presidencies assign the students and faculty to various wards in the two London stakes while they are here, and we, with two of the women in the program, drew the Crystal Palace ward in South London.
Getting there was no small feat. We took the tube to London Bridge rail station, the train to Anerley, and walked to the ward, taking about 2 hours each way to make the trip. Since then we’ve found a shorter way, but it will still be long, no less than about one and a half hours going and two hours coming back because of the timing of the train. That is approximately seven hours for church each Sunday, and we are in neither the bishopric nor the stake presidency. It was very hot Sunday, so we sweated a lot making the trip, unable to replenish what we lost to sweat because it was Fast Sunday. We whined then and then later at dinner. I think we whined more today.
The ward is small. About fifty people in the congregation each Sunday, they said, including a couple who are on a Church Educational System mission, a couple on a proselyting mission, and four proselyting younger missionaries. The members range in skin color from deep black to lily white, and I think they are all converts, except some of the children. In age, they are predominantly elderly or rather young. We meet in a rented elementary school.
As we walked up to the door of the building, we were immediately met by the first counselor. The bishop was ill, but Brother Melvy took everything in stride, immediately taking us into the bishopric office for interviews and to make callings. Janice is a teacher in the Relief Society. One of the young women teaches the youth in Sunday School, and the other teaches in Young Women. I’m the High Priest group instructor.
A teenaged boy named “Lehi,” one of five beautiful children in his family, bore his testimony today and said “I’ve been in the Church almost my whole life.” Everyone laughed. All we met were very good people, very friendly and very faithful. But they seem not to have a lot of experience. A lot of desire, a lot of humility, a lot of love and faith, but not a lot of experience.
The pianist who played much of the prelude music for Sacrament Meeting was a twelve-year-old boy who played with one finger. He’s a learner. Then one of the sisters in the couple missionaries took over and played. Later that day, the boy was ordained a deacon by his father. Lehi’s mother, Verona, gave a really good lesson in Sunday School.
–In spite of all the differences between our “home” ward and this, in spite of the various failings to do things the “proper” way, coming to this ward was like coming home. Everyone was trying very hard to do things as the Church would like them done. Everyone’s testimony was sincere and heartfelt; it was patently obvious how much conversion and membership meant to those in the ward.
Nate wonders how a person can feel love for “everyone.” In the abstract, I’m somewhat sympathetic to his question. But attending the Crystal Palace ward, I know that it happens because I’ve felt it. I don’t see how someone could come to this ward and not love everyone there, though meeting them for the first time. If it is possible immediately to love fifty strangers, why not a million of them and more? I’m humbled and put in awe by them. I want to have their faith. I know that their Father in Heaven sees them lovingly, and I cannot help but emulate him.
So, we whine about the two hour trip, but in spite of that, as one of the students said, I would feel like a traitor if I were to petition the stake president to be allowed to go to some other, more convenient ward. This is the best thing that has happened to us in London.