Friday, August 8, 2008

Hotel Horror/Sunday Rest (Part V)

Saturday evening proved to be the worst experience of my trip to London. The directions to my hotel were absolute rot, and what should have taken 30 minutes to find took about two hours. I finally stumbled into the wrong hotel out of desperation and found that it was, indeed, the right hotel. The name on the Internet/emails was not the same as the one on the building. The correct name is only above the reception desk. Then I was checked in by a nice gentleman who could barely speak any English (no, America isn’t the only country with that problem) and absolutely no French. He gave me my total for the stay (weird to pay when arriving, I thought) which included one extra day’s stay. When I asked him about it, he did a lot of clicking around on the computer and finally told me he had no idea and I could ask the receptionist in the morning for a refund. I was so tired I said that was fine. Then I went to my supposedly male-only dorm room to discover not only that someone was in my bed, but that the someone was indeed a female someone. I found an empty bed (her bed, as it turned out) and finally went to sleep. Needless to say, I was not impressed and vowed to try to find a different hotel for the next night and call my credit card to refuse payment. But the next morning I was served a very large English breakfast and realized that I simply wouldn’t find another hotel for less than the £15 ($30) I was paying that included breakfast like that. I spoke with the receptionist (who also could barely speak English) about my bill, and she informed me that I would still be required to pay for the extra day. I later had the hotel manager refund it for me. It’s nice to know other countries have problems with service and sheer stupidity as well as my own dear America-Land.

Sunday morning, after my tangle with the receptionist who didn’t speak English and discovering that the advertised “free tourist information” was, in fact, pay-per-15-minutes Internet access (which I used but refused to pay for), I walked nearly over a mile to St. Augustine’s Anglican Church (supposedly the closest Anglican church to the hotel) for the last 20 minutes of their service. Afterwards I did make it to the International Christian Center (Assemblies of God) for the complete second service starting at noon. It was an interesting coincidence because I had been attending Christian Center in Brussels which is also associated with Assemblies of God. Only I found out later than the American AoG (which is what was in Brussels) aren’t at all associated with the British AoG. Whatever.

At this church, I met a lovely Irish woman, Mary, who chatted with me for several minutes while the first service was finishing up. Later she invited me to sit with her when she saw me sitting alone before service started. That was really very nice. I can’t tell you how many American churches I’ve sat in, awkwardly waiting for someone to approach me and welcome me to service and extend a hand of friendship. Mary did that right off the bat, and I had the feeling she would have invited me over to dinner except she was being driven home by someone else. An interesting contrast to one experience when, after 2 years of attendance at a certain church and never having visited anyone else’s home, the greeter, whom I had passed every Sunday for two years, asked me if I was visiting. Let this be a lesson to myself, who doesn’t tend to be the social type with people I’ve never met: a kind word and greeting can mean a lot to someone. Genuineness is also generally a plus and, if possible, invite people into your home to get to know them.

Sunday afternoon I walked around Wembley, which is in West London just west and a little north of the City of London. I read some Bonhoeffer in a nice park where I was asked first if I was a tramp and, when I said no, that I was a tourist, was I then an illegal immigrant? I laughed and asked the kid if they had a lot of illegal immigrants from the U.S. I got no response so maybe they do.

In the evening I arrived, a little late, to St. Michael’s Anglican Church for evening Mass. It was a small service, only about six people total, but it felt very warm and intimate. I was in for a few shockers, but overall I found the service quite refreshing. Afterwards I asked the priest, who also doubled as the organ player, if he would like to go out for tea and a bit of conversation. He counter-offered a drink at the Vicarage, which I accepted without it clicking that he had invited me into his home. Father Peter, as I ignorantly called him (he later told me to drop all titles), proved to be an excellent example of generous Christian hospitality. Though I only had two glasses of orange juice (calm down CofO peeps), I found him to be the most giving, generous, and open person I had met in my entire time in Europe, with the exception of a wonderful Northern Irish family who has taken me in as one of their own back in Brussels. Perhaps British Christians are just like that? Or perhaps the Christian spirit of hospitality and community transcends nationality. I think that’s it. Our chat covered everything from religion, politics, education, society, and back again. Before either of us realized it, it was after 11:00, and we had talked for over 3 hours! It was a perfect end to a lovely Sunday in England.

My experiences with Mary and Peter taught me a lot about myself and the state of the current evangelical church in the United States as contrasted with the Church, both evangelical and Anglican, in England. Or at least my small taste.

1 comment:

Holly Bloemhof said...

Salut Joshua! I laughed a second time at your crazy hotel story! Hopefully, you can avoid a similar experience(makes for a hilarious tale, though). Keep us informed on future France visits! Could you let me know the website of the teaching program, please? Merci!