Distance: 10 miles
Journey time: 1 hour
Bus > Walk > Tube > Walk
Aside from the lady on the bus arguing with the driver for a long 5 minutes (me still panting from the mad dash not to miss it), the roadworks which dropped us all off 3 stops early and the rain, it was not a terrible journey. However, even without the delays it would have been a good 45 minutes just to get there.
Once I did get to St Luke’s it was worth it. This is a church with its own infamy: lead by an Anglican-convert who rose to prominence as part of the alternative movement, strong links to Greenbelt festival, and the guy sitting behind me I had been listening to in a podcast on my way to the service. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, but it was a more than pleasant surprise.
The service itself was very Anglican in structure with liturgy, the obligatory children’s spot and a hymn or two. What made it more special were the little things: listening to Love is the Key by Tuck & Patti on the PA system, the minutes that ticked by in silence as we were told to think of people in our prayers, the piano solo which filled the church space better than any unending chorus on guitars and drums than I’d heard in a while.
The only downside was a Peace that hit 7 on the palm-sweat scale; palpable once the service was over. Had I not known 2 people there already and said hi, I’m not sure anyone would have approached me to give the ol’ Anglican welcome. This is not always a bad thing of course, coercion onto the electoral roll and guilty feelings every Sunday missed being just a few of the less enjoyable parts of Anglicanism; apparently something St Luke’s does not indulge in. That said, Dave kindly gave me more than a few minutes of his time and conversation, which cheered me up no end.
One of the congregants commutes to St Luke’s from Canterbury. Canterbury! And I thought South Lambeth was a stretch. He makes a round-trip of over 120 miles every week, sometimes more often, because the values of the church are that important to him.
I travel to St Luke’s because the high speed link from Canterbury or Ashford gets me to St Pancras from the latter in 37 minutes. A short tube ride to Caledonia Road then a short walk lands me on Penn Road. I go because at the beginning of November I heard Justin, their choir master and organist give a stunning presentation at a Gay and Lesbian Christian group on church worship. The best I had heard in 30 years and wondered what church in the world allows a man like him to flourish and do what he does. The following day I went to St Luke’s to find out.
On my first day a man called Dan bothered to converse with me and I learned much about the church. I met Sam the gardener and we talked about the gardens of the church grounds. I discovered they were rehearsing the Messiah as a community choir and wanted to participate. I thanked God from the depths of my heart that the church used technology to enable worship and not dominate it. So many modern churches are slaves to the worship group and performance, idolising a narrow form of music which must bore the pants off the Almighty. At St Luke’s His people have to put some effort into their praise in its thought, diversity, availability for those who want to embrace it and its authenticity. Justin gives 100%, encourages 100% with such grace and energy, the former attribute I lack in abundance.
St Luke’s has a heart to serve and I was fascinated by their participation in the 7 churches’ provision of shelter for the homeless between January and March. Alternate Saturdays I make the journey to do a night and morning duty to assist. Partly to give, partly to learn and wonder if from these lessons I could bring something back to Canterbury. Middle class Evangelical Christians do not live in Canterbury to serve the homeless and poor.
I commute to St Luke’s because under David’s leadership he promotes a dynamic sense of community with permission to travel. Acceptance for a huge range of activity in a loving non judgemental atmosphere is worth every minute of the commuting journey. You only have to attend a typical middle class church in Britain to understand the antithesis of this.
In his excellent sermon on love – and inspired by the book How to be a Bad Birdwatcher – Dave Tomlinson talked affectionately of the parish community, mentioning by name someone known to many people sitting there. Not me, of course. But then, as a church commuter how could I?
Is it possible to commute to a community? Or is there a point where you have to make your home the place where you also do your living?