Church History Experienced: A Tour of Great Britain and Ireland -- By: William D. Meyer

Journal: Ashland Theological Journal
Volume: ATJ 32:0 (NA 2000)
Article: Church History Experienced: A Tour of Great Britain and Ireland
Author: William D. Meyer


Church History Experienced:
A Tour of Great Britain and Ireland

William D. Meyer

What I saw and experienced during an Ashland Theological Seminary church-history class and tour of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales will undoubtedly differ from what many others on the trip did. This is, quite understandably, because what I saw and experienced was filtered through my personal history and personal theological concerns.

Several general themes stood out to me at most of the church history sites during the visit from May 31, 2000, to June 17, 2000. One of the themes was establishment and whether it really works long term to the advantage of the church and to the glory of God. (My conclusion is that it generally does not.) Another theme is that of the relationship of the church to the larger social issues of the day and noting where the church failed and where the church succeeded. (Puritan intervention in Ireland under Oliver Cromwell is a dramatic example of the former. The Wesleyan campaign against slavery and the slave trade is an example of the latter.)

Nevertheless, most significant for me was reflecting on how I processed the intellectual and theological and personal challenge of complex historical situations and faith journeys different from my own. This theme is basically about tolerance and my own struggle not to react defensively and dismissively to the unfamiliar and the difficult.

Establishment

One of the standout impressions for me was the contrast between the early morning worship service at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London and three later worship services at All Souls Church, where John Stott is the senior pastor.

Though St. Paul’s was architecturally beautiful and is clearly a British national monument (Prime Minister Winston Churchill invested significant human resources to make sure that St. Paul’s was saved during the German bombing of London in World War II.), the worship experience for me was somewhat deadening and frankly rather alienating.

Though I have no objection to highly liturgical worship, I noted with sadness that there were fewer than 50 people present for the early worship service. Even though some individuals at St. Paul’s cared, the institution was clearly not oriented to the comfort and welcome of outsiders. After riding the subway from our hotel to St. Paul’s, I wanted to find the men’s bathroom 15 minutes before worship was to start. So I asked the man passing out prayer books at the back of the cathedral where to find it. He directed me outside the cathedral. After walking nearly all the way around the building, I still couldn’t

find it. 10 minutes later, I returned for more di...

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