Perhaps you've had weeks where you planned on a Saturday trip with a big agenda, and you return home completely wiped out, but it's only one day. A trip like this does this every day for 24 straight days. It's not like a vacation. It energizes you in a certain way, but it stacks one huge day after another. Then it isn't ideal for writing. I didn't bring my computer, because we didn't put any baggage under the plane. I decided to bring a tablet, the one I use for preaching, with a crummy keyboard. It is very difficult to hit the right keys unless you have tiny hands and fingers. The last place we stayed, five days, had no internet, so I couldn't post anything for those days anyway, so here we are.
This post will not get into too many of the details of the trip. I will just make a few specific and general observations. First, I want to finish something I ended with the last post, the English breakfast. I didn't talk about how great English tea is. We were riding back on the bus from our underground station after eating our first one and a woman was listening to the commentary and mentioned how bad American tea was. When you talk about tea and Britain, I can't help but think of the great event in early American history, the Boston tea party. Tea is a big deal in the UK. They do very well with tea. I love their whole tea thing. Their tea tastes better overall -- maybe it's the brand, maybe it's the methodology they use, I don't know, but it's just better, so kudos to the English on their tea. This lady on the bus begrudged American tea and bragged on the English tea. She couldn't vouch for blood pudding, but I joined her in the appreciation for her country's tea.
While I'm on English food, let me talk about Alnwick Castle and the yorkshire pudding and bangers and mash. We went to York and the little town of Thirsk for a couple of days. I'm not going to say much about it. It was great those two days. We had taken a train from King's Crossing in London to York, rented a car, drove to Thirsk, visited the James Herriott museum there, attended Wednesday night church in Ripon, and then spent the next day in York. We continued by train to Alnmouth, which is very close to Alnwick. It is pronounced, annick. The Duke of Northumberland and his wife still live in this gigantic, important castle. We toured it and the gardens, and they had a food service.
There's much to say about the food service, the little restaurant and cafe at the castle, the residence of this duke. It's a great tour that presents a great understanding of a medieval castle and how it worked back in the day and then in its conversion to a modern household and family business. A rarity on such a trip, the meal was reasonably priced. My speculation is that it was because an onsite college was helping to run the food service. St. Cloud State college students, I think, work there as part of studying abroad program. It's an off-the-wall idea, but they offer it to their students, and they get to live in a castle and study in the far north of England. It seemed to me to be a great stretch in order for a castle to break even or turn a profit.
I wanted yorkshire pudding while in England. I also wanted bangers and mash. You can get bangers and mash served in yorkshire pudding. The key is the gravy, but the combination is fantastic. I loved it. Thank you England for that combination: a yorkshire pudding with bangers and mash, slathered with gravy. Impeccable. Mash is just mashed potatoes. We don't call that "mash" in the U. S., but I guess that England needs to give its different styles of potato service different names for variation on English food. "This is mash." "Isn't it just mashed potatoes?" "No, we call non-mashed potatoes, potatoes, and mashes potatoes, well, mash."
I might say a little more about the food on the trip to give you my take on food in the UK, Italy, and then France. The three differ greatly. But first let me talk about the churches we attended. I said something about the first church, a strict Baptist church in the Kensington part of London. On the first Sunday morning, we attended the famous Metropolitan Tabernacle, Spurgeon's church.
We took public transportation to "the Tabernacle," even as there is a station right there, the Elephant and Castle station. Those are not two streets. It's the name of an old inn, and the station took the name of that inn. You come out of the underground and you can see the building from there. It's impressive, looking like some kind of ancient Roman structure with giant pillars in the front. It looks old. Lower portions of the whole building, what is the basement, are original from Spurgeon's day.
My family and I arrived a little early to church, so we got a coffee, sat a little while, and then entered about ten minutes before the service. They have an 11am church service, something like a 2:30 or 3:00 Sunday School time, and then a 6:30pm or so evangelistic service on Sunday night. You go right into a Sunday morning service, which is different to us, which are accustomed to 9:45am Sunday School followed by an 11:00am morning service.
In the vestibule, the lobby area, you are greeted in a very friendly and concerned way. You are given free pamphlets written by the pastor. You are encouraged in a spiritual way. You look around and it isn't superficial.
The interior of the Metropolitan Tabernacle (MT) looks old too with a bottom seating portion and a balcony that circles above that entire floor. It is an old style of church auditorium, looking historic. It was all full. People are dressed in what someone might call Sunday best. A majority are dressed up in a respectful way. An usher walked us right down to the front row, which was fine with me. I sat right next to the man who gave the announcements, one of the elders, I think. Peter Masters sits alone on the platform. He enters and sits in a meditative fashion. Everyone is warned with a sign at the entrance to stay quiet in the auditorium, so you don't hear talking before the morning service. It is quiet. People are in a different mood than almost anywhere that you might go to church today. I loved that.
Thy hymnbooks for MT have no notation, no music. This is typical of similar churches all over the UK. Four of the places we attended had similar hymnbooks. It's like you are in the early to mid 19th century with that. They contain a full psalter. At MT, Peter Masters stands, introduces the number, and then the organ plays an introduction while people are seated. They stand without cue at that moment, which makes a loud noise with the arising of the whole congregation at once. It's nice. The organ plays another chord with everyone silent, and then people sing. They have only words, no music, but it is loud, joyous, reverent, slow singing. Very slow. They are not whipping through these songs. They go slow. Everyone is involved. Peter Masters just sings. He doesn't wave his arms. He doesn't attempt to whip people up. Everyone participates in a solemn, serious, yet fulfilling, worshipful way. It represents God. It was great.
You sing every verse of every psalm or hymn. Every one is the same fashion. There are about four prayers in the service. They are long. They are not touchy feely, but again worshipful. They take up an offering in velvet sacks that are attached to wooden sticks. They do two long scripture readings, one Old Testament and one New Testament, done slowly and with great diction and solemnity. Then Peter Masters steps to the pulpit and preaches. He uses the King James Version.
I don't have notes sitting in front of me and this was now almost three weeks ago, but Masters preached from John 4 and it was a sermon essentially on witnessing, breaking down the witness of the woman at the well and of Jesus. It was very good, well done. I have two critiques though. One, his last point was based upon allegorization, essentially speaking of the spiritual fever that some people have that Jesus can heal. That is read into the text. Two, I think he would have done better not to have put the woman and the well and the nobleman's son into the same sermon. He fit them together in a way that was forced, I thought. That sounds like I didn't like it. I really liked his sermon. I'm just giving an honest take. It was a powerful sermon that really encouraged people to witness like the woman used her witness to bring people to Jesus. You can understand with such preaching there, that Metropolitan Tabernacle is so evangelistic.
I never met Masters afterwards. I probably could have, but he disappears into a side room while the whole congregation remains silent for about a minute. The extent of the invitation is that you could, if you wanted, go and meet him there. We were invited by a deacon over for lunch, which was very gracious and they were very kind. He talked to us right away, so we didn't try to meet the pastor afterwards. However, Master's daughter is married to the deacon, who was a trauma doctor in London, and they have three daughters. My two daughters and they were able to interact in a nice way about school -- they were about the same age. It was a nice time together and a wonderful lunch. They all served a short time later in the afternoon Sunday School program.
We had a great meal and time together there and they showed us some old volumes hand written by elders or deacons from Spurgeon's day of salvation testimonies of those coming for membership at Spurgeon's church. We read these hand written accounts, that were then read by Spurgeon, who wrote his own comments. His own comments, written by his own hand, were amazing. I recommend the books with a lot of these testimonies in them. It is actually amazing how protective Spurgeon was of his membership. He would not accept members if he was at all shaky about their conversion. This deacon's wife, Master's daughter, has edited these testimonies into a wonderful little volume that you can purchase from their church publisher. We were able to read some straight from the old leather covered manuscripts with Spurgeon's own ink and signature.
That evening, we went to a Baptist church on Uxbridge Road, much smaller, but a man who had been mentored by Masters. This was close to our flat. They held their church service on Sunday night and their evangelism service on Sunday morning, but the order of service and style were exactly the same, including the kind of hymnal. There were far fewer people there, but that was in part, I believe, because the neighborhood, according to the pastor, was 60% Moslem. This is where we stayed, and that's something a subject of its own, that I might address later. It's like you're living in a different country than England.
On Wednesday night we were in Ripon, UK, and it was a little Evangelical Baptist Church. Evangelical means something different in the UK. Almost every evangelical church in the United States is worldly and panders in some way to its crowd. This was a gathering of about 15 people on a Wednesday night. We sang, we prayed, and the preaching was a substantive dealing from a section of Ephesians. I thought it was well done.
The next Sunday we visited Jon Gleason. You may know Jon from comments here at What Is Truth. He pastors a Baptist church in Glenrothes, what is called a Free Baptist Church, "free" being a meaningful word in Scotland. Jon is being faithful there in that small town a little north of Edinburgh. We attended their one service on Sunday, a 10:45am service. I rented a car that I picked up at the airport after taking public transportation from our flat in Leith in Edinburgh. Jon has his family and a good little group of faithful believers in Glenrothes. He is doing an outstanding job of evangelizing and doing God's work there.
I enjoyed Jon's preaching in a series he is starting in John 17. Jon is careful with the text and centers on God's Word. He cares about his people. It was very gracious of he and his family to invite us to lunch afterwards. Brother Gleason is a tent maker. He works with computer programming or the like and pastors both. We need more people like him. His family is involved there in the ministry with him.
The Gleasons didn't have a Sunday evening service, so we took a nice drive, where we saw Stirling Castle and the famous battlefield of Bannockburn, where Scotland got independence from England with Robert the Bruce. We attended Leith Free Church on Sunday evening. It was very close to where we were staying. They had about 50 or so in a very old building in Leith and the service was almost identical on a Sunday night to the Metropolitan Tabernacle service in every way, except one aspect, no instruments. They don't believe in musical instruments, which isn't far off from Metroplitan's solitary use of the organ.
The hymnal in Leith was all words, no music, and we sang every verse. The people sang with a loud voice and reverent manner. Their hearts were in it. The sermon was on the passage of Elijah, the widow, and replenishing her oil and grain, 1 Kings 17. Colin Macleod did a great job with the text and it was fascinating to hear the lilting, poetic Scottish brogue, spinning that story together. He was a former tank commander in the Scottish military, man's man kind of person.
What I'm saying is that you had a serious group with a true gospel, preached in a bold way, with reverent sacred worship and preaching with biblical exegesis and scriptural application. There are no gimmicks for church growth. You can barely find this in the United States today even though there are some doctrinal differences between us and these churches. I'd rather attend there on the road than the typical American independent Baptist church.
More to Come