For All Who Hunger

Somewhere around 2014/15 a series of what we might call Godincidences brought St Lydia’s to my attention. I had stumbled upon a subject for my Masters’ thesis that involved sacramental theology and communal tables – and in the process discovered this “dinner church” in Brooklyn that appeared to embody much of the theology I was advocating. At the same time, a friend moved to NYC and joined the church’s staff team; another friend found themselves there sporadically when in the city… I finally made my first visit in September 2015, when over a two week break post-MA break, I managed to spend four evenings at St Lydia’s. (I wrote a very enthusiastic write up in the days when I still blogged regularly.)

I returned to St Lydia’s multiple times – my last visit was just a couple of weeks before my friend Hannah left the team to move to Toronto in January 2019. Each time, I picked up the name badge I’d written in 2015 and got stuck into to dinner conversation, washing up (always my preferred post-dinner chore) and after-church drinks. It’s also thanks to Lydians that I have a favourite karaoke/Korean food haunt in Brooklyn.

The Lydians setting up for Advent 2017

In St Lydia’s, I found a place where the meaning of the Lord’s Supper was enacted with an authenticity that felt lacking in many other churches. All were welcome at the tables; all were fed, physically & spiritually. [I have never gotten over the communion service I attended at a church in LA where in order to receive bread and wine I’d have needed to hand over documentation to prove that I was entitled to it. Not what Jesus meant people!!]

In the five years since my first Lydian encounter, I’ve pondered setting up a version of dinner church in my own context. Various things have got in the way, and now who knows what might be possible in a Covid-19 world? But the principles behind it remain inspirational.

By a stroke of luck, I managed to get onto the launch team for the release of For All Who Hunger – the story of how St Lydia’s came to be, by its founder Emily Scott. An advance e-copy of the book landed with me last month, but I’ve discovered that being a church leader in the midst of a global pandemic doesn’t allow much time for reading. So I find myself having finally read it – mostly within a single afternoon/evening – a week after it’s official launch. (Although it looks like readers in the UK can’t buy it till the end of May, so I feel marginally less guilty.)

British church culture currently seems very focused on church planting that results in large churches – particularly following the ‘resource church’ model. [Although who knows what the impact of Covid-19 will be on this? Perhaps we’ll be looking at planting lots more smaller churches….here’s hoping.] It was therefore refreshing to read Emily’s account of the slow grind in getting St Lydia’s off the ground.

“The part no one ever talks about is the humiliation. It’s humiliating to try to start a church in an aggressively secular city. To invite people to come to worship when they’ll likely think you’re unforgivably naïve, unsophisticated, uneducated, and conservative to believe in something so off-trend as God. It required divesting myself of the notion that I would ever, ever be anything resembling cool.”

For All Who Hunger isn’t a blueprint for starting up a church – every church, every leader and every community is different – but with its stories of how St Lydia’s evolved over the years, it provides examples that should inspire others. There’s common-sense relationship building – listening to people to hear what their needs are, rather than just barging in. Collaborating with the right people at the right time. Learning from those who were there first. There’s a powerful account of getting involved with Black Lives Matter and Faith in New York, told with acute awareness of white privilege. The description of the response to Hurricane Sandy hits particularly hard right now, as the world struggles to formulate a response to the pandemic. Who knows how St Lydia’s might have evolved were it not for the insight that that disaster provided?

The story of how the church evolved is told alongside (some of) the story of Emily’s own personal evolution.  As a single female church leader myself, I really appreciated Emily’s – often comedic, always realistic – insights into the perils of trying to date as a pastor! It concludes with her moving on from St Lydia’s – an important part of the journey that isn’t often told in this kind of book. St Lydia’s and Emily’s ministry continue, but in different places.

Ultimately, I’m grateful that there’s now a book I can point people towards when I tell them something of my own experience of St Lydia’s. Telling Brits to head over to the Atlantic for a Sunday or Monday night service isn’t particularly feasible, but reading this bridges that gap. It evokes so much of the atmosphere of St Lydia’s that when I finished reading late last night, I looked up from my iPad half expecting to be back in Brooklyn.

“St Lydia’s showed me abundance is a secret hidden inside of scarcity. It lives, tucked inside not-enoughness, waiting to show you that God does not do math. Abundance is discovering God’s provision right in the middle of your fret and worry.”

Finding escape…in prison

As my July bucket list explained, a key element of this month’s ‘vicar school is over – for now’ rejoicing was the reading of books that are not theological.

I do love my current life, vicar school and everything, but I really, really miss my old life’s space and time for non-educational reading. (I also miss singing. That’s a whole other issue.) Whether that’s commuting time spent engrossed in a good read, or the guilt-free pleasure of reading whatever I wanted, it’s certainly not something I have much space for these days. I commute rarely; my bag usually contains some worthy tome; reading anything not on a module guide induces guilt that my time could be better spent working towards the next essay. For a voracious reader who finds their escape in other worlds, this is a sad state of affairs.

So, in preparation for my summer freedom, I ordered a very large book. It arrived the day before my last essay was due (a Friday), so the parcel was hidden under a cushion until the essay was handed in. Saturday morning was spent on the sofa engrossed. Sunday afternoon saw a couple of hours in the sun with it. By Monday night it was finished – all 750 pages of it. Oh. Happy. Days.

Sunshine ReadingSunday afternoon perfection.

The book in question was a blow-by-blow companion to the making of Tenko – the classic TV drama set in a women’s Japanese internment camp during WW2, shown in the very early 1980’s. I’ve written about it before – most recently on how getting lost in a blackhole of its episodes inevitably results in a ‘Tenko Mentality”. It might not sound like a literary masterpiece (it’s not really) but for a die-hard Tenko fan and historian, it was a joy. All of a sudden, I had escaped a world of ecclesiology and taken refuge in mid-twentieth century history and early 1980’s television making.

In the fortnight leading up to the end of term, I’d re-watched all three seasons of Tenko (and the reunion episode) for possibly the fourth time. I’ve definitely written about the show before, it’s something of an obsession amongst the female Clutterbucks – and an reference point for many every day facts of life. (For example, “it’s so humid, my hair makes me look like an extra in Tenko”.) Watch too many episodes in one go and it’s very difficult to re-adjust to the world around you – we are not in a Japanese internment camp (thank goodness!) It’s utterly addictive too. I’m still both impressed and slightly shocked by my ability, the penultimate Monday of term, that I ran 5km and watched an episode of Tenko before I left for college at 8.30am!

It’s total escapism and it’s only struck me in the last couple of days that it seems to have become comfort viewing in times of stress – the last time I watched it all was the week I started vicar school. Like Chalet School books, the world of Tenko is an alternative universe to escape into when the real world is not all that it should be. [As a result, if you ever see me mentioning that I’m watching it, perhaps check that things are ok…]

Back to the book. It was a joy. If you’re slightly OCD about needing know why things happened the way they did; why plots evolved; how things might have happened; and how it all fits together with reality, then this is perfect. For goodness sake, it’s 750 pages long, and there are photos! It includes possible story-lines that never made it to filming, the experiences of the cast and crew, why cast changes happened the way they did and the real-life experiences of life in the camps that inspired the series. It even includes a bibliography for further reading…

…thus, three days after finishing the book, I returned home to another piece of holiday reading – Women Behind the Wire, a collection of experiences of women who lived through Tenko in reality. It really comes to something that my idea of ‘holiday’ reading now that I’m a theology student is historical stuff! Again, it’s not a literary masterpiece and hasn’t aged particularly well – what counted as ‘popular’ history in the early 80’s doesn’t compare well with that written 30 years later. It’s rather sentimental and its references to the Japanese soldiers verge on the patronising, but it does tell the stories of some incredible men and women.

Tenko was the result of the producer’s earlier job researching those honoured by This Is Your Life, specifically Brigadier Dame Margot Turner, who had been interned by the Japanese. After making the first series of Tenko, Lavinia Warner researched the stories of many of the women interned alongside her, producing a book that chronicles the experiences of one community of women throughout their internment. It’s fascinating, heart-breaking and an example of just how horrific humanity can be. At the same time, it provides an idea of where some of the Tenko storylines came from – though it’s abundantly clear than the women of Tenko had things a lot easier than was really the case!

Now, I feel I have something like closure on this episode of history. True, I still need to get hold of a copy of Paradise Road so I can watch it again (this film depicting a vocal chorus in a camp was also inspired by Women Behind the Wire) and there are one or two other books I’d like to read, but I think it’s enough for now. Next on my summer list is a few more titles from that ever-reliable stalwart of my library: Elinor M. Brent-Dyer…

Friday Fun that could transform your commuting experience…

Unless you have been hiding under a rock (or don’t listen to radio stations that play music written this millennium), you will have come across the summer phenomenon that is Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Catchy doesn’t even begin to describe it – in a good way. Inevitably, the YouTube tributes have begun and this week I came across two of particular quality.

Firstly, through the medium of classy violin playing:

Secondly, what the track may have sounded like in every decade over the last century. (Pay particular attention to the sunglasses…):

If that’s really not your kind of thing, it’s more than possible that you’re more of a Radio 4 listener, in which case, this video, depicting the station in 4 minutes, will be right up your street. In fact, you’ll only find this funny if you’re familiar with the wonderful eccentricity of the station. (As one of the YouTube commenters says, the number of Radio 4 listeners who can operate YouTube is comparatively small. Little harsh, but a little true!)

Continuing that slightly well-educated tack, are you aware of the signs that indicate you’re addicted to books? Perhaps you don’t think it’s likely to be an issue for you? Maybe one or two (or several) of this list will strike a chord? This is just a little of the evidence that I am indeed a book addict. [Despite the fact that my current lifestyle means that I’ve had to kick the habit temporarily.]

Book addict home

Bookseller crushesBeach reading

Book violence

Finally, it’s Friday and I have another TfL gem for you, thanks to Katie E. Ever wondered what London Underground stations look like inside – beyond what we can see with the naked eye when we’re there? Some genius came up with the idea of creating an app that shows the inner workings of Zone 1 stations – not just to look at, but so you can plan the speediest route from A-B. Here’s my local station in all its glory:

holborn

With an app like this, no one need ever look like an amateur tube user ever again!

Friday Fun behind the scenes

I trust that we all watched last week’s required viewing? The 150th anniversary special episode of The Tube – telling the story of the history of London Underground. (It’s vanished from iPlayer now, but I’m sure it’ll be repeated at some point.) If  you missed it, and regret your actions, you may find solace in another LT anniversary tribute: 150 great things about the Underground. (It is exactly what it says it is.)

It’s possible that I featured this site a few months ago, but criminally, then forgot about it! Fortunately, a tweet returned it to my attention and I’ve now ensured I see its updates regularly – although it’s now on 101, so we’re two thirds through. As I perused the site, I discovered something I’d never known before…

Finsbury Park was a station I used fairly regularly when I lived in Muswell Hill. (The hill of the mossy well has no tube station, instead it’s a tube to Highgate, Bounds Green or Finsbury Park and then a bus. It’s how they kept the undesirables away…) Despite spending a not inordinate amount of time on its platforms, I had never fully appreciated its artwork. Yes, the hot air balloons are beautiful mosaics, but did you know that each balloon is part of a bigger design that runs the length of the platform? No, me either!

Finsbury BalloonsLooking down the platform. (Credit.)

The site is a mine of LT factoids. If you’re at a loss with where to start, I recommend the author’s reverie on the wonders of West Finchley station. It’s a lovely example of how strong the feelings are that the tube evokes.

Something else you could spend your Friday afternoon working your way through is this delightful collection of photos from behind the scenes of classic films. A lot of the really are classics, but true to my nature, my favourite ones are less classic, more childish…

Home AloneJoe Pesci gets to grips with Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone)

HP DH 2Ralph Fiennes transforms into Voldemort. (All together now: “Haaaaaryyyyy Pottttterrrrrr”.)

Dark KnightAnd, just because the world still misses him, here’s Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Finally, a few literary fun things. Firstly, something a tad niche only suitable for Chalet School fans: “imagine how many Health & Safety forms Miss Annersley would have had to complete” – a Mumsnet discussion, of all things! Secondly, The Guardian has a feature in which you can explore annotated copies of authors’ first editions. I rather enjoyed perusing Bridget Jones’ Diary, though Harry Potter would be a close second. Thirdly, something interesting for all those who read novels and something potentially useful for all who aspire to write one at some point. A gallery of author’s plans, drafts and spreadsheets

Order Phoenix SpreadsheetJ.K. Rowling’s plan for The Order of the Phoenix. That’s both my kind of book and my kind of organisation. 

May this rather dismal looking ‘Spring’ bank holiday be one full of good literature, great films or at the very least, stress free London Transport.

Friday fun for the start of the academic year

Forgive my absence for the last 10 days – there’s been the mother of all end of summer essay crisis (two essays due on the first day of term no less) plus a staff retreat in the middle of nowhere, so I feel I have a justifiable excuse. Fear not though, I have been keeping track of some fun tidbits to amuse you upon this autumnal Friday…

For starters, something that seems apt for the beginning of a new academic year – the 10 worst book covers in the history of literature. This was winning for me…

…until I saw this one:
I want that jumper on the left. That’ll make me cool, right?

Continuing the retro/educational theme, in the week that sees the arrival of iPhone5, it seems an appropriate moment for 20 misty memories of personal computing. Beginning with the dial-up noise (oh, how many memories that sound brings back!), continuing with the whirr of a floppy disc loading, and picking up the original Sim City and construction clip-art along the way, this is a great way to feel really old before your time. 
Retro and yet modern is the fantastic result of what happened when someone took a disposable camera to the Paralympics. In case you were wondering what London 2012 might have looked like in 1992, look no further than this delightful blogpost. [Incidentally, that entire blog is delightful – if you have a thing for quirky photography, you’ll love it.] 

Finally, two videos that are perfectly suited to Friday Fun – because where would Friday Fun be without cats on the internet and musical flashmobs? 
Firstly, Zadok the Priest spontaneously performed in a supermarket (in honour of Classic FM’s 20th birthday – did you realise that station was so young??). Make sure you look out for the reaction when the singing comes in, simply awesome. [Thanks Anne for the tip off!]
Secondly, from the sublime to the ridiculous – what happened when a cat had to have medicine and its owner felt guilty. (Aka, how to amuse a cat with 40+ boxes…)
May you now have all you need to face your Friday with glee.