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July 16, 2013
College Voices
Sunday in the London North Ward - by Michela Hunter
by College Voices
Michela Hunter
Sophomore, Brigham Young University

For church on Sundays, the students in the London Study Abroad program are split between the different wards in the stake. Usually it’s three to five students to a ward. However, I am lucky. I have a ward all to myself.

I don’t mind; going to church in a city ward is an adventure, and, lucky for me, I was able to request the ward my parents attended once upon a time, when they lived in London twenty years ago — the London North Ward.

It takes me an hour and 15 minutes to get to church. First I walk about a half hour from my flat to a bus stop on Tottenham Court Road, flag down the bus that will take me north, and, if I’m lucky, grab a seat at the very front of the top deck.

From there it’s a soaring sky ride through London, happily watching the pedestrians below nearly get crushed by the bus’s girth and reading the names of the shops and street signs as they fly past. I love riding the double-deckers; I could ride on them forever, but eventually we come to my stop and I have to get off so I can walk another five minutes to the church building.

I was a little nervous my first week because I didn’t know where it was, but I found the building just fine, with fifteen minutes to spare, and slipped inside.

The chapel was quiet. They didn’t have an organ, just a piano, where an older woman was sitting playing prelude music. It was mostly empty, emptier than the wards I’ve attended in America usually are, and a few people moved around quietly talking or finding seats in the red-cushioned pews.

I hovered in the back for a couple of minutes, my eyes darting from person to person, looking for a face I recognized from when I had visited here with my family two years before. Finally, near the front of the room, I saw Peggy stand up.

Peggy is something of a family legend. For as long as I can remember, my mom and dad have talked about her, mentioning her in passing, telling stories about her from when they lived here with her, answering the phone and crying “Peggy!” with delight. Needless to say, when I finally had the privilege of meeting her in person two years ago, I was looking forward to it with much anticipation, and I was not disappointed.

Peggy is one of the most eccentric and engaging characters I have ever met. She is an eighty-nine-year-old British woman with a shock of bright white hair, a hunched, thin frame, and whiskers. She is mostly blind. She wears a white visor that makes her hair stick up and a pair of the thickest, roundest, most enormous pair of glasses I’ve ever seen. Despite her blindness she has continued her career as an artist, remains stubbornly independent, and has even joined a band for blind people, in which she plays a little pair of cymbals.

I was so happy to see her again. I had to tell her who I was when I greeted her, because she couldn’t see me, but once she recognized my name, her face brightened. She embraced me and then, clasping my hand in her thin wrinkled one, proceeded to introduce her “young friend Michela” to all of her friends in the ward, who generally comprised the older population of the ward — but then again, there weren’t many people around my age in the ward. Many of them remembered my parents and were friendly. 

I mentioned before that the ward is small; it is. There were a few Americans and Canadians, but the majority were either British or from various other European countries. There was no organ, just a piano, and instead of having three speakers like every other sacrament meeting I’ve been in has, there were two speakers and two intermediate hymns.

When it came time for Sunday School, the second counselor in the bishopric announced (while several missionaries behind him set up a decrepit-looking TV and DVD player) that instead of Sunday School and Priesthood or Relief Society, we were going to be watching the special missionary broadcast that had aired the week before. This was welcome news to me, since I’d been on a plane over the Atlantic at the time and hadn’t had the chance to watch it.

Despite some sputtering by the DVD player, it was an engrossing broadcast, for the first half hour or so. Then, in the middle of L. Tom Perry’s talk, there was a loud pop. It sounded like it had come from somewhere in the back of the room, but then a column of smoke started furling to the ceiling from the top of the TV, bringing with it the sharp smell of burning rubber.

It happened so quickly that it took me a moment to realize what had happened. Then two of the missionaries jumped up, one diving forward and turning the TV off while the other unplugged it from the wall. 

“What happened?” Peggy asked me.

“The TV overheated and caught fire,” I answered, watching the missionaries wheel the still-smoking TV set out of the chapel.

“Oh, is that what that smell is?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You can see it smoking.”

“Oh dear. Clearly the Word of Wisdom hasn’t been being followed,” said Peggy sagely.

I tried not to laugh as the second counselor got to his feet and announced that since they had told the teachers not to prepare any lessons for today, church would have to end an hour early. The six or seven children in the ward, having been released from Primary already, were being captured by their parents, while the three deacons that comprised the ward’s youth program were coming into the chapel from where their Sunday School lesson had been interrupted, exclaiming gleefully, “The TV exploded!”

There was nothing more to be done, and so after staying and talking with Peggy a bit more, I finally decided that I might as well get home and finish the homework I’d fallen behind on.

It was definitely unlike any ward I was used to attending in America. The size, the talks, the program, the spontaneously combusting TV — they definitely gave me something to tell my parents about when I called them that night.

Yet it was the same — same organization, same hymns, same spirit. There was a comfort to me in that, to know that no matter where I go, there will always be members of the Church to take me in. Though they are few, their faith is strong; that was clear to me from the light in their eyes, their smiles, and the talks that were given.

Even though it’s not what I’m used to, it’s different in a way that I quite enjoy. I’m just grateful for this opportunity, the opportunity to attend church in a different country. It reminds me that the gospel just doesn’t change, no matter where you go.

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