We were going to be in London on a Sunday, and I was very excited. That meant we could attend service at both Westminster Abbey and St. Paul’s Cathedral. They each have many services a day, with different themes, so to speak. Some are music orientated, and some offer communion, for example. We opted for the Sung Eucharist at Westminster Abbey, which was a combo: music and Holy Communion. At St. Paul’s we would be attending Choral Evensong.
We had spent our morning up at Abbey Road getting one of my most favorite vacation photos ever, and the day was off to a great start. We knew we needed to get to the Abbey early, because I had heard that it fills quickly and late comers are turned away.
We got there in plenty of time and were enjoying people watching and having the time to just stand next to the Abbey and contemplate all of the historical events that have happened there, and the historical people buried there. It’s quite mind boggling. It was also nice to have a moment to relax. We had been on the go non-stop.
It was time to go in and here is where things took a turn. I was overwhelmed at being inside and took my phone out to take some photos. I got one shot, when Gray said, “Mom, there’s a guy coming.” I looked up and saw a very stern, unhappy priest barreling down on me. “You cannot take photos! Can’t you see the signs?!” I was mortified!! “I’m so sorry”, I stammered. “I promise not to do it again.” My heart was pounding and I was crushed at the thought that my first interaction with an Anglican priest was one in which he thought I was a total jerk.
We continued on, following the ushers leading us to our seats. In every church I’ve ever been in, the altar is at the front of the nave and the quire is situated up at altar. The layout of W. A. is very strange. The quire is extremely narrow and there are three rows of pews on either side, facing the aisle, so you are perpendicular to the altar, and looking at the people in the pews across the aisle. The nave is back behind this section, and if you’re sitting back there you can’t even see the altar. I’m embarrassed to admit that my first thought was, “Great. We didn’t get here early enough to sit in the nave and we’re in some off shoot room.” But as the service commenced, and the processional was coming down the aisle in front of us, I realized that we were actually in the quire, an even better location than the nave! The second set of pews next to us was empty, but was soon filled with the choir boys in their white robes, with high neck ruffs.
The service was lovely, and as we stood to sing the hymns I was quite overcome. This feeling didn’t last long. The Eucharist wasn’t done up at the altar, but in the aisle right in front of us. There were two things that concerned me. One was the community chalice. I am a Methodist, and we get small individual cups. Being a borderline germophobe, this works out great for me. The other was that everyone in line was opening their mouth and the priest was placing the host on their tongue. We had never done this before. We have always just held out our hands and placed it in our own mouth.
It was now our turn and Gray was ahead of me. He handled it like a champ. I opened my mouth and something horrible happened. I was in such a hurry to close it again that I bit the priest. Maybe a hard graze is more accurate, but it was my second priest involved mortification and apology of the day. “Sorry”, I whispered to him. He didn’t respond. The good news is that it took my mind off the community chalice.
Things went from bad to worse. When we got back to our pew, I whispered to Holden, “I bit the priest,” and he started to laugh, and then I started to laugh, and we couldn’t stop. It was awful. We were both shaking and trying to pull ourselves together, but it was made even worse because as we watched the rest of the congregation receive the Eucharist, many of them were holding out their hands, and not opening their mouths. Apparently, it’s worshiper’s choice. I could not stop laughing and I needed to get out of there so badly.
On our way out we were passing some of the most amazing tombs. “Oh look, Sir Isaac Newton. Oh look, Charles Darwin…” But I felt like Clark Griswold at the Grand Canyon. A couple of neck pumps and I was good. I’m sure those priests have scolded people for taking photos before, and been bitten by a worshiper who didn’t pause that extra second, but it felt like I was the only one. I needed a fresh start at St. Paul’s.
Up Next: The misadventures continue…