(The Isles is a series of reflections on my 2018 trip to Ireland and England.)
I can’t believe it has been a year since my friend Kyle and I packed our bags and made the transatlantic journey to Ireland and England. In many ways, it feels like just a few days since I was last walking the streets of the cities I so quickly came to love. I can still recall the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. I can see the ancient stonework of the buildings. I can hear my newly-met relatives’ voices. I can smell the saltwater of Dublin Bay. I can taste my first steak pie. I could still find my way back to the places where we stayed. My Oyster Card for the London Underground is still on my nightstand. However, as I look back over the year since the trip, I realize how much has happened, and also how much of the last year had its catalyst on that journey.
Right before I left for the trip, I connected with a group hoping to start an Anglican church in Louisville. I have been fond of that tradition for a long time, but I had mixed emotions about leaving my church of eleven years. Still, my goal, as it has been for my entire adult life, is to pursue vocational ministry, so I went into the trip with anxiety over the decisions I needed to make.
I was able to attend three Anglican services during the trip. All three reinforced my feeling in a certain way. I realized, for instance, how much of the Book of Common Prayer liturgy I had already taken within me over the years of saying the daily office and occasionally attending Anglican services; it was part of me and had become a life-giving force to me. The ancient settings of these services also reinforced to me that, through reciting the liturgy, I was joining my voice with that of Christians who had said these same words of prayer and praise for centuries. As Winfield Bevins says in his recent book, Ever Ancient, Ever New, what ancient liturgy offers is “a refreshing alternative to the ahistorical culture of the modern evangelical church because it represents a place of belonging—one that has survived and thrived for over 2,000 years.”
However, it was the second of these services that clinched it. This was a very ordinary, low-church-style evening service at Westminster Abbey that my friend Blake and I just happened to arrive in time to attend. It was simple. The liturgy was mostly spoken, with a couple of hymns included. The minister on-hand delivered a homily that was short, to the point, but absolutely brilliant. Blake and I were both enriched by it. It was at that moment that I realized, “Yes, that is exactly what I want to do.”
In the year following, I have been part of the Anglican church plant that came together in Louisville. Not only that, but I have recently been accepted into a path towards ordination to the priesthood (at the moment, I’m what’s called a deacon aspirant in my diocese). In many ways, I no longer feel like I’m a square peg trying to fit in a round hole, and it has given me a great deal of contentment and fulfillment.
Spending time with friends in England and Ireland also re-emphasized something that was already an important factor in my life: intentional friendship. That evening service at Westminster Abbey wasn’t just special because of its own spiritual impact on me, but because I was able to spend a few hours that evening just with Blake, who not only is one of my best friends but, in practically every way, is a surrogate brother to me. Our personalities (both definitive INFJs) are so similar in many odd ways that spending some time just walking around London, catching an evening church service, and hanging out at a traditional English pub together is about the best situation you could find for us to enjoy our friendship. Luckily for me, Blake and his wife Jazmin moved back to the Louisville area just a few months after the trip, but this will always stand as one of the high points of our relationship.
Just as joyous was the ability to flesh out my friendship with my colleague-turned-travel-companion, Kyle. As Kyle and I first got to know each other through work, where he’s my supervisor, I think we needed some extended time far away from Louisville to finally make ours a well-rounded friendship, even though we had hung out a handful of times in Louisville. There are simply colors of our personalities that would never otherwise show themselves. However, whether it was sharing our first experience of a European hostel, walking around Kensington & Chelsea our first night in London (before Blake and Jazmin joined us), taking in the National Gallery and the Tower of London, or enjoying the parks and street musicians of Dublin as we waited on our companions, I felt like we got to know each other’s individual natures quite well. We’ve been able to build upon that through regularly spending time together outside of work for the last year, never letting the fullness of our personalities slip too far beneath the surface again.
Introducing Blake and Jazmin to Kyle and watching friendships form there within their own right was also a joy. Times spent together seeing shows and hanging out in bookshops and pubs deep in good conversation just exposed the deeply similar sensibilities of us all. A recent meet-up to see the film Tolkien, itself partly filmed in the environs of Oxford that we visited together, showed that even these friendships continue, as well.
Finally, the trip showed me just how important it was to step outside my own life and surroundings. In a way similar to an earlier day trip I had taken to the Abbey of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky, but in a far more expansive way, I was able to step outside my daily routine and setting and, thereby, get a better perspective on it. I think we need these times away where we can take a break and ask, “Am I where I want to be?” and, if not, “How do I get there?” I realized that I had been spinning my wheels for a long time, doing my job, but not really going anywhere. I wasn’t satisfied with where my life was. But this refocused me on my calling, on my friendships, and on my goals in life, in general. I need another trip like this soon because I always want to keep this in check. God has a path for me, but I sometimes need to step back to see it.
These are only a few of the things in my life directly affected by last year’s trip, but I post them to show just how great, and how needed, that trip actually was. I need more times like this in my life, times that recalibrate my mind, heart, and spirit. In fact, I think we all do.
(Cover image: Collingham Place at dusk, just in front of Westbury Hotel Kensington. © Jacob A. Davis)