renewed relations

christy and i had a brilliant day today. from 10:00-5:00, off and on, we visited with former parishioners from each of the three churches. last night christy phoned jean from hurst hill and we were not sure jean knew who it was that invited her husband and herself over for a visit! but when we arrived not only jean and cliff were there, but also cris and lil from the church. obviously jean figured out who we were.

after an hour there we went to lunch at a traditional pub near the wolverhampton train station. many pubs in england have become loud eating places with flashing lights and games-- not this one. all over the walls are pictures and plaques of the old railways (the place is called the great western, after the railroad that once ran through wolverhampton), as well as pictures from the glory days of the local football team, the wolves.

after lunch we stopped by tony and kath's house for nearly two hours. they visited us in dension four years ago. again others came, so that their front room was full of former parishioners. everyone marvelled over the pictures of james and miles (never has the word "lovely" been used so many times in the history of our common language!). then we stopped by another house, after hearing ashley and sarah were in town from oxford, visiting his parents. i married ashley and sarah on our last weekend here. aside from the parkers they were the only couple we knew our age, and they moved their wedding date up so we could do it. we learned sarah is pregnant with their first child, due in september, like christy. i feel like a grandparent or something! then we made one more stop to catch up with another group.

at each home we were reminded of the impact we made on these good folk in less than a year's time. jennifer hill, who travels all over the black country giving history talks about her church, mentions us everytime. everyone said we are always remembered well. i always say one thing every pastor wants is to know they made a difference in someone's life. we've learned over and over this week that this was true of our time here.

it was great to catch up with everyone in a social setting. the traditional english pub used to be such a place, but we've learned this week that the starbucks-ization so prevalent in the u.s. has spread over here. coffee houses are on nearly every corner in the more urban areas, and chris told us nearly 60 pubs close every week around the country. as i wrote yesterday, the things that make one's culture distinct from others should be celebrated, and mourned when they pass away. "the local" (pub) has been such an institution in british culture for, as jean would say, "donkey's years" (whatever that means!). it makes me appreciate the great western today and the place christy, chris, and i ate lunch last tuesday.

for all their distinctive cultural treasures, the best about the brits are the folk themselves (although the fish n' chips we had for supper tonight come close!). over the last five days we have renewed relationships with friends and parishioners, and tomorrow at church we'll see even more. it has been great to show off our boys, celebrate christy's pregnancy, and see how quickly the attention turns away from us and everyone sort of drifts into conversation about their daily lives-- which makes me feel like part of the family again, not an outsider over on a holiday. and isn't that feeling what makes a vacation extra good? whether in the front room or over a pint "down the local," ultimately it's our relationships that make us feel at home. even 6,000 miles from home.