I had an unusual weekend. You see, I needed a break but couldn’t travel (because of children, work, responsibilities and all this. I know, all very boring, right?). I shouldn’t have worried. After all, this is London. What to do? Deborah of Shared-City had the perfect solution for me. I spend most of my Sunday with the Norwegian and the Finnish communities. Without living London. Yep, you read this right.
Let me explain: we met at 10.30 am at Rotherhithe station. I didn’t know it, but Rotherhithe has a long history as a port. This is because, after the London fire in 1666, timber was exported from the Nordic countries to rebuild the city. As a result, there is a Norwegian church, as well as a Finnish one, near Rotherhithe. They are not on their original sites, obviously, but have remained there. I must shamefully admit that despite having lived in London for more than a decade, this is a side of London that I didn’t even know existed. And to make matters even worse, I shop at Decathlon in Canada Water regularly, which is literally a five minutes walk from where I was yesterday. So much for thinking that I was a Londoner.
We walked to the Norwegian church from the station, and I couldn’t believe how beautiful the building was. We attended the Sunday service -in Norwegian of course- and the church was full. The service was pretty similar to a Catholic service, but the Norwegian Church is Lutheran. That said, even in a different language I found it amazing that you can recognise the pace of a prayer or even some tunes. I am not very religious but yes, it was soothing.
In France after the service everybody would chat for five minutes or so, and then go home. Well, not here. The congregation has lunch together. We had the pleasure of being treated to a Norwegian lunch, and it was amazing (and healthy), with smoked fish and local cheese (look on my Instagram account if you want to see more). The waffles and cakes were also to die for, and I had far too many of course. I will never learn. No wonder the congregation keeps coming back, I thought to myself. Then, the young priest joined us and started explaining to us what Lutheranism was. In fact, that’s not entirely accurate. He started by introducing himself, explained that he had arrived to London a month ago and was single. He then explained a bit more about the Norwegian church, and I was amazed as to how open-minded it all was. They ordain women, gay priests, and it is all about honesty, openness and local communities. No heavy hierarchy, just a very modern approach.
I couldn’t believe it. In my small French village catholic priests are stern, a bit distant and always single in theory (the practice might be slightly different). They were also very strict as to what was allowed, and what wasn’t. It was all about the dogmas of faith. Well, not here, and for the first time I understood why a close friend of mine became protestant. It started to make sense.
OK, let’s be honest here: yes, the priest was inspirational, and he was also very cute. I don’t think that he will stay single very long, I thought to myself. I must admit that I felt guilty of thinking of a priest in such a way. The Catholic guilt is hard to get rid of, you see. Silly French me. I will have to confess, I guess. Or convert. We shall see.
In my defence I wasn’t the only one to find him inspirational…
We then went to the Finnish church, just down the road. It is a modern building, and I wouldn’t have guessed that it was a church. It was the spring fair, and there were lots of Finnish goodies for sale.
Me being me, I couldn’t resist the cinnamon buns. My excuse was that it was for my children, but who was I kidding really? I ended up stuffing my face with them, and I didn’t need any dinner in the evening after so much food. I came back home feeling refreshed (and full), as if I had indeed visited another country. It felt great, and I absolutely love the whole idea of spending time with different communities in the heart of London. And what’s not to like with such a warm welcome anyway? The only downside is that now I really want to see the Northern lights for real. What can I say? I will never stop.