|Volume XXIX Issue 8||October 9, 2003|
Religious experience in Europe
Jessica Patchett - Columnist
Many London neighborhoods seem to shut down on Sundays. Corporate and government offices are dark, sandwich shops are closed and small businesses locked up. But this phenomenon doesnít necessarily correspond with a mad dash to churches, mosques, temples and synagogues. While religious days of worship and rest vary across faith lines, such traditions originally established with a sacred purpose seem to have lost their meaning in the flood of a secular society.
One afternoon, I asked a shop owner what hours he kept on Sundays.
"None," he replied with a grin. "We close for the Lordís day," The look on his face and his tone of voice showed his disregard for what has become an archaic excuse not to work one day of the week.
Nearly every week, I attend a different church in London. Among them are Westminster Cathedral, a large, ornate Catholic church; St. Paulís Cathedral, the famous Anglican church with a dome second only to St. Peterís Basilica; Wesleyís Chapel and Saint Saviorís Church, a Catholic family church at the end of my street.
Though Iím not Catholic, Anglican or Methodist, Iíve felt at home worshipping with these diverse congregations, thousands of miles away from my own. I may have knelt when I was supposed to sit or said "debts" when others muttered "trespasses," but I worshiped alongside people from Africa, Asia, Europe and America.
Regardless of their origin, ardent churchgoers, made up a small part of each congregation I visited. Filling in the rows behind and beside were hundreds of eyes, following the clergy and the prayers and responses of the supposed faithful.
Coming from a Southern community in the Bible Belt of America where almost everyone attends church regularly, I suddenly felt out of place praying as a a lady sitting next to me wrote in her travel journal as I recited the Lordís Prayer. For the first time, I felt like part of the small minority of the world that practicing Christians actually constitute.
Iíve always thought of myself as an average, modern student. But living with 38 other Elon students, I soon found that my weekly routine differs from many others. In my little flat I was soon designated spiritual adviser for my roommates simply because I had a Bible and a devotional book in my room.
In the southeastern United States, my role wouldnít seem terribly uncommon. Bibles and devotionals are commonly found in homes of native southerners. Even secular reading material such as newspapers have places for faith and religion news.
Since Iíve been in London, the only news stories relating somewhat to religion have been regarding the failing health of the pope in Rome or the Anglican debate of the gay Episcopal clergy in America. Religion certainly does not have a daily presence in the media or popular culture in London.
Though certain ethnic neighborhoods in London visibly hold fast to religious practices and Christians hold four to five services in churches across the city, religion appears to be disappearing from mainstream society.
This is not to say that the English are a godless people. Many British teens Iíve spoken to express a belief in God or in a higher power, but do not choose to practice an organized religion or interact with a community of believers. This professed belief is quite similar to many of the people I live with and reflects a common attitude of many students at Elon. But, as Iíve been told repeatedly by British acquaintances, Americans seem to be far more religious than Londoners.
Keeping up with some news from home, I was excited to read of the Noilesí endowment for the development of religious and spiritual life at Elon. Though more than 75 percent of Elon students reported their religious affiliation to be with one of several mainstream religions or denominations, hardly three-fourths of the Elon population are active churchgoers or participate in a Religious Life program. Religious life and spirituality are gifts to be enjoyed and expressed. The freedom to explore and develop a number of faiths or religions is not a common opportunity found throughout the world. My challenge to Elon students is to accept this gift and take advantage of the wonderful opportunities.
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