In October of 1999 I was engaged to be married. At 42 years of age I was acquiring a ready-made family all in one move. Over the years, that family has grown to include nine grandchildren. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
The wedding was planned for November 28, Thanksgiving weekend, but in October I was headed to Europe. For the most part I was going to be traveling with a group of speakers offering revival services to various Methodist churches in England. I was kind of the junior member of the team, but in many ways that made it more fun. Friends told Jody, my wife to be, that I was getting cold feet. Otherwise why would I run off to Europe for three weeks that close to the wedding?
My story isn’t about the portion of the trip that was in England. In the middle of the trip, I was to leave the group, fly to Germany, and speak at a conference there. Then I’d return and join my group. I separated from the group in the town of Matlock, and was left with a day on my own before taking the bus back to London where I would fly out to Frankfurt.
I spent that day walking and looking for spiritual encouragement for the days ahead. I’m not a good traveler. I’m not that good at encountering new situations. I was quite comfortable being the junior member of a substantial team and wasn’t all that happy to be heading off for several days on my own.
I had been told by someone that there was a chapel near Matlock Bath, which is just south of Matlock, and so I walked that way. I was in much better shape in those days! Just looking at the map as I prepared to write this story made me tired. I asked about the chapel a couple of times and nobody seemed to know.
One of the things an American needs to learn about Europe is that “old” doesn’t precisely mean the same thing there. A century or so old is “old” here. I attend the oldest Methodist church in Florida, founded in 1822, in a building constructed in 1908-1910. This is a decently old building around here, but it’s a thing of yesterday by European standards. (I studied a good deal of ancient near eastern history, so I was acquainted with “really old,” but the intermediate level in Europe hadn’t really hit me.)
Finally, as I was following my map back from Matlock Bath toward Matlock, I came across a chapel. In preparing to write this post I looked it up on the map and found a picture. I don’t always trust my memory, but both the location and the appearance of St. John the Baptist’s Chapel in Johns Road match my memory of the place. I’m glad to see that since that time it has been designated a Listed Building.
At the time I couldn’t get in, and it was not in great repair. Again, it appears that some work has been done on it, which is noted in the Wikipedia article linked above. Below the chapel on the road there was some water leaking and running under (I believe) Johns road. The view in the picture with the Wikipedia article is precisely the direction from which I approached. Seeing the water coming from below the closed chapel, I suddenly felt God’s presence. You can call me crazy, but I knelt down and splashed the water on my head and felt incredibly refreshed. In that most unlikely place I had found the encouragement I needed.
For me the chapel was as old as the hills and as new as tomorrow. It may be a thing of yesterday by English standards, but it was worth the walk to me. I don’t suppose it will become a major tourist attraction. But the importance of a place and experience is, in most ways, a matter of perspective.
(This was written for and submitted to the one word at a time blog carnival – old. Unlike what I usually write for the carnival, this story is true, as best as I recall.)