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Well…we made it.

An amazingly smooth, albeit miserable trip.

How does that work, anyway?

Everything goes well, there is not a single glitch, it is an amazing thing to cross the Atlantic in seven hours at any point in life, but especially when you are reading a book about the travels of a woman who took six weeks to do the crossing, and so you are very grateful and in awe of it all, but still…

…it’s miserable, in its way.

The smooth parts?

We flew out of Atlanta (why? Cheap fare – $400/apiece – plus, the last time, we flew international in and out of Birmingham, we almost missed the Atlanta-Birmingham flight at the end because of customs delays, and it’s pretty agonizing to be delayed in that way when you’re just a two hour drive away from home….) and had TSA PreCheck, and slid through security like butter. There was no one in line. Walked right up, tossed the bags on the belt, no shoes to be removed, no laptops to be taken out, and boom, we were through.

All flights were on time. No inexplicable prison sentences on the tarmac. Very good.

"amy welborn"

The transatlantic flight began in Philadelphia, which I had dreaded because Philly, unique among major airports, I think, has no rapid transit between terminals, and my main memory of flying international out of Philly involved waiting for buses. Usually rain was part of the picture, too.  But not this time! Well, the rain was, but no bus. Just some walking between two connected terminals, which was fantastic.

The British Airways flight was not quite as posh as previous experiences. There’s a bit of cost-cutting there, it seems to me. The plane was older, the seatback entertainment system took a long time to start working and they didn’t offer as many little knick-knacks as we’d had on previous flights – toothbrush, cunning little tube of toothpaste, etc. Not that I cared, since the wine was still free, but it did seem to be a more US-type of flying experience than European this time.

The flight wasn’t full up, but it wasn’t empty either. Lots of children, all well-behaved, including one family with five kids…all boys but for the one little girl.  #ShePersisted.

I don’t think I slept. I started to watch a little bit of Jackie, then found myself both wondering why it had been made and thinking that if I kept watching it, I had no chance of sleep at all.  Which I didn’t anyway, as it turns out. The boys did, a bit, but I’m pretty sure that I didn’t. It was one of those experiences in which when the flight takes off I’m thinking well, this is more comfortable than I thought. I’m pretty tired right now. I think I’ll easily be able to go to sleep!  And then four hours later, it’s …I’M GOING TO DIE IF I CAN’T STRETCH OUT…I AM NEVER TRAVELING MORE THAN TWO TIME ZONES AWAY AGAIN. I AM NOW BEING PUNISHED FOR BEING AN PRIVILEGED FAUX CHRISTIAN AND I DESERVE IT.

So, the zombies arrived at Heathrow around 7 AM. Immigration took about fifteen minutes to go through. There was an interesting side area – not completely cut-off, but clearly marked off by line-marking ropes aIMG_20170326_075855nd attended by a security employee, in which were guided several definitely Middle-Eastern looking folks, including one entire family.
We took the Heathrow Express into town – if we were a party of three adults, getting a car might make some economic sense, but given it was a Sunday morning (therefore off-peak) and I was the only one who had to pay, it cost 15 pounds to get into the city in fifteen minutes…

The train took us to Paddington, from which point we took a cab to our apartment, which is in Fitzrovia. The driver IMG_20170326_082835definitely took a bit of a scenic route…that’s the advantage of having a maps app on which you are following along as you ride in the back seat. I didn’t argue with him, though…but I think there is no doubt he added about five minutes to the route.

Traveling to Europe from the US, the big worry is always the First Day. Flights arrive in the morning, you’ve probably not slept, but if you’re not going to be totally messed up, you have to stay up, forge through and reset your body clock. Stay! Awake

Well….

 

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It is really not a trashy area – refuse is from a renovation of a nextdoor restaurant.

We were very lucky this time, in that our apartment owner was very, very generous, and let us check in at 9am – and yes, that’s how long it took us to get from Heathrow into town. We landed a little bit after 7, and were there waiting at the apartment by 8:45. Not much time at all.  I don’t know what we would have done if we couldn’t have done this, for we were all exhausted. I had thought about going to Mass in the morning, but just looking at the boys after the owner had oriented us, I thought…it’s 9am. This is stupid. There will be Sunday evening Masses. Let’s go to sleep.  In beds.  For I knew that even with a 3 to 4 hour naps, everyone would still be tired at the normal bedtime, and it would be fine.

(And they went to sleep around 11 tonight…so I think it worked)

We awoke around 1, shook the sleep off, cleaned ourselves off, and set out for a little bit of an orientation. I didn’t have a plan, except I’d seen Mass was at 5:30 at the Cathedral, so I thought we would shoot for that. We just wanted to get out, walk around, and meet London. So we did! I’ll list the route in bullet points…

  • First, stroll over to British Museum. I thought we might pop in for a moment, but the line for security was pretty long. We have all week, and are planning to go a couple of times…no hurry.
  • Not far from the museum, we noticed street cleaners hard at work, and thought it very odd for a Sunday. They were cleaning lots of grass and such from the streets. What was this? "amy welborn"We walked a half a block and saw – dozens of folks in Edwardian dress, waiting to board buses – obviously movie or television scenes had been filmed. For some reason, my camera was weird at that moment, and all my shots were very blurry, but you can get a sense here. I did a little research, and I’m guessing what it might have been at work was a new television version of Howard’s End.
  • By then, everyone was hungry, so we just grabbed a couple of paninis here. It was basically the first place we saw that wasn’t a McDonald’s, Starbucks or pub. It was okay. It was food.
  • Then to Covent Garden, which sent me into boring discourses about My Fair Lady. We watched a street performer."amy welborn"

 

  • Saw a"amy welborn" very long line for an ice cream place. When I returned back to the apartment, I saw that the gimmick was soft-serve ice cream presented on cotton candy clouds. I told the boys and their response: Gross. 

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  • Wandered to Trafalgar Square, watched some street performers, saw chalk art, peaked in St. Martin-in-the-Fields.
  • Then down Whitehall, saw the back of Parliament, took a look
    at the Thames. By then it was 4:30, so I thought we should start over to the Cathedral.
  • Arrived at the Cathedral about 5, took a look around at all the side chapels while an organ recital was wrapping up. One gets a very good, clear sense of what it means to "amy welborn"

 

be an English Catholic from the design and décor of the Cathedral – the side chapels are all dedicated to saints important to the spread of the Faith in the British Isles, as well as the English Martyrs.

  • The church was almost full for Mass, and the usual very Catholic crew. Lots of Asians, older and younger people, children. The music was mostly chant, with a couple of hymns, all led by a cantor and organ. The priest chanted much of his part. The only jarring musical element was the ridiculously loud organ accompaniment to the peoples’ chant responses. The priest didn’t have to be accompanied, so the effect was::

Priest:  (melodic, but not very strong chant and unaccompanied)  The Lord be with you

ORGAN BLAST

People:  And….(nothing more heard as it is all sucked into the Organ Vortex)

I am not a fan of organ accompanying chant except in the most subtle way, and this was just crazy and quite jarring…and would not lead anyone to think of chant as prayer, as it jolted and banged about the Cathedral.

  • Caught the Tube at Victoria back home. I should have purchased an Oyster Card this morning, but I didn’t, thinking I surely could this evening…and if it were just me, I could have, but having two children/youths complicates things and necessitates assistance, which was not available at 7pm on a Sunday evening. So we just paid full-fare, but it was a quick trip back and worth it.
  • Quick grocery stop for second Kinder Egg purchase of the day (for those unfamiliar with the Kinder Egg saga, this is a candy which is illegal ….illegal in the United States, and even considered contraband. If you get caught bringing it in, it will be img_20170326_150818.jpgconfiscated. Because it has a toy in it. It’s not as if the toy is actually embedded in the chocolate. There’s a chocolate shell, then a kind of hard to open plastic egg which holds the toy. Anyone who chokes on it…would probably have choked on other things first before they ever met a Kinder Egg. Anyway, for some people, getting Kinder Eggs is a highlight of travel outside the US…for some people…)…and some other supplies.
  • Back to the apartment. Various attempts were made to watch the Gators online, all unsuccessful, so that challenge was abandoned (as it turns out….allIMG_20170326_203152 for the best) and we went out to find food. We settled on a popular chicken chain – Nando’s – at it was very good. Excellent wings!
  • On the way back, I was stopped by a Chinese couple looking for their hotel. They had a printout from Booking.com, but couldn’t locate the place, even though they were on the right street. I showed them my phone and asked if they had a maps app, and I admit I was surprised that they didn’t. So I got it up on mine, and it turns out they were only a couple of blocks away, so we accompanied them (maybe not a faux Christian after all! Redemption?)  to the hotel and everyone wished each other a happy stay in London.

Tomorrow…the plan is the Tower, but we’ll see!

More photos on Instagram…and don’t forget to look at Instagram Stories for some different photos and short videos. 

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In not too long, we’ll be in London, and as per usual, I’m engaging in intense trip prep. I have been for a while, actually, but am kicking it up into high, undoubtedly tedious gear right now.

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  • When I first bought these tickets back in November (there was a sale and we’re flying from ATL to LHR for an average of under $400/ticket – they have a slightly lower fare than I do), I went crazy with the guidebooks, but got over that soon enough. The guidebooks satisfy that initial thrill of knowing we’re going to London! but soon enough, I get lost in them – I know from experience that actually arriving some place and getting the lay of the land changes your sense of what you can and even want to do.  And with London in March, there will be weather considerations – although at this point, it doesn’t look like there’s much rain in the forecast.  And you never know how everyone is going to feel upon arrival, especially since our arrival time is 6.55 am as in IN THE MORNING, and..what? 
  • (Update: I’ve been looking at arrival times for those flights and they are consistently arriving around 6:30 AM.  Thank goodness, the owner of our apartment is amazingly generous and has agreed to a mid-morning check-in. If we were in a hotel, it would be no problem, since we could just leave luggage with the front desk until check-in time, but not with an apartment)
  • Anyway, I quickly got bored and despairing with the guide books. I knew that there were must-sees – the British Museum, the British Library, the National Gallery, the Tower of London, various outdoor sites, the Imperial War Museum, the Churchill Rooms, the Globe, churches, Tyburn Convent, and (I decided amongst the palaces) Hampton Court. I toyed with a day trip – Canterbury? York? Then decided that a week in London had plenty to occupy us.
  • So what should I read next? I have loved Morton’s books on Rome and Italy, and for some reason had a copy of In Search of London, which I happily read until I read a review of a biography of Morton which maintained that he fabricated a great deal of what he wrote about. And I just couldn’t read any more. (Update: Since I wrote that 2 weeks ago, I relented, and finished it – I’m glad I did.)
  • I had a couple of other old England-centric travel books that I had inherited along the way.
  • About three weeks ago, with the trip closer, I restocked from the library, and began studying in earnest. I still have no intention of having anything but the barest sort of plan, but I do need to sort out things like public transportation  (I think I finally understand the Oyster Card) and get opening and closing hours straight in my head (as in…several museums are open in the evenings during the week, but none, as far as I can tell, on Wednesdays, so that would be a good theater night.)
  • I have been mostly immersing myself in discussion boards: TripAdvisor, Fodors, Rick Steves & Chowhound, for the most part. All have different uses.
  • In terms of the boys, we have been focusing on general British history, of which they have only the barest understanding, and most of that from Horrible Histories. 
  • With them, I have been taking mostly the video route. We started with Schama’s History of Britain – the first episode which dealt with “pre-history,” the Romans and the beginnings of Anglo-Saxon Britain. We then watched the episodes on the Conquest and the English Reformation. I had wanted to see something on the Tudors, the Fire and Britain in World War II, but we are running out of time….Then I thought…why didn’t we watch A Man for All Seasons???  Well, maybe after….
  • I have books scattered about, and they pick them up and glance through them. We’ve looked at maps, so we have a good sense of where the apartment is in relationship to Tube stops and the major sites.
  • In terms of tickets: I have not purchased any theater tickets – I have a short list of shows I want to see, but I’m going to wait until we get there, see how everyone copes and recovers (including me) and just get a sense of what it feels like to be in London and get around before I commit.
  • I did purchase a Historic Royal Palaces family membership, which gets us entry into several places, including Hampton Court and the Tower of London. It saves a bit of money and gets us out of the regular line, and makes me feel posh whilst slipping into my wallet.
  • I also went ahead and got tickets for the Warner Brothers/Harry Potter thing. It seemed advisable to get those ahead of time.
  • An advantage of not getting to London until this point in our family’s development is that there is absolutely no noise about going to LegoLand. Thank. Goodness.
  • Bought travel insurance, most importantly with health and medical evacuation portions.
  • Went overboard, as I always do, about informing my adult children about the exact when and where of everything, including where my estate documents are, where the car will be parked and so on. Honestly, after you have been through a sudden death for which no one was prepared (how could you be), you see the wisdom of trying to account for the unexpected. It’s an act of mercy and love to leave as little of a mess behind as possible, if it comes to that. It’s not morbid, it’s just realistic.
  • I also rented a camera. I have a pretty old DLSR of some sort, but about three years ago, someone dropped it and just a couple of the teeth that hold the lens in were broken, but that was enough to render it almost useless – you can take photos with it, but you have to hold the lens in place. (The photo in the header, taken in Death Valley, was taken with that camera…me holding the lens…) I have a point and shoot, but it’s also older, and phone photos are okay, but not as good as actual camera shots, especially for display (maybe, if you have an IPhone? I don’t know. I don’t have one).  My son who just moved to NYC left me with some monstrous pro-level Nikon that he had purchased last summer, but when I got it home last week after helping him clean out his Atlanta place….it refused to power on. Even after charging the battery. It’s fine – it was a lot larger than I had expected, and not great for travel.
  • So I rented a Panasonic Lumix LX100, got it yesterday, found it a bit more complicated than I was ready for, but spent a couple of hours last night studying, so I think I’m good.
  • My hope is to blog here daily, and I’ll be posting regularly on Instagram – both in Stories and via regular posts, especially since they added this great feature of being able to put ten photos or videos in a single post. So check me out there. I don’t think you can see Stories unless you view it on a phone or tablet.
  • And yes, we are in an apartment. I did look at several bed-and-breakfasts fairly seriously – I sort of wanted that experience for us – but eventually admitted that I know full well  that I will crave space and privacy at the end of the day. I did look into, say, renting two rooms at a B & B, and came close on a couple, but then found a good apartment and again, my instincts told me we would all be much more content at the end of the day in that situation.
  • I forgot to mention that I find Pinterest valuable for things like this…I have the app downloaded to my phone, and it’s like having my own …er…curated …guidebook.

 

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If the St. Patrick’s kerfuffle weren’t enough, don’t forget that the feast of St. Joseph is a solemnity, therefore we just can’t ignore it if it falls on a Sunday, as it does this year. Today, we celebrate!

Some images for you, first a vintage holy card from the Shrine of St. Joseph in Montreal that interests me because it predates the construction of the large basilica:

 

"st. joseph"

"amy welborn"

From the Oratory of St. Joseph in Montreal.  

  I just love the blues on the card above and the not-quite Art-Noveauishness of it.

"st. Joseph"

At the shrine featured in the vintage holy cards.  Summer 2011. 

In him the Old Testament finds its fitting close. He brought the noble line of patriarchs and prophets to its promised fulfillment. What the divine goodness had offered as a promise to them, he held in his arms.  – from a homily of St. Bernardine of Siena. 

The wonderful Catholic artist Daniel Mitsui, whose depiction of St. Joseph dreaming is above, has restarted his blog. It is an absolute treasure trove of wisdom, whether you are an artist or not. Please go visit, bookmark, visit every day and support his work. 

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 More

— 1 —

You might know Elizabeth Duffy  – writer, long-time blogger whose writings are now featured, not only on her own website, but at Image. 

Well, she’s got a new gig – along with two other women, she is making music as Sister Sinjin. They have an Advent/Christmas-themed album about to be released, and the music is lovely. Check them out here.

— 2 —

Some politics. Last week, I wrote about the election, encouraging readers to reacquaint themselves with the the ideals of separation of powers and limited government and consider what a good idea that is. A couple of related articles. First, from Reason (trigger: Libertarian)

In December 2007 presidential candidate Barack Obama told The Boston Globe that if he won the 2008 election, he would enter the White House committed to rolling back the sort of overreaching executive power that had characterized the presidency of George W. Bush. “The President is not above the law,” Obama insisted.

Once elected, however, President Obama began to sing a different sort of tune. “We’re not just going to be waiting for legislation,” Obama announced. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone…and I can use that pen to sign executive orders and take executive actions and administrative actions.”…

…..Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this. Once President-elect Donald Trump takes the oath of office in January 2017, he too will have a pen and a phone at his presidential fingertips. Should Trump grow weary of the constitutional limits placed upon him, and decide instead to ignore the Constitution and wield unilateral executive power, he won’t exactly have far to look if he wants to find a recent presidential role model to emulate.

— 3—

And this one – yes. I associate myself very strongly with this, by Michael Brennan Doughterty, in The Week – “How America’s Elections are Ruining America.” 

The presidential election increases our sense that all issues are national issues. Even people who say they are addicted to politics often have no idea what is happening in their state or county government.

Ask the 10 people around you at work about Donald Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush. All 10 will have an opinion.

Now ask those same 10 people who represents their district in their state’s lower chamber. You’d be lucky if a single one knows the name.

How in the world is a political system in which power is devolved to states through federalism supposed to work in an information environment like this?

One cause for the gigantism of our presidential election is the gigantism of the executive branch. The federal government employs more than 2 million people in the process of governing us. Our next president has to hire thousands of people just to take full possession of the office. Of course it is immensely powerful. And one problem for reforming the presidential election to make it tighter and shorter is that there is hardly anyone in the political class that stands to gain from doing so. The longer the campaign, the longer people get paid to work for it, or report on it. It’s easier to be seen and be hired for a nice job in journalism from the lowly position rewriting press releases about a presidential campaign than from your beat uncovering graft for a weekly newspaper in Wyoming.

But make no mistake: This system of long elections makes us more anxious, weakens bonds of civic trust and peace, debases the value of our citizenship, and corrupts journalism and our culture. And we’re going to start it all again before you recover from this one.

— 4 —

Today is the memorial of St. Rose-Philippine Duchesne. I really, really thought I had written about her…somewhere. In a book? Here? But apparently not. I must have researched her when I was teaching. Anyway, here’s her story from the Vatican website and here is a link to her shrine in St. Charles, Missouri, a fact which infuriates me because it shows how what I thought were Mad Travel Planning Skillz failed – we were in St. Charles a few years ago, and I had no idea this shrine was there. Grrr. I was so fixated on Lewis and Clark, I didn’t even look into the Catholic history…fail. 

A 70-day voyage across the Atlantic brought the five nuns to New Orleans, where they rested briefly with the Ursulines before resuming their travels in a paddlewheel steamer up the Mississippi to St. Louis.

The Bishop knew that they were coming but had no house in the city to accommodate the five nuns. A log cabin in St. Charles became the site of the first free school west of the Mississippi. That first year saw three little St. Louis girls come as boarders and 21 non-paying day students who came when they could during that long, bitter winter. The following summer the Bishop took the Religious of the Sacred Heart to Florissant, a village on the other side of the Missouri River, where they conducted their school and Mother Duchesne established her novitiate for the Society.

In 1828 the Jesuits built a parish church on the former (and present) school property and asked the Sacred Heart nuns to return to St. Charles—to that same log cabin which was known as the “Duquette Mansion” because it was the biggest house in town—and conduct the parish school. They did so and finally, in 1835, built their first brick building, which remains the center of the Academy of the Sacred Heart’s sprawling complex.

Mother Duchesne established other schools in Louisiana and Missouri. She was finally allowed to travel to Kansas at the age of 72 and made a very frustrating attempt at teaching the Indians. The Pottawatomi language proved even harder for her than English had been and so her superiors decided, after one year, that she should return to a more comfortable life in St. Charles. The lesson that she had taught the native Americans was a valuable one; the Indians called her Quakahkanumad (woman who prays always) and revered her for her deep devotion to “the Great Spirit

— 5 —.

In case you missed it, one of this week’s Living Faith devotionals was mine – November 16. 

— 6 —

Peace-of-mind suggestion: Every time you are tempted to fight about politics with someone on Facebook or Twitter…read a poem instead. 

Or the Bible.

Or this week’s grocery ads.

Anything  but that. Not the interest in politics (I’m obsessed, myself), but the arguing on social media about it. Nothing will come of it but ill-informed preening and virtue-signaling, and your time is better spent on …anything else.

— 7 —

Advent begins in a week!  The first Sunday of Advent is November 27.

 Here is the devotional I wrote for Liguori this year. It is perhaps too late to order them in bulk for your parish, but you can certainly order an individual copy – here (Amazon). 

Link to (Liguori site) English version.

daybreaks

Link to (Amazon site) Spanish version.

2016 Advent Devotional

Link to excerpts from Spanish version.

And an endorsement from Deacon Greg Kandra!

“This ravishing collection brings Advent and Christmas, literally, home. In brief essays that are by turns inspiring, surprising, and unexpectedly moving, Amy Welborn helps us see the coming of the Christ child in things we take for granted. This captivating little book is one to read, treasure, share, give—and read again!

But…do you want something…right now? Okay, how about this:

Here’s a digital version of the family Advent devotional I wrote for Creative Communications for the Parish. Only .99!

And don’t forget…Bambinelli Sunday. 

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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The taxi had dropped us a couple of blocks away from the Campo dei Miracoli.  He had brought us from the airport through the streets of Pisa, across the Arno river, then on more narrow roads until it made no sense to go any further. He had talked non-stop since picking us up, offering suggestions on how to spend our time and telling me, in answer to my query on his excellent English, that twenty years ago he had thought he would leave Italy for the United States, but, his voice trailed off to say, it hadn’t worked out. It was too bad, he said, for over there, you get paid more money and things cost less. Here we get paid less, and it costs so much more to live.

It was not hard to find the Field of Miracles after that, for all we had to do was follow the crowd, and once we arrived, that is what hit us. That: so many…people. And two other things: it’s going to rain and we don’t have an umbrella and it really does lean.

And it does. The Leaning Tower of Pisa really does lean, and it is much more dramatic in person than in photographs, since the straight right angles of the rest of the world are so much more present in contrast.

Even in the rain, even before the height of tourist season, so many people. Look at all of them.  Why are they here? To see an iconic image – and it is fun to be there with everyone else, most of us experiencing it for the first and probably only time in your life – that sense of community you experience in tourism. We are here, you are here, seeing this thing, and together we will remember it too and you – speaking English, Italian, German, French, Japanese, Madarin, Hindi..you’ll be a part of the remembering. I won’t just remember a white tower of marble. I’ll remember drizzle and security guards and the child scampering ahead of me and the older couple puffing behind me as we trudge up, leaning.

So yes, there we were. As we finished with the tower and moved to the church and then the baptistery, I was struck by what these crowds were about on this spot. They were walking around and in, studying, photographing and contemplating just those things: a church. A baptistery. And a tower with bells that for centuries had called not tourists, but worshippers and seekers, not just to see and gawk, but to be. To be with.

I thought of the other sights we had seen over the past three weeks – this was our last night in Italy.  All of the crowds we had joined, all the tickets we had purchased and photographs we had taken? Most of them had been of places where people had been baptized, where they had come to seek what is real, to connect with it, to have hope. All of these places had been heavy with images, and not just any images, and really the same images from place to place: Jesus hanging on a cross. Disciples following, listening. Saints gazing out, looking up, reaching. All of these had been places where even now, people touched by the hands of others who had been, back in the mists of history, touched by the apostles in the stained glass windows still talked about that Jesus. Even now, in most of those places, seekers still came to meet that Jesus hanging on a cross, to find life in his life, offered to them to eat and drink.

People don’t come to church anymore.

But they do, don’t they?

I travel a lot, and everywhere I travel, I end up in churches, for there are churches everywhere. The United States is not as heavy with historical and artistically-significant churches as Europe is, of course, but still, in every major city, you’ll find a downtown Catholic church or two of historical import.

And most of the time, you will find scores of people streaming in and out of that church during the day, perhaps even hundreds.

People don’t come to church anymore.

A few weeks ago, we were in New Orleans, and the scene I witnessed there is similar to what I’ve witnessed in other American Catholic Churches of this type.

It’s St. Louis Cathedral on Jackson Square, as iconic as they come. We popped in mid-day on a Saturday, and of course we were not alone. Dozens were in and out during the short time we were in there. A small group was being led on a tour by a Cathedral docent. It was a busy place.

People don’t come to church anymore.

What struck me, as it does in most similar situations, was the absence of printed materials that would help people understand the building. (Not to speak of actual human beings there to welcome and answer questions) There was a trifold pamphlet available for a dollar that had the most basic information about the building, but no detailed guides to the interior, to explanations of symbolism or structures.

It’s astonishing to me.

St. Louis Cathedral New Orleans

I think every church should have the materials I’m about to suggest – every one – but particularly churches that experience a lot of tourism. There’s no excuse not to have these. None. Not if you are serious about evangelization, that is. Not if you really and actually believe the stuff.

  1. A detailed guide of the historic and artistic aspects of the building.
  2. A guide identifying the important aspects of the structure and interior and explaining their meaning. As in: statues, crucifix, tabernacle, altar, confessionals, baptismal and holy water fonts, candles, altar rail, episcopal chair, choir stalls…whatever you’ve got. Explain it.
  3. A basket of rosaries. Holy cards, at the very least, and possibly medals related to the church’s patron saint.
  4. Copies of the New Testament, or at least the Gospels.
  5. Lots of bulletins or other parish information, presented with a welcoming “y’all come back!” and “let us know if you need anything” sensibility.

And yes, all of this should be free.  And there should be  a person sitting at a table with a smile on his or her face, answering questions. All day.

Listen. When have a parish of a thousand families, are thrilled when thirty adults show up at your religious education program and totally ignore the hundreds that come through to visit your historical church on a daily basis…you’ve got some blinders on and you might want to think about removing them.

Of course, the first immediate object relates to cost. Catholics hate giving anything away. We even charge parents to teach their children about Jesus. Go figure. But, as a long-time observer of this Catholic scene, I can safely say…it can be done. This is how you do it:

You make it a priority, you tell everyone that this your priority, and you invite them to join in the mission.

You say, “We have this amazing evangelizing opportunity. We have thousands of people come through our church every year to tour it. We are going to make presenting them with the truth and beauty of faith in Christ a priority. We need ten thousand dollars a year for free materials. These are the materials. Who’s in?”

I’m certain that when people are presented with a very specific pledge on how their funds are going to be used, and it is a valuable step in evangelization like this, they will step up.

And sure, if you want to produce something glossier with photos, do – and charge for that. But materials that invite people into a deeper consideration of the meaning of the objects and structures around them, a deeper consideration that might lead them to salvation?

Yeah, those should be free.

My point: I’ve been in historic Catholic churches all over the United States and rarely, if ever, seen materials like this available for tourists. And I’ve looked. Believe me, I’ve looked.

(Here’s last year’s rant on a similar score, inspired by a visit to Savannah, where hundreds come daily to the Cathedral during the Christmas season to see the Nativity scene.)

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No one comes to church anymore.

Of  course, I think these kinds of materials should be in the vestibule of every Catholic church, even if it was built in 1973 and looks like the banquet room at the Holiday Inn. You still get seekers, every Sunday, and maybe even every day.  There are many ways to meet those people and begin to draw them to Christ. Personal encounters are important. But so is the simple act of just having information freely available and invitingly presented.

In fact, I believe I have written before about a related idea: someone (publishing company, diocese, what have you) coming up with a basic template for, say, “A guide to our church” – that would have the theological and spiritual meanings already written up, perhaps with basic schematic sketches of say, a statue or altar or tabernacle – that would be customizable by an individual church.

Or, you know, you could just make one.

What is a “welcoming church?” Is it one in which elderly ushers accost latecomers and force them into the pew of their own choosing? Is it one in which we are ordered to awkwardly greet our neighbors or raise our hands and share where we’re from?

Or is a “welcoming church” one which:

  1. Has open doors as much as is practically possible.
  2. Has a congregation formed in the ways of simple Christian hospitality: don’t glare at children. Scoot your tail over and make room for other people in the pew. When Mass is over, make eye contact with strangers, smile, and say, “Good morning.” If you note possible confusion or hesitation, offer help in a friendly way. Don’t glare at children.
  3. Has free materials available: What to do at Mass. This is what the Stuff in Our Church Means. Here’s who Jesus is. Here are some good prayers.
  4. Has bulletins/cards/flyers and people sending the message: Here’s who we are. Come and talk. Let us know if we can help you. Here’s how you can join us in helping others. Maybe even a newcomer’s/seeker’s coffee once a month.

In essence:

Once a week, someone different on staff or in the volunteer corps should walk into your church with the eyes of a seeking, curious, nervous stranger.  What questions would that person have? Is there any attempt to answer those questions? What vibe would they be picking up? Would they have easy, non-threatening, non-awkward access to information that will make it easy for them to return and dig deeper?

In my limited experience, European churches can sometimes be a bit – just a bit  – better about providing informative materials, and of course many have porters who function more as guards and may not be the friendliest human beings on the planet, but at least they are there to answer questions.

So, for example, this, the first couple of pages from the free guide from Florence, which at least sets the tone. You can click on the images to get a clearer, readable, view.

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"amy welborn"

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Do you have evidence that I’m wrong? I hope so! Share it! I would love to see what your church provides, especially if it’s a tourist destination.

This was one of my favorites – I found it lovely and charming. It was at a small church in northern Arizona. St. Christopher’s in Kanab – very welcoming, aware that it’s a tourist stop – not because of its history, but because it’s on the way to and from the Grand Canyon and other place:

So simple to do. But it communicates: We believe.  It’s important. And we want to share it with you.

People do come to church. They come out of curiosity. They come to seek. They come to experience beautiful music and art. They come to find Pokemon. They walk by on ghost tours. They come because they’re hungry and homeless. They come to find shelter from  the sun, the cold or the rain.

They’re about to come in great numbers because it’s Christmas. Are you ready? Are you excited that they’re coming? Are you thrilled to know that there are people who are going to meet Jesus in a deeper way because they come to Mass at Christmas at your parish? Or are you irritated, resentful, dismissive, and already ready for it to be over and things to get back to normal?

So yes, they come.

The question is…do we really even care? 

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It was a three-day weekend in these parts, and amazingly enough, no other activities to interrupt it – no serving scheduled, no scouts, no piano recital, and no huge school project due (although both had homework over the 3-day weekend. Stop.) – so we hit the road.

We had been to New Orleans a couple of times, but not for perhaps four years or so. The first time was probably seven years ago when my daughter visited Tulane, and I honestly can’t remember the reason for the next visit. I suppose it was to just..go…and I definitely recall some of our activities: we took a tour specifically geared to children, we went to the New Orleans Museum of Art and I left my camera there…but other than that…I’m drawing a blank. I cannot for the life of me even remember where we stayed.

Anyway, enough dwelling on the (distant) past!

I had wanted to leave Friday evening, but there was a @%^& high school football game and since both of them really enjoy that ritual (I usually don’t go…just drop them off)…Saturday morning it was. And I mean Saturday morning.  We pulled out of here at 6:20 AM, both of them fell back to sleep immediately, I drove in peace for most of the time, and we arrived in New Orleans a bit after 11. I don’t stop, in case you’re wondering. I mean… I don’t stop. 

I had obtained the hotel room via Hotwire, and although it was well before check-in time, I wanted to ease my mind and get the proper kind of room – the Hotwire reservation just gave me one with one King. So we pulled up to the Hilton Garden Inn ($70/night), I took care of that, we parked in the garage across the street, and we were off.

We walked up to the French Quarter, and their memories of it slowly started returning. I had no real plan for the weekend, but had tossed around some ideas. The afternoon was really just wandering, with an unfortunate beginning – an absolutely wretched experience at the Decatur Street Cafe du Monde.

We had been before, and knew the drill – I was ready with cash, we were prepared to be dusty with powdered sugar. The line was sort of long, but it moved quickly, and we were seated within about five minutes.

And then we waited. And waited. And waited. The short version is: we waited at one table for about fifteen minutes  – not one of the servers stopped. Two guys who had been ahead img_20161008_124836.jpgof us in line were seated at a table next to us. They were served, ate, got up and left. We scooted to their table. Waited ten more minutes. Finally, a woman took our order…and we waited probably twenty more minutes. For two orders of beignets, a cafe au lait and a milk. What it looked like to me was that there were about three tables in a row that were having problems – when we finally were able to order, it was the same woman who worked all three tables.  I can get irritated at restaurants, but this was the worst.

But, ah well..shake it and the powdered sugar off and move on, right?

As I said, we wandered, poked in shops, nibbled on praline samples, listened to street performers.  I had thought we’d go into the Ursuline Convent museum, but it’s closed at the moment.  We ended up returning to the hotel around 4 for a rest, while I researched dinner. I kept thinking as I did so, “Oh that’s too far to walk..” and “Hmmm…we could take the streetcar there..” and then I kept remembering you have a car, idiot. 

So we ended up at the Parkway Bakery for Po Boys – which were excellent. I had beef because honestly, the idea of battered fried stuff piled on bread is pretty unappealing to me, but I did taste the shrimp and it was a revelation. I guess that’s what really fresh shrimp tastes like?

We then drove down toward Audubon Park and discovered a few homes with pretty crazy Halloween decorations – I guess it is a tradition of sorts in the Garden District, and as the weeks pass, even more homes will go all out. This place was a prime destination:

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Evening: Swimming, then I went out and walked around by myself for a while – on very safe routes, never fear.

Sunday:

9:30 Mass at St. Patrick’s, which was just a few blocks from the hotel. We had been to Mass there last time, and I remembered it as a very normal, lovely experience of the Extraordinary Form, and I wanted to see if my recollections were correct – they were.

 

From an outsider’s perspective, it’s a model. It’s just a regular parish, the celebration of Mass was reverent, but not fussy, the music was lovely, the preaching solid and not boring, and the congregation was diverse, as one finds at any urban parish. A good number of women in veils, but more not, women wearing dresses of all lengths, and many in slacks, many men in suits, others in the southern-shorts-and-polo uniform and one fellow in a football jersey. Didn’t see any of the famed cold-EF-goer judging happening, but did see lots of squealing babies and many welcoming smiles.

(As for the first item in that list – I kid. I hate to have to interrupt the flow by pointing that out, but if I don’t..well.)

Then a walk over to get beignets at the Cafe du Monde at the Riverwalk Mall across the road – a much better experience than we’d had downtown. Bought socks for someone who’d forgotten to pack any. Then we headed to the Audubon Zoo, which we had visited before, but Someone really wanted to see again. So why not? Then out to the Honey Island Swamp for a 4:30 Swamp Tour – it was..okay. It was interesting to poke around in the swamp and to speed down the river, but the wildlife was not bountiful. A few small gators, some racoons, a couple of pileated woodpeckers, which I’d never seen, and a kingfisher, same.

My dream for tours like this is that companies would offer two options: WITH LAME JOKES and WITHOUT LAME JOKES.  Boy, I can barely tolerate the Joking Tour Guide. Cave tours, boat tours, whatever, it is always so awkward. I blame Disney, as I do for many things. My theory is that it all started with the Jungle Cruise, which is actually okay and not stupid because it’s an entertainment experience in which you’re immersed, and the Joking Guide is an actual actor who can, well, act. But when I go on a tour of an actual place that exists and has a character and history I want to hear about that  – and I’ve spent good money to hear all about it and not sit as joke after joke told by a well-meaning employee about how that stalagmite over there looks like Elvis, doesn’t it or look at those fashionable vacation condos (fishing shacks) are met with awkward silence.dscn0846

Very…exciting.

It did, however, provide a good lesson for the boys in How Your Loud Conversations in the Midst of a Group are Super Irritating and Rude and Really,  No One Cares About Your Life That Much. I mean, we learned all about  the employment woes and wedding plans of the two twenty-somethings also on the tour, and we were, surprisingly, not interested in a bit of it.

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The most gorgeous sky on the way back to New Orleans. 

Dinner was at the Redfish Grill. If I had planned better we would have done something different – maybe Mr. B’s Bistro – but at that point, I wanted something sort of/almost/fancy, and there was plenty of room there, it was 8pm, and it was just time to eat. It was fine, and a good experience, but we could have done better elsewhere.

It is at the very edge of Bourbon Street – and before we got there I was explaining to them that Bourbon Street is really famous, but we’re not going to walk down it, and they were sort of asking why, I was hemming and hawing, but really, just walking a few feet in – past two cops on horses – they picked up the vibe immediately, my younger son said, “This reminds me of Las Vegas,” and they got it.

This morning, we packed up. I had presented on option – to go back via I-10 along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and check out Biloxi and environs – I have never been. But after beignets (here), and checking out the cathedral and going to the St. Roch Cemetery (which was locked up) another thought occurred to me: “Why don’t we just go to City Park, rent bikes, ride for a while, and then call it a weekend?”

That was met with approval.

Two more points on the morning – first, J was intent on going to the Cathedral – we were going anyway, but he had another reason. He had remembered that Servant of God Henriette DeLille might – just might be a distant relation  – one of her grandmothers was a Dubreuil (what’s a couple of flipped vowels?) –  and he wanted to revisit the small shrine in her honor that’s in the baptistry. It’s pretty amazing that he remembered that.

Secondly, I had wanted to visit the St. Roch Cemetery because of its ex voto chapel, but alas, despite the sign saying it was open at 8:30, it was locked up tight at 11.

On to the park. A good, 90 minute ride, all around the huge park, with just a few stops, including the Sculpture Garden of the New Orleans Museum of Art. Lunch at Cafe Navarre – red beans and rice to finish off the weekend – and back home by 7.

 

And now back to work on all fronts. I had one observation at the Cathedral that fits nicely into a ranty post I’ve been tooling with for a couple of months now. Perhaps this will give me the push I need to finish it up. But I do have an article due on Friday that takes precedence, so we will see….

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I never try to do much on Labor Day weekend.

Once, in 2011, I did.

I stupidly rented a house down on the Gulf – as one does in this part of the world  –  then spent a couple of days in the week leading up to the weekend emailing the owner, my nervousness mounting by the day as I watched the weather turn, and turn badly, since with rentals that close to the booking date, you’re generally stuck no matter what. I got the boys out of school early that Friday, started down 65, and then got the call from the owner. Don’t bother, he said, it’s coming. (I think the storm was Lee?) But he was also very generous about the whole situation and offered another weekend to me   – which he absolutely did not have to do.

Oh, well, the point was that ever since then I’ve not bothered to even think about making big plans, especially in this part of the country where Labor Day means not so much “end of summer” as “beginning of hurricane season.”

At first, this year, I had another reason to stick around as well: the boys were scheduled to serve at the convent Sunday morning. But early last week, Sister called and said that someone wanted to switch, and would that be possible? Since the weekend to which we’d switch was a weekend we had to be in town anyway for a piano recital…sure!

So, what to do? Friday night was high school football, and someone wanted to go to the game – as it ended up, both of them went. I toyed around with spending the next couple of nights away…but where? North Georgia mountains maybe? We’d done that one November and it was lovely. But this time – Nah. Too far. Nothing available for a reasonable price. Too much trouble. Besides, with both of them in school, hanging out at home and getting to sleep late in your own bed is a welcome change from days of early rising. “Vacation” would just not be restful, and I had to accept that.

(The son who has just come off four years of homeschooling said the other day, “The days seem so long now! Why do they seem so much longer?”  I said, “Considering you used to sleep until 9 or 9:30 and now you get up at 6:30…yes, your days literally are longer.  That might explain it.”)

But we managed to get out and about anyway.

Saturday morning, we started out at Pepper Place Market near our house, a farmer and crafty market which happens every Saturday from late April through November. I didn’t buy anything, but they like to wander and taste things and see the dogs people bring along.

(Huh. Thought I had pictures. Nope. Reason for everything.)

I then suggested Ruffner Mountain, where we’d not been in a while. It used to be quarried and mined, so there’s that attraction, as well as the views of the city. There are no creeks or other water features and not that many rocks to climb, though, so it’s not the first place that comes to mind for an interesting hike, but it’s about fifteen minutes from the house, plus there was an estate sale just a few houses away from the preserve’s gate, so that was what we settled on.

(We didn’t get much at the sale – just a few toys for the soon-to-be visiting grandson/nephew – and I picked up yet another empty, unused photo album. I hate spending ten bucks on those things, and these days, since hardly anyone actually prints photos anymore, I usually find at least one at most estate sales, and never pay more than a dollar. Because you’re fascinated, I’ll also tell you that the day before, I’d picked up  two very good, heavy, barely used frying pans for two dollars each at another sale as well as a never-used door-frame pullup bar for ten, so I could finally fulfill a promise I’d made months ago to the boys. About a pull-up bar, not frying pans.)

Then a good walk.

"amy welborn"

 

Which took us to about three. Back home for a bit, then Mass, then…what? A movie? No, it’s football season now…so it was shifting between the Florida, Alabama, and Indiana games.

(Speaking of football. My daughter just started graduate school at Alabama. She said, “People here really do say “Roll, Tide” instead of things like “Heck,yeah.”  So of course I sent her this:)

Sunday, I declared the Day We Would Find Martha’s Falls.  The younger one had been there with a friend last year, and had been bugging me to go back ever since. I kept forgetting, and every time I would remember, it would be about 1 in the afternoon, and it’s an almost two-hour drive. But Sunday, I remembered earlier, and sleeping until ten was accepted as late enough, so up 59 we went.

(I am not a fan of that stretch of road, the interstate that takes you from here up to Chattanooga. It always brings to mind those months and months I drove it so many times back in late 2011 and 2012, when my father was sick and then died and then I had to go up to Knoville and back to settle things again and again. I also drove it into Birmingham when we first moved here in 2008- I must have been in Knoxville before the final leg. Every time, I mentally note the convenience store where I got gas. So I-59 always makes me think of  death and the weird places life takes you. But again, I think about that every day, so no really a big change there, just in intensity.)

We had been to Little River Canyon and DeSoto Falls a few times before, but never to this section. If you ever have a chance, you really should check it out. It’s a gorgeous part of Alabama, and a really interesting land feature. What you have is Lookout Mountain – a loooooong mountain that is really part of the foothills of the Appalachians, and on top of that mountain and down into it is the Little River and the canyon it has carved, which is truly beautiful and not that developed. There are just a few spots to access the river and this one – Martha’s Falls or the “Hippie Hole” takes more than just a stroll from the car to get to. You park, and then you have to hike about a half mile through the woods, and much of the path is strewn with large rocks. The last few hundred feet take you down a fairly steep bank.

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But it’s gorgeous!

It was also pretty busy, and I’d hate to see how busy it would get if it were easier to access. So they can keep the way it is. That’s fine.

There was swimming and jumping. He also jumped from one higher level on the bank than this, but I wasn’t quick enough with the camera to get it.

It was a typical Alabama scene. I hate to shatter your stereotypes, but a “typical Alabama scene” means that there are all different types of people there, enjoying themselves and getting along. College students, high school church groups, white, black, lots of Hispanics, South Asians, a group of Chinese families sporting Georgia Tech gear and a couple of dozen bikers.

Besides whatever you’re doing to amuse yourself, the major entertainment is watching people jump off the highest point on the bank. Some don’t hesitate, but more than a few do. We watched, for probably fifteen minutes, as a teenage girl considered the drop. She got to the edge half a dozen times, urged on by her friends below, looked as though she might do it, then backed away every time. Did Chloe ever jump? We’ll never know, because it was time for us to go.

Of course, I was boring and declared it to be a metaphor of sorts. I asked mine what it takes to do something you’re scared to do. “Just do it,,” they said. “Just stop thinking about it and what’s going to happen and just go.”

Like I said. A metaphor.

 

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