We found our ward online based on the address of our house. It is the Catford ward in the Wandsworth stake. Most wards in London have their own building, so church usually begins at 10:00am. The perfect time if you ask me. We left our apartment about 9:15 thinking we had plenty of time but we forgot to account for the fact that the trains run less frequently on Sundays. There was one pulling away right as we came up the escalater. Watching your train pull away is a new kind of disappointment for us, that unfortunately is becoming more familiar.
We took the train to Lewisham and then caught a bus, the kids first time on the red double-decker buses that are a fixture of London transportation. Eli and Miriam were so slow getting back down the stairs to the bus door, the three of us almost got left behind. But someone shouted at the driver on our behalf and we escaped. After which I'm sure the locals rolled their eyes at the inept Americans. (I'm always sure this is happening when we do something wrong. Although I have no reason to be, it's purely based in insecurity and not at all in experience.)
Our ward is very small. The bishop wasn't there, and he only has one counselor. The chapel doesn't have benches, only chairs. Chairs that were not very comfortable or kid friendly. There were less than 100 people there and a wide variety of ethnic diversity. There were several local British couples whose kids are raised and out of the house, and then a large percentage of the ward population seems to be middle-aged singles. Next week there will be a new set of students from the BYU Centre. The BYU centre is located in West London but rather than have wards/branches there that cycle every 6-7 weeks, they send the students out into the local wards. I got the impression that the students really liven up the congregation and are loved by the local members.
The missionaries were the speakers during the meeting and the first Elder was from India. He told the story of his conversion and it was a really faith promoting talk. I can't wrap my mind around the idea of living in a non-Christian society and hearing the story of the gospel, and it's principles, and being able to relate to it at all. And then going on a mission and making all the sacrifices he made to be committed to his religion. Having lived mostly in Idaho, which is similar to Utah, it's easy to see how young men and church members can participate in the church on a social level. There is social pressure to serve missions, and social advantages to church activity. It takes a different kind of faith to do the things church members outside of the states do. (Or at least that is my perception so far. But I'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts about this.)
There was a couple behind us that introduced themselves after Sacrament meeting was over, the first people we met in the ward. Her name is Myriam and she is the YW president and his name is Yuneh. (I'm pretty sure I messed up the spelling on that.) Each time we introduced ourselves I was worried that people would think two years wasn't very long, but it was just the opposite. Every time we said two years they got really excited. I've never felt so wanted!
I took the kids into the primary room where there were five other children. Miriam clung to my legs and Simon started sobbing. I told Miriam to be brave and I would come check on her in a little bit. It was nice that she could sit right next to Eli. Then they told me that there was a nursery upstairs so I took Simon up to the nursery, where there was a nursery leader, Sonya, and one other little girl. Once he saw toys he was content to be abandoned. When I went back to check on Miriam later she was back in her element, talking boldly and loudly, about herself.
Relief Society was a really tender experience for me. We recited the RS motto and it says something about being part of a worldwide organization and for the first time I felt the reality of that statement. I'd only met two women so far in the ward, one from Portugal and one from Grenada. Then we sang a song that I guess they are practicing for Sacrament meeting and it was a really simple but pretty melody from an old English school song. I just felt like even though I was so different from everyone else in the room, I still belonged.
The kids said that the primary was all combined for sharing time and then they split into two classes, Sr. Primary and Jr. Primary. Which meant that Eli and Miriam are in the same class. I feel sad for them that the primary isn't bigger, but I hope over the next few weeks there will be a few other children that show up.
I do feel so grateful to have this home away from home at church. I would feel socially lost if I didn't have this avenue to meet people and have immediate relationships.