From Hub to Satellite

Once upon a time, a little girl in Bryn Athyn dreamed of visiting England, where three of her grandparents had come from. Time passed. The 6th grade countries project was an easy choice for her – England. More time passed. She returned from a prom one evening to the news that Charlie Cole was going to send her to the British Academy Summer School [BASS]!

While in England, she met a young man whom she thought looked a bit like Paul McCartney (Beatle mania had been at its peak only 2 or 3 years before). More time passed. He came to travel the USA on a Greyhound bus, spending time with her family. More time passed. She decided to visit this young man in his homeland, to get better acquainted. She would ‘earn her keep’ by helping in the New Church school in Colchester [long since closed]. Before a year had passed, they were engaged. They returned to Bryn Athyn to marry (because who wouldn’t want to be married in the Cathedral she’d attended almost every week of her life?). They returned to the UK so he could finish his college course. And she has made England her home since that day nearly 45 years ago, living happily ever after. The end.

Except it’s not the end. I’ve been ‘blooming where I’m planted’ for a long time now. I have evolved from a young woman fully immersed in Bryn Athyn life (the hub of the General Church) to someone living happily as a ‘satellite’ member of the Church in England, with only occasional direct contact with other NC people (apart from one other family – great friends – in our own village). How did that transition happen?

I’ll try to convey what church life has been like for a satellite member of the General Church here (part of the ‘Open Road’, the scattered NC members around the UK).

Nowadays, the internet provides easy access to other NC folk and activities all over the world. It wasn’t always so: long before computers existed, my adjustment moving from the hub to the outer fringes of the Church took time and was sometimes hard. It might be much easier now. (My husband had always been part of the Open Road so church life didn’t change much for him.)

Sanctuary of church in Colchester – Photo by Gretchen Keith

Today, there are two NC societies with ministers (as there were when I first arrived): Colchester in Essex, and Michael Church in London. As well as serving their own societies, the pastors travel to serve members of the Open Road in England, and in the Netherlands. As part of the Open Road I’m not sure what happens elsewhere in the UK, but I know there are groups in at least four other parts of the country who meet regularly for study classes and/or worship.

General Conference, another branch of the New Church, has 14 remaining churches in the UK, most in the north of the country. It owns Purley Chase, where the General Church’s BASS and All-Age Weekends have taken place for many years. A Gathering Leaves women’s retreat met there in 2008. The two branches seem to get along all right, though I don’t think they work closely together very often at the moment.

When I first moved to England, I needed new ways to connect with the Church because both UK societies were many miles from my home. I helped for several years with the postal distribution of religion lessons. I subscribed to various NC publications – anything printed that would bring Church-based thinking through my letterbox. As our family grew, we had worship and sometimes managed to do religion lessons. We travelled to Michael Church in London for special services. We sent our kids to Young People’s Weekends and BASS (and eventually to Bryn Athyn College).

Once another NC couple had moved to our village, a pastor began visiting occasionally and other scattered NC families would join us for ‘church’ – this still happens (our current ‘congregation’ varies between 6 and 14). Sometimes, if a pastor can’t come, members of the group lead worship. As I prepare to host or walk to our friends’ home on those Sunday afternoons, I somehow feel ‘official’ – I’m going to church on a Sunday, like others in the village do.

I’ve learned to appreciate the existence of other churches in the village (Anglican, Methodist, and Catholic congregations) because it’s a reassurance that other people too regard the Lord as their highest authority. Though I sometimes attend services in the Anglican church, I prefer New Church worship.

I write the occasional New Church thought for our village newsletter. For a while I took my NC perspective along to a group discussing Life’s Big Questions – our kids dubbed it my spiritual badminton group. But more than that, and just as important, I’ve gotten involved in my community in both sociable and official ways over the years, ‘to make oneself useful to society in general’, as Swedenborg’s Rules of Life put it. There are plenty of great people to meet!

Michael Church, London – Photo by Gretchen Keith

When our children were teenagers I joined the board of the British Academy, which supports and sponsors the Summer School I’d attended as a naïve American years before. Later, I moved on to the board of the General Church Council, and serve there still as secretary. Both boards hold their meetings in London.

Just last summer, I was part of the committee that organized the 2017 European Assembly, attended by NC people from 11 different countries. Apart from the London and Colchester pastors, the whole committee was from the Open Road, i.e. not living near a New Church society. We were all delighted that it turned out to be a friendly and very successful event. The uniting bond for everyone was a real affection for our Church and its teachings, valued increasingly deeply over time. It gave me a glimpse into how the General Church functions in different parts of the world. Every single person matters: societies can achieve a lot because they have a lot of people, but satellite members too have an important role to play in establishing the Church on the earth. New Church numbers may be small, but they do have a global reach.

What part do YOU play in your part of the world?

About Dale Morris

Dale Cooper Morris was raised in Bryn Athyn, living there through two years at the college. She spent a year in England, volunteering at the New Church school in Colchester (long since closed) and getting to know her now long-time husband in his own territory on the other side of the country. They raised their four children in the same Cotswold village where they have now lived for 40 years. Dale fulfilled her childhood ambition to be a wife and mother, and she finally found what she wanted to do ‘when she grew up’: she has spent the last ten years as a freelance proofreader.

8 thoughts on “From Hub to Satellite

  1. Hi Dale
    Lovely article. I have been in similar situations during my life ….. isolated etc
    I am really interested to hear where the NC is in the Netherlands in case I can visit there 😊
    My grandmother was New Church and came from The Hague.
    With fond greetings
    Mary Smuts ( Perth Australia )

    1. Thanks Mary. Isn’t it interesting how far the NC has spread? I’m afraid I don’t know much about the NC in the Netherlands – but one of the UK pastors could tell you.

  2. It was so lovely to meet you at that Assembly last summer and to get a better picture about the New Church culture in the UK!

  3. Thank you for writing this! I, too, grew up in Bryn Athyn and am currently raising my family of four kids on Whidbey Island in Washington State which is about a two hour trip from the nearest New Church congregation. We do attend regularly but it has been an adjustment to learn how to live and raise kids on the “Open Road,” as you call it. I like that term and I also can relate to your describing of your appreciation for the existence of surrounding churches and knowing that others are worshipping the Lord. Thank you for articulating and sharing part of your journey living as a New Church woman in a satellite location!

    1. Hello Erin – it’s good to hear from another family with 4 children adjusting to raising them far from the comfort that BA provided, where neighbors and teachers and nearby family were all ‘singing from [more or less] the same hymn sheet’. It’s a challenge, isn’t it? I hope that you too will find it ultimately rewarding; I have found it has made my faith stronger and more ‘mine’, less a reflection of those around me. Also, I’ve learned precious things about faith from non-NC people around me!

  4. As a UK Citizen brought up in the Church of Scotland, I was first introduced to NC religion through Michael Church in London by my now husband (who is a South African).

    I loved the traditional service and the community, not just at Michael Church but with Colchester and the outlying communities too. I came to find a love for the New Church teachings more and more through our weekends at Hengrave Hall where we adults would all get together. That is where I had the privilege of meeting Bishop King and his wonderful wife.

    We have since moved to South Africa and had the comfort of being part of a church and school community in Westville for 10 years. But since January 2017 we have been living in Cape Town where we are a smaller community with services once a quarter from visiting ministers. We too are at the stage of doing more together, during that time when we have no ministers, with monthly sermon Sundays. It’s a challenge, but makes us appreciate the NC teachings even more and come to value the community we do have together.

    Thank you for a thought provoking article. A chance to see and remember what happens in the rest of the world outside of the organised church communities with formal churches (as in buildings) and inspire us here in Cape Town to keep moving forward.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.