Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

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Unexpected Lessons in a London Church
By Thomas Haribol   |  Apr 14, 2024

While on a work trip to the UK nearly a decade ago, just weeks after learning about Krsna Consciousness, I had a paradigm-shifting experience in a London church. 

One beautiful, rain-free morning, I took a walk through the neighborhood where I was staying. Time permitting, on these kinds of excursions, I always like to step into open churches that may be on my path. I often encounter unique art or architecture and almost always have the space to myself for prayer and reflection. This morning, I had a lot to think about: the Bhakti yoga philosophy I was learning challenged many of my narrow views about “how” and “where” the Lord was at work in the world. 

Since it was mid-morning on a weekday, I was confident I would find the church empty. I was in for a big surprise. First, as soon as I entered the outside gate, I encountered an Indian mother with her three children gathered around a statue of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Their piety touched me as I stopped to observe them placing a garland on Jesus and offering prayers. I watched them gently touch Christ’s foot and then, in a sweeping motion, touch their head, a gesture that was new to me. At the same time, it felt serendipitous because I had just finished reading a book about Jesus and the Jewish customs of his day. In it, the author emphasized that a good disciple would always strive to be close to their teacher’s feet, so close that any dust that the master kicked up by walking the dusty paths would cover the spiritual student who followed.  This imagery is confirmed in a 3rd-century Jewish text called the Mishnah, which says, “Let your house be a house of meeting for the Sages, sit in the dust of their feet, and drink in their words with thirst” (Avot. 1.4). You also see it reflected in the Mary/Martha narrative in the New Testament (Luke 10.38-42). “She must have read the same book,” I ignorantly thought. Appreciating the gesture, I followed the Indian family’s example, tentatively touching Jesus’s plaster feet and then my head.

The young family I encountered outside a London church.

Following the same family into the church, I was confident we would be the only visitors inside. As my eyes adjusted to the dark interior, I was shocked to see 15-20 adults in different states of devotion. Some were kneeling at a side altar, others were placing flowers in front of an image of Mary, and still others were kneeling on the cold, hard marble floors. They weren’t stationary but moving on their knees all the way to the front of the church with lit candles in their hands. “Now that’s some hardcore Christian devotion,” I thought to myself. I snapped a few photos and recorded some videos because it was so extraordinary. I was stunned and inspired by their devotion. I noticed a man replacing candles on the side altar. So I approached him and whispered my amazement at how pious his parishioners were and how rare it was to find people in church on a weekday morning, let alone with such zeal. He sheepishly replied, “These aren’t our parishioners, they are neighborhood Hindus who don’t have a temple of their own nearby, so they come here to pray. They give alms, beautifully decorate our altars with flowers, and honor Jesus, Mary, and the saints with great love.”

I was speechless. “Wow,” I thought, “Look how effortlessly and lovingly they welcome Jesus, his mother, and his friends into their spiritual lives. Maybe God is inviting me to similarly open my heart to what I am learning about Krishna.” 

Side altar inside the church.

This experience was one of many “living lessons” the Lord would give me in the coming months, expanding my consciousness to welcome a whole new way of seeing Him, the world, and other spiritual practitioners. 

Two days later, I entered the ISKCON temple on Soho Street with the Mishnah message about the sacred feet of the spiritual teacher, and the eye-opening experience in that church still very much on my mind. Observing from the back of the small temple room, I saw a family similar to the one I had met in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus statue. As the worshippers sang a beautiful song, the family approached the seated form of a serene-looking person. They offered flowers, gently touching his foot and then their heads. “Oh, I thought, this is their spiritual master, like Jesus.” Though I didn’t know it at the time, this was a murti of Srila Prabhupada.  I felt a gentle nudge on my back, encouraging me to approach and participate. Offering a handful of yellow flowers, I touched his foot, sweeping my hand to my head. As I stepped to the side, I saw a sign that read: “The lotus feet of our spiritual Master are the only way by which we can attain pure devotional service. I bow to his lotus feet with great awe and reverence. By his grace, one can cross the ocean of material suffering and obtain the mercy of Krsna.” In that moment, at Prabhupada’s feet, I somehow knew nothing would ever be the same for me again.     

ISKCON London Radha-Krishna Temple.