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A Shout From The Attic: Church Building Mission - 8

...The problem was always the sandwiches, and the sandwiches were always BOLOGNA! And the bologna always went through the nearest window...

Some American food was not to Ronnie Bray's taste when he worked on a church building project in Ip[swich.

Flying Bologna

Serving as a building missionary in the early sixties to erect a Latter-day Saint chapel in Ipswich, Suffolk was an
exhilarating time. Not only for the joy of seeing a building rise out of stone hard ground to brush the skies with a gold filial pointing toward the desire and destination of the faithful, but for the friendships that were forged in the furnace of labour and hardship as we struggled against time and weather to complete the task on schedule.

The Ipswich Branch of the Church served the congregation of the surrounding area, including the two United States Air Force
bases at Woodbridge and Bentwaters. These posts supplied some good American families and single men that swelled the ranks and added enriching variety to the local gathering of Saints.

Building missionaries were called to volunteer their time and labour for two years. Most sites had four missionaries and
were led by a professional builder of many years’ experience who had overall control and supervision of the site, the work
and the missionaries. A lot of the work was done by local members, mainly on Saturdays when they were freed from their normal employment, although some came during the week to spend an hour or two either before or after work.

Building missionaries lodged with local member families, received ten shillings a week for pocket money, and their clothing needs were supplied by local building committees who raised building funds. By some quirk either of fate or because of strong traditions of American frontier hospitality, all four of Ipswich’s building missionaries were lodged with American
service families.

The resultant Kulturkampf could have been much worse, but the Americans were delightful, generous, and affectionate.
Qualities that, to a great extent, seemed to be missing form their British counterparts. The local Suffolk worthies were a
stolid breed, perhaps too connected to the unyielding earth from which their forbears had wrested an uncomfortable living.

Few of them were farmers after World War Two, but the mistrust of strangers, and their silent need to defend their ground from incomers still informed their relations with ‘newer’ people.

Building missionaries were ‘newer’ people, incomers, and, therefore, subject to suspicion, and this is probably why no
building missionary was ever lodged with a native family in Ipswich. So, Mel Lavender, Dennis O’Connor Clancy II, John Marc Anthony Rhodes, and I were farmed out to American families. We heard American accents, played with American children, listened to American music, got on speaking terms with huge American household appliances, and ate American food.

The food wasn’t bad. I got to like Baked Alaska, a cake with ice cream smothered in meringue and baked golden crisp, and the almost endless supply of chicken cooked in an endless variety of ways, and I adored Hawaiian Fruit Punch. The sticking point for all four of the building missionary force came with the packed lunches we took to the building site.

We sat inside the little old house at dinnertime and unpacked our lunches, comparing the contents of the brown paper sacks
that were so very American, but to which he soon became accustomed. Nice drinks. Agreed! Big packets of crisps that the Americans called ‘chips’ in all flavours. Tasty. Agreed!

The problem was always the sandwiches, and the sandwiches were always BOLOGNA! And the bologna always went through the nearest window. Bologna is so – foreign – so continental in its conception and taste that it does not meet with British approval from the traditional palate. Nothing personal, you understand, but there it is. Wendell B Mendenhall addressed a gathering of British Building missionaries and support staff at a conference in Derbyshire, in which he said, “Missionaries eat what is before them with gratitude!”

Quite right, too, but surely he didn’t mean to include bologna in that universal statement? Being British – Dennis was a
Scot – meant that we could not complain or even suggest an alternative. So, we suffered by eating the bread with American mustard, and slinging the bologna. We became proficient in covering a lot of distance with thin slices of the foreign meat. It has remarkable aerodynamic properties when handled by experts.

Time passed, I was transferred to the Southampton chapel site so that I could visit Andy and Curtis more frequently. I
stayed with the Talbots, a no bologna English family. The others stayed in Ipswich and completed the beautiful chapel, after which they were transferred to other sites or returned home. For all of us, it was the end of the bologna era, and its
passing was not mourned. But – I do have a nagging doubt. At the end of his mission, Mel went to the USA to marry an
American girl. I wonder if she gave him bologna!


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