You’re turning around a bend on the roadway, and suddenly the driver turns into a conspicuous driveway where an old, tan stone lodge becomes visible. In front of you is a seemingly endless one-lane road surrounded by green grass with trees lining either side. In the distance to your left, you can see bright yellow rapeseed crops on a slightly slanted hill. The car slows and you look straight ahead at the crowd of sheep lying and loitering on the road. They move eventually after the driver honks the horn several times and scoots dangerously close to the oblivious sheep. Soon thereafter, the vehicle passes over a narrow sheep grate, turns the corner, and approaches a wooden gate. The name plate to its right: Philadelphia Church of God. Another more experienced passenger hops out and types in the gate code. Then it happens. The gate opens slowly, and you hear a heavenly choir sing in your head as you see Edstone in real life for the first time.
I was given the opportunity to live at Edstone for six months—from February to August 2016. I think there are three main things that are really striking about Edstone: the family atmosphere, the ability to travel, and the combination of a headquarters-style life with life out in the field.
The Family Atmosphere
I was still in high school at the time I moved to Edstone, which put me in a different category than most people who move there. Usually only college students come to Edstone. I came to train at an Irish dance school that my cousins, the Flurrys, currently attend. This unusual scenario made me a little uncomfortable with the prospect of how I might be received by the college students at Edstone. The way I saw it, my living there before college was comparable to a younger sibling getting to do something that their older sibling couldn’t do at their age. That doesn’t usually sit well with older siblings.
The students were far more welcoming than I could have imagined. They loved to talk to anyone, and that included me as well as the Flurry kids and the Macdonald kids. It quickly became apparent that Edstone has a family atmosphere. Nobody is left out. Everybody is friendly. If they weren’t before they got there, they were practically forced to become that way simply because of the environment and the people surrounding them. The size of Edstone requires friendliness, because everyone is around other people all day long. Sure, it’s a huge mansion, but if you put over 20 people in a big manor house, it’s not exactly spacious anymore.
One glaring characteristic of Edstone is that you can hear everything in and around the house. Vienna (my cousin) and I had a window in our room looking out over the back parking lot, so we could always hear people coming and going and see who it was from our perch. We had to be careful not to talk too loud during conversations if our window was open. To FaceTime my family privately, I had to go down to either the dance room or the basement if there wasn’t someone working out down there. As a result of being able to hear everything, people are more liable to hear someone and stop and talk to them before they can scurry away.
Not only did the group living there feel like a family, but even the local birds seemed to be family-oriented. I became a moderate bird-watcher while there because there was an adorable duck family and an equally cute goose family. There was another geese couple who didn’t have goslings for a long time, but eventually they had a few of their own. I loved to watch the ducklings and goslings grow. One of the goslings disappeared at one point, which was quite distressing, but I was able to observe the rest mature from infants to young adults.
The new lambs were a prevalent topic of conversation for the first half of my stay. While I was at Edstone, the sheep’s first lambs were born. For one lamb’s birth, nearly everyone at Edstone was present. Two sheep died, leaving three orphans who needed milk, and many Edstonians volunteered for feeding shifts. This experience helped unify the Edstone family even more—nursing amusing lambs made for excellent conversation fodder, and we often worked together to keep them fed. I usually had the morning shift with Savannah Macdonald while the college students were in class (because I attended Imperial Academy online, my classes didn’t start until 2 p.m.). We stirred up the lamb formula then pulled on our galoshes and ambled down to the sheep pen. The little lambs practically attacked us for the milk. When they got bigger, I was a bit more apprehensive about feeding them because of the way they bit and jerked the teat on the bottle. A few times, we raced other pairs of feeders to get the fastest time for feeding the lambs. Savannah and I were proud to have the fastest time before people started using the four-wheeler to speed to the sheep pen and back.
The girls live in the attic area above the Flurry’s apartment where I lived, so I would often see them walking up or down the fire escape. The boys usually either spend their work time renovating the house or traversing campus on the four-wheeler working on landscaping projects. There is almost always someone in the kitchen, so it’s a hub for socializing. Occasionally, Trumpet staff writer Richard Palmer will come into the kitchen for coffee and drop a pun while he’s at it, or Mrs. Eyren Macdonald will walk in with the ever-smiley Sage and let someone hold her for a while. I was able to work on kitchen cleanup for a while during the school year. I cleaned up after the students ate breakfast, and towards the end of the cleanup, the students would rush in during their 10-minute break from classes, grab a quick piece of toast or an orange, and entertain me for a short while before sprinting to the next online class down the hall.
Probably the most special activities were the Friday night dinners with everyone. Everyone sat in a rectangle in the dining room and after a bit of small talk, Mr. Flurry would start one big conversation including everyone. College dances and events were usually held in the dining room as well, although they could be held outside if it happened to be a sunny day. Sometimes after a big dinner, all the college students and the Edstone kids would help clean up in the kitchen. It was crowded in the kitchen, but it was fun nonetheless.
Ability to Travel
Edstone outings are definitely special, since they frequently include going to a different country. Robbers Cave was held in Wales this year. We were driving along, admiring the rocky coast and the sea overset with clouds, when we were told by the gps that we had reached our destination right as we pulled into a massive trailer park. The girls had their own trailer, as did the boys and the families that came along. The girls’ little trailer was the main meeting area, so all 30-some people crammed into their living room for meals and activities. There was another Robber’s Cave to visit there as well, with ancient bridges nearby and a waterfall directly to its right. We spent one day climbing up the freezing Mt. Snowdon at the Snowdonia National Park. Some hiked up rather speedily and reached the summit, and others assumed a more leisurely pace and went just high enough to get a beautiful view of the huge green rolling hills of Wales.
The Flurry family, the college students and I traveled to the Netherlands for the spring holy days. We met with nearly all the European brethren for Night to be Much Observed and the first Day of Unleavened Bread. We stayed on a campground, and activities included biking around the town of Nunspeet and walking through the largest tulip park in the world, the Keukenhof Gardens. A few students traveled to Spain by plane from the Netherlands and spent several days boating around the coast of Spain and enjoying the beaches. They were eager to get a tan after an English winter.
The Flurrys took me with them to Austria for a summer trip (that’s something that people do over there—summer trips to other countries). Thanks to my Uncle Stephen’s amazing planning, we were able to not only check out Hapsburg Palace and the crown jewels, nearly all of Mozart’s residences, and Shonbrunn Palace, but we also attended a string quartet concert, a Vienna Boys Choir concert and an Italian opera. We got a good taste of Austrian culture. It was especially inspiring after Pastor General Gerald Flurry’s sermon about Abraham’s influence on Austria. One of the brethren in Vienna even pointed out to us the general area where it is believed Abraham lived.
Edstone is very much like headquarters. A branch of the college is there, the people see each other often, services are sometimes held in the building, everyone is busy supporting the Work, and the general office for Europe is located there.
Edstone is conducive to learning new skills, since there are so many things that have to be done to maintain it and improve the campus. For example, the boys had to figure out how to build a soccer pitch. Another time, one of the student fellows built showers and a sink, put them in the basement, and connected them to the plumbing system so the boy campers would have a way to wash up during Edstone Philadelphia Youth Camp. Girls have shifts in the kitchen where they pick what meal they’ll make and make it all themselves. One girl even learned how to mow the lawn so the boy who usually mows wouldn’t always have to do it. Nearly everyone, including myself, learned how to prep and paint things like window panes primarily, but also soccer goal posts and basketball court lines.
During the summer, there were weekly sports nights. Edstone residents as well as local brethren would gather on the back lawn or at the tennis court to enjoy games such as softball, soccer, basketball and cricket. On Saturday nights, before the sunset got to be around 10:00 p.m., the majority of Edstonians met in the Macdonalds’ or Flurrys’ apartments for a movie night.
While the Work-centered focus and the group activities make Edstone resemble HQ, attending a field congregation offers a different college experience from AC in Edmond. There is a smaller group of people to talk to, and services, if not held at Edstone, are 90 minutes away compared to 5 minutes away. This is good for the students who have always lived at headquarters in particular. I found that even though I got less sleep, it was quite fun to travel with the Flurrys and have conversations on the way.
Now that I’m a student at Armstrong College in Edmond, I see just how fantastic both locations are. It is wonderful to have so many college students to get to know at headquarters, and to always have events like intramural sports, dances and outreaches to look forward to. No matter which campus you are at, Armstrong College is a family. I’ll forever be thankful that I was privileged to experience both campuses.