Monday, August 20, 2012

England is my foundation

After returning to the States, I've realized there's one thing I miss about England more than anything else: the history.  In my opinion, it seems as if England is just chock full of history.  Everywhere you go, every house you enter, every cemetery you walk past has some sort of amazing connection with a famous writer, a revolution, a member of the royalty, etc.  Less than a mile away from my flat is a station where John Keats went to school.  A little further on is an ancient church with stonework from the thirteenth century, as well as a marketplace that has been in use for just as long as the church, if not longer.  A school next to the church has existed since Tudor times, and the stream which runs nearby all of these landmarks was dug in the late sixteenth century.

The rest of London seems to follow the same pattern of historical abundance.  Wherever you go, there are always those little blue plaques reminding you of the vast and important history of the current location.  For a girl from a neighborhood that's only thirty years old, a city that's 153 years old, and a state that's barely older than that, the very notion of entering a 700 year old building is dizzying.  In fact, sometimes the amount of historicity is so overwhelming, I'm tempted to think that the little plaques are ploys for tourism rather than historical facts, like the inordinate amount of hotels in Memphis claiming "Elvis slept here."  But whenever I doubt these historical claims, a bit of research always proves them correct: yes, the man who was the inspiration for Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde did own that restaurant; yes, this little building is the oldest wooden edifice in all of Europe; yes, this grocery store was built on the site of an ancient Roman burial ground.

What I have learned from these experiences is that England has ten times more history than any civilization could ever find a use for.  If you are a Brit living in London, the lives of your ancestors and forebears surround you to the point of asphyxiation.  Especially in central London, where you can't even cross a street without walking in the path of half a dozen famous events or people.  And while this may seem mind-boggling, it's also rather comforting, in my opinion.  It's comforting to know that people have been living and dying in your city for the past two thousand years, that life has always pressed forward, and that life will continue to press forward.  It's comforting to know that your ancestors may have lived only a few dozens miles away from where you're living right now.  It's comforting to know that this land has been a safe haven for human life for centuries, and that you can go to a library and read about their own experiences in this old-as-time-itself land.

My home in Utah seems like a small boat adrift on a sea of novelty and temporality in comparison to the galleon of England, firmly anchored by the weight of history.  Yes, I know that Utah has a rich history, with the pioneers of the 19th century, the Utes before them, and--who knows?--maybe the Nephites or the Lamanites before them.  But for me, for Averyl Dietering, Utah is not the foundation of myself or my family.  My father is from Texas, and his ancestors are English and German.  My mother is from Massachusetts, and her ancestors are Welsh and English.  When I think about my ancestry, my people, and my home, I find myself returning to England.  Though I've lived in Utah for 21 1/2 of my 22 years, there's something about the infinite history of England which seems like home, like finding a foundation which countless of my ancestors spent their lives building. 

It is for this reason that I don't think I'll ever cross England off my list of places to see, like people cross off the Eiffel Tower or the Great Wall of China or the Pyramids of Giza.  I will keep returning, if only to feel the confidence of that great weight of history, the feeling of that ancestral foundation beneath my feet.

Why you should never get comfortable

(This post is also to make up for one I missed.)

I always find it a bit humorous when anyone purports the ability to teach members of one culture how to "act like a native" in another culture.  It simply isn't possible, and it's a ridiculous notion.  I think I might trust someone to read my palm and tell me my future before I would trust someone who guaranteed that they could teach me to act like a native Samoan, Tibetan, Russian, Mexican, etc.

However, before I start sounding as if I believe all attempts at cross-cultural learning are futile, I suppose I ought to share the aspects of cross-cultural learning which I do believe can be taught.  For example, it is important to learn taboos and potentially offensive words or actions, if at all possible, before you go to another culture (and hopefully not during or after).  It's also possible to learn how to dress in another culture, and what your dress may say about the role you play in that culture.  In cultures with a different language, it is important to learn the spoken tongue, although you might have to wait until you are living in the culture to learn local slang or idioms. 

So yes, it is possible--and frankly, vital--to learn all you can about a culture and how to function in it before you go.  But when someone says they can help you learn to "blend in" and be indistinguishable from the native population, that person is far too overconfident.

I was rudely reminded of this when I started going to church at my ward in London.  Last summer, I attended the YSA ward, and by the end of the three months, I had become quite adept at understanding the quirks of young people from England, South Africa, Australia, Europe, New Zealand, Canada, and all across America.  Most of the people I spent my time with were from these areas, and although it took quite some time to understand the differences between an Australia sense of humor and an English sense of humor, it was well worth it.

This time around, I did not attend the YSA ward on Sundays.  Rather, I went to a family ward with many people from England and America, but also many others from Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, and Brazil.  Unfortunately, most of what I had learned about working with people in my YSA ward did not apply to this new ward.  It was somewhat upsetting to have to learn how to work with different people and different cultures all over again--I had already done this before!  Shouldn't London culture be the same no matter where you go in London?  Shouldn't living in a culture once make the next time a breeze?

What I have discovered is that there is no finite amount of "items" to be learned in order to accomplish the feat of blending into a culture.  For instance, no matter how much I had learned about Australian and English humor in my previous ward, I had to basically start from scratch when learning about Nigerian and Ghanaian in my new ward.  Culture varies greatly from region to region, and can even vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.  Even though I was living less than fifteen miles away from my previous residence, I felt as if I had entered a completely new world.

 I suppose I should share with you all of the stories of my blunders and how I completely embarrassed myself because I was unprepared to interpret and function within the new types of African humor that I encountered.  But I will have to disappoint you, because to be honest, I'm still nursing those wounds a bit.  Maybe one day I will become an expert on African humor and how not to embarrass yourself in front of your Ghanaian/Nigerian/Kenyan church leadership, and maybe then I'll feel confident enough to share with you all the stories of my unfortunate experiences.

Until then...

Friday, July 27, 2012

This post is to make up for one I missed

I've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between travel, tourism, and "settling" (for a lack of a better word).

Let's start with definitions, because I really like to share my own opinions of the definitions of certain words.

Travel: visiting a place that is foreign to you, with the intent to learn more about the area, the history, the people, the culture etc.  A mix of leisure, discovery, adventure, and responsibility.

Tourism: visiting a place that is foreign to you, with the intent to relax, "see the sights," get some great pictures to post on Facebook, and maybe learn about the area and it's history (but only if you're into that kind of stuff).  A mix of leisure, adventure, and, quite often, pampering oneself.  Tourism also tends to treat places as if they are a number of landmarks and activities: once you've "checked off" a certain amount of these landmarks and activities, you have finally "experienced" a certain area.

"Settling": longer than both travel and tourism. Living in a place that is foreign to you, with the intent to learn more about the area, the history, and people, etc.  Also with the aim to "fit in" within the community--to learn cultural norms and be able to communicate appropriately.  A mix of discovery, adventure, a lot of responsibility, and even more hands-on learning.

As a field study student, I have tried to make my time in England more akin to settling, and less like travel and tourism.  Although I acknowledge that I am only settling in England for three months, which is a rather short time, I have tried to learn as much about how to function within the culture and its traditions as I can, as if I were living in England for longer. 

Settling in a place is an interesting phenomenon because it has a sort of permanence which has a greater effect than travel or touring.  When you are a tourist or a traveler, you are constantly functioning as an outsider.  You know the experience is very temporary, and although you might want to learn more about the culture you are visiting, it's only for a short while.  But when you're settling, you change to adapt to the culture (if you're smart).  It becomes part of every thought.  You constantly watch others, learning from them, analyzing their actions, trying to understand what they're telling you about their culture, and comparing it to how you act.  It becomes your mission to understand others: to understand their humour (which may seem a little biting), or their opinions of beauty (which may seem a little old-fashioned), or even the way they pass someone when they walk down the street.

While tourism and travel are glimpses into another world, settling is living in that other world.  As I look forward to coming home in August, I remember what it was like to come home last August from my previous field study.  I found that most of my friends and family treated my settling in England as touring.  They asked me things like, "did you go see Big Ben?" and "are Londoners rude?" and "did you eat a lot of fish and chips?"  My favorite question was "you went to London? how was it?"  While this question is fine for describing a one or two week London vacation, it's extremely inadequate for describing my settling experience.

Yes, I did go to London.  How was it?  Well, if you want the honest answer, it was wonderful, terrifying, beautiful, edifying, destructive, brilliant, boring, torturous, difficult, hilarious, depressing, inspiring, eye-opening, thought-provoking, money-draining... and the list goes on.  It contained some of the most painful experiences that I've ever had.  It taught me independence and preparation.  And it was rewarding beyond what I ever expected.

But typically, my friends don't want to hear that version.  What they really would like to hear is, "it was fun.  It was really rainy, though, and I'm glad to be back in the sun."  And so I tell them that, when what I really want to say is, "after three months of eating, breathing, sleeping, learning, and living London, of trying to communicate and understand the culture, I sometimes feel more English than I do American."

The first few weeks back home feel great, but they're always the hardest.  It's shutting the book of your London life and putting it back on the shelf so you can reopen the old one and get back where you left off.  But you're never back where you left off.  There's always the disjunction of lost time and lost experiences.  How could I explain my love for old churches to someone who has never been outside an LDS meetinghouse?  How can I explain my fascination with the English and their culture to someone whose only interaction with the English are through Sherlock, Dr. Who, and Downton Abbey?  How can I explain the peacefulness of wandering through a muddy marsh in the rain to someone who thinks of London as Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, Harrod's, and the Olympics?

It is hard for most people to understand that I came to London not to tour or to travel, but to settle and live.  They don't understand why I didn't just see all the sights in a week or two and then move on to Paris or Barcelona or Rome.  And I wonder if they understand how odd it feels to be in two cultures at once: for the past few months, I've been an American in London, and in August, I will be a Londoner in America.  Tourism can have an effect on a person, travel can go a step further and change them, but settling takes your life out of your hands, shakes it around for no good reason, and then hands it back to you without explanation.  And when I return to the States, I expect to feel shaken.  I expect to feel uncomfortable, simultaneously at home and a stranger.

But I think there is something to be learned from being uncomfortable, something that you learn about yourself and your country and your culture that you can't learn unless you go out into the world and let it shake your life around.  After London, I don't want to be completely comfortable with my culture's ideas on gun control, public transportation, homelessness, city planning, homosexuality, patriotism, political parties--I could go on for pages, but I'll refrain.  I respect my culture, and I respect English culture.  But my field study in England has given me a chance to contemplate these two radically different cultures, live them, analyze them, and use them to open my mind to the possibilities of change and improvement.  This is an opportunity which few people have, an opportunity which would greatly improve our own culture if more of our citizens could live abroad and take time to understand both the positives and negatives of other cultures.

Unfortunately, most people opt for the tourism route, because it's a lot easier to pay thirty bucks for a look inside Buckingham Palace than it is to carefully study and consider the inner workings of English culture.  But for those of us who want to learn more about London than simply where the best fish and chips is served, there is a magnificent opportunity awaiting.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Finding Life in Dying Churches

There's a term used here in England called a "living church."  It refers to the amount of use that a church receives, that is, how much it is actually used as a place of worship.  Westminster Abbey is, for example, a living church.  Although it is mostly a tourist stop, it has Anglican services every day, and functions just as any other Anglican church would (except for with a lot more pomp and circumstance, and a couple thousand more Asian tourists). 

However, there are many churches in London which are, for lack of a better term, not-so-living churches.  These are churches which are only used occasionally for worship, or have been repurposed as an even center or the like.  If not for their historic import to the London community, and their beautiful architecture, these churches would probably be razed to make room for office buildings and high-end flats.  This is especially true in the City of London (the original city, surrounded by Roman walls), in which modern steel-and-glass skyscrapers mix quite oddly with ancient churches, church gardens, and bell towers.  This quirky combination is starkly obvious at St. Helen's Bishopsgate, an ancient medieval church--and one of the most successful Anglican parishes in London--which is right across the street from the Gherkin, a definitive skyscraper in the London skyline.  When wandering around this section of London, I get the feeling that more than one real estate agent or architect has cursed these tiny churches for standing in the way of their dreams of business development.

I'm not sure what the ratio is of living churches to not-so-living churches, but from my American, LDS standpoint, it seems like most of the church are simply dead.  On an average visit to a church in order to find epitaphs, I typically happen upon one of two circumstances: I enter upon a completely empty church, collect my research, and leave without being able to locate a single living soul, or, I am charged an entrance fee at the door and give a tourist pamphlet (which includes a summary of the church's history, a claim that this church is the oldest in London, and a heartfelt plea for monetary donations).  Unfortunately, because of the shrinking which is occurring throughout most Anglican parishes, the only way for these magnificent structures to make any income for their maintenance is through asking for donations and charging entry fees for tourists.  As the younger generations fall out of touch with the Anglican church, congregations have become much smaller and parishes have forced to consolidate.  For instance, instead of being large enough to support its own parish, as it did in earlier centuries, St. Helen's Bishopgate is currently a member of "the parish of St. Helen Bishopsgate with St. Andrew Undershaft and St. Ethelburga Bishopsgate and St. Martin Outwich and St. Mary Axe."

In general, it seems as if these wonderful structures are dying.  Though Anglicanism is the official religion of England, it's definitely not the most popular sect in London.  Compared to thriving Muslim, Hindu, Roman Catholic, and Jewish places of worship, most Anglican churches have rather empty services (except for St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, but even then, about 80-95% of the audience are probably tourists).

When I visit these old Anglican churches (almost all of the very old churches in London are Anglican), I can't help but think of death and dying.  Not only do some of these churches have small cemeteries in their gardens, most of them have tombstones, epitaphs, and crypts all over their walls and even strewn across their floors.  I've walked into many an empty church, gazing at the tombs above and below me, simultaneously romanced and a little terrified that I'm the only breathing body in this city of the dead.  It's enchanting on one hand, the idea of complete stillness and solitude, with medieval, renaissance, Georgian, and Victorian corpses as my only company.  But it's also tragic: why is no one else here to enjoy this beautiful building?  Why do so many Londoners fail to support or even appreciate the faith of their fathers?

Of course, it's perfect for my research.  I can go into the stillness of a church, gather my data, and then leave, without disturbing anyone.  I don't have to worry about interrupting worship services, or about zealous members or clerics trying to convert me.  I can have silence and focus on the tombs, the epitaphs, research, and translation.

I was doing just that at St. Bartholomew-the-Less some time ago.  St. Bart's the Less is near Barbican, and is the parish church for St. Bartholomew's Hospital, which is only yards away. I was completely alone in this tiny church, halfway through recording a lengthy epitaph, when a woman walked in.  She looked tired and gaunt, and shuffled into one of the middle pews as the ancient wood floor creaked.  Lifting a prayer cushion from its hook, she sunk to her knees and bowed her head. 

It was touching to see this woman finding comfort in the church.  She had come from the hospital, no doubt, and was probably praying for the health of a loved one whom she had visited there.  She was almost bent in half as she prayed, and seemed rather desperate.  As I realized I was intruding on this extremely private moment, I felt awful.  Who was I to gallivant into places of worship, take a few notes, and then leave?  What right did I have to disturb the holiness of these churches, to interrupt conversations between man and God?  How did this undergraduate research project fit into the lives of the few who came to these churches for comfort and solace?

I couldn't answer these questions at the time.  I still can't.  I know that there's nothing wrong with my desire to learn more about Latin epitaphs in London churches, but at the same time, it made me feel so fake to be translating hic jacet and writing notes while this woman poured out her heart.  I haven't come to any conclusion about this experience, or my other experiences in London churches.  It just seems too complicated and delicate to make a final decision about whether or not my academic presence is welcome on these holy grounds. 

More to follow.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Finding Things

As I've been wandering in and around the finest and most delightsome city on Earth, I've noticed that I have three things constantly on my mind:

1) How fast I'm walking, how fast everyone else is walking, whether or not to pass on the left or the right, if it's safe to jaywalk, where to jaywalk, how to dart past the slowly moving people in front of me, what way to look to dodge cars, how fast I need to run to catch the next train, etc.

2) Where the next rubbish bin is, and what the heck the cultural norms are when it comes to dispensing of waste. (Because I'm pretty sure there's some sort of secret combination they have to dictate when and where to dispose rubbish.  And I'm pretty sure the Londoners themselves don't even know it.)

3) How England compares to the States.  And this is probably the most important thing I think about all day, which is why it is the topic of my blog post.

I realized I compare England to the States all of the time.  In fact, I doubt that there is ever a time that I'm not comparing the two countries, either consciously or subconsciously.  I make a mental note every time I hear my English friends talk about taking a bath rather than a shower, when I hear someone say "diary" rather than planner, or when I see a shop advertising meat pies for sale.  Walking down a bustling London street, the vast amount of differences almost overloads my mind--"to let" instead of "for sale," driving on the left instead of the right, women wearing classy hats, gutters in the middle of the sidewalk (sorry, i mean "footpath"), lampposts older than my home state, policemen with silly hats and no guns--the differences are massive.  Even walking in a public park close to my house (and you'd something as simple as a public park would be pretty similar throughout the western world) reveals immense differences.

Yet in the midst of all this foreignness, there is an odd similarity to it.  There is something that feels slightly familiar in the way the English see a bath as a relaxing treat rather than an activity for babies and children (I had a very long conversation about this a few days ago, and begrudgingly realized that it maybe could be a soothing experience for an adult).  Although there are many times I look at the English way of life and think, "I don't think I could ever live permanently in England" (and I usually think this when I am offered black pudding or a Cornish pasty or some other dastardly fried meat-n-carb combo), there are just as many times that I think, "Wow, they've got it right.  This makes more sense than my culture."

I think part of this is because I don't just want to see myself in England, I want to see England in myself.  I think seeing England in myself is a major reason why I went on a field study last year, why I came back again this year.  Although I have a German surname, my heritage is probably about 80% British (mostly English with a little Welsh mixed in).  So when I look at people drinking tea--which I think is the one of the most useless beverages I've ever sipped--I can't help but think that somewhere along the line, my great-great-great-great-whatever drank tea every afternoon and absolutely adored it.  When I see people living in great rows of houses squished together and it makes me claustrophobic, I know that one of my dear ancestors probably thought that was how mankind was meant to coexist with their neighbors.

When I glance at English culture, it looks very similar to American culture.  When I look closer, it's vastly different.  And yet when I truly examine it, it seems very much the same again.  I suppose in the midst of this culture that shifts from familiar to strange, I am trying to find myself.  I am trying to discover how much of my "Americanness" is real, and how much is just a result of my lack of world travel.  Is my dislike for tea and baths really a major part of my character?  Or deep down inside, is there an ancient soul, maybe part of my genetics, secretly yearning for a good soak and a cuppa Twinings?

Part of me thinks that if I live here long enough, I'll finally return back to my English roots.  After all, America is a new country, which means that my genealogical roots have been American for four hundred years, at the most.  Four hundred may seem like a long time (to you Americans), but from a genealogical standpoint, it's nothing.  It's like spending a week in China and then applying for citizenship and enrolling in a kung fu class.  Ironically, it's also like going on a field study to England for only three months and deciding that deep down, you're English.

So what am I?  Am I as American as the Fourth of July, a holiday which would not have existed if not for England?  Am I as English as Winston Churchill, whose mother was from New York City?  Will I ask a third question, just for the sake of rhetorical balance?  I think in some ways, the answer is a hesitant "yes" to all of them.  I think there are so many connections and divergences all mixed in together in the two cultures, it's simply too complex to take a side confidently.

But back to my original idea.  When I come to London, what I hope to see is myself.  What I really see, I suppose, is a sort of long-lost identical twin, a culture than is completely different from myself, yet is myself in so many ways.  After four hundred years of separation, we're still very similar, even I can't live with tea and they can't live without it.  But at the end of the day, whether you take a bath because you need to relax or because you're an infant and you lack the fine motors skills necessary for showering, there is something intriguing, even comforting, about living in a culture that feels like a wild adventure and a journey home all rolled into one.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

London Revisited: What I Didn't Believe Beforehand, and Now I'm Kicking Myself For It

I don't like suspense, so I'll just tell you what I didn't believe: going back to a country a second time is still hard, even though it's familiar.  And now I'm kicking myself for it.

Dear experienced and wise facilitator friends, thank you for telling me about your personal journeys.  Thank you for trying to warn me that just because I was familiar with a country or a city didn't mean that I would have no problem on my second field study.  Unfortunately, like Old Testament prophets, you were cast out of my mind and your warnings were unheeded.  And I'll be darned if your prophecies did not come true.

The first few days or so of being back in London was a breeze.  Let's compare: On last year's field study to London, I arrived mindlessly jetlagged, wandered around for hours trying to find my hotel and getting yelled at by drivers, and then locked myself in the tiniest hotel room ever and cried while listening to Selena Gomez's "Who Says" on repeat for hours in order to save the tiny shreds of sanity and self-confidence I had.  My success of the day was discovering that public transportation was not free, and learning coin denominations from the nice Indian man at the post office a few miles down the road (which I walked to, because public transportation was, as previously mentioned, definitely not free). On this year's field study, I arrived a little tired, put some money on my oyster card, got the Tube to my friend's place, sent some emails letting friends and family know I'd arrived safely, did a bit of grocery shopping, and then went out to with some friends for dinner and a movie.

Improvement, Watson?  Yes, Sherlock.

Another comparison: instead of spending the entire week crying, wanting to go home, desperately searching for housing, sleeping on strangers' couches, and begging my parents to buy me a ticket home, I spent the week following up on housing leads, seeing old friends, and making arrangements for my students to arrive.  It was just easier this time because I was familiar with the area, I had connections, and I did not feel helpless.  I was confident.

On the ninth, all my students arrived and I delivered them successfully to their homes.  I had a bit more work to do, because three of these homes were temporary.  But with some excellent help from Dave and the London members, I was able to find permanent housing for everyone, and my last student moved in on Wednesday.  It was great.

On Thursday it hit.  The other facilitators were right, the second time is harder.  I'm not exactly sure of their reasons for it being harder, but for me, it has to do with novelty and purpose.  The first time around, if I was feeling unsure about being in England, I could comfort myself with the fact that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, that it would look excellent on grad school applications, and that I was knocking out some classes so that I wouldn't have to take so many in the fall.  This time, it is not a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I've already been accepted to a grad school, and frankly, it would have been a lot easier to take these classes at BYU instead of out in the field.  Furthermore, I'm not filled with a childlike sense of wonder when I see Westminster Abbey, Tate Modern, Victoria Station, the Thames, a double-decker bus, the British Museum, etc.  It's not that I don't appreciate them.  It's almost like I've gained a sense of familiarity, which for some reason, makes things less amazing.  And that's rather tragic, in my opinion.

I'm not afraid to admit it: sometimes I don't see why I'm here.  And what I'm quite afraid to admit: sometimes I am bored with London.  But in some way, this is where my students are my salvation.  For them, London is either an entirely new experience, or an experience that was a long time ago and has faded into memory.  Riding Boris bikes, touring Westminster Abbey, walking across Tower Bridge--these are all ten times better when I see how Ben, Kayla, Natalie, and Ariana experience them.  So for now, until I do some deeper introspection, my reason for being here is to help others have full and enjoyable experiences in London, to provide them with helpful guide, if needed, so they can be confident in their field studies.  And for right now, I think that's good enough.

(P.S. However, this is not to say that more suggestions for the relevance of my field studies experience would not be appreciated.  If you have one or two, please leave them in the comments.)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Learning Journal 8: Gaining Access

I couldn't think of anything new to write about my project (it's rather dormant this week as I've been frantically writing my thesis), so I decided to write about what we'll be talking about in class this week: entering the community, gaining access, and finding gatekeepers.

In my line of research, entering a community usually means finding the scholars, historians, professors, librarians, etc., who are knowledgeable about my topic.  Unlike other students' projects, the average person is not a good source of information for my project: not only do they typically not know anything about my subject of study, but they usually don't care anything for it as well.  So that leaves me with a very narrow slice of the population that I could actually go to for research. 

If I've learned one thing about gaining access and finding gatekeepers from my experiences last year, it's that university professors are nowhere to be found (it's summer), and tour guides are only there to tell the most sensational stories that will grab their audience's attention.  No one wants to go to the Tower of London to hear factual, verified information about its long and glorious history.  They go because they want to hear the popular histories about Bloody Mary, the boys in the Tower, Richard the Hunchback King, and the gruesome beheadings and torturings.  Although most tour guides are pretty accurate in their history, "pretty accurate" is not good enough for the kind of research I want to do.

So my best bet in finding gatekeepers is probably talking to the clergy who work at these churches.  This seems like an obvious choice: if my "community" is a church, aren't my gatekeepers going to be the clergy who run the church?  But at the same time, I'm a little hesitant about approaching the clergy.  Who knows if they'll really know much about the architecture and epitaphs of the building itself?  Shouldn't they be studying doctrine rather than Medieval Latin?  And what if they're a little put off or hostile to the idea of me coming in and taking information from their epitaphs when I'm not a member of their church?  I think of my own bishop at my home ward--I doubt he knows much about the architecture and decorations in the stake center.  And I think he might be a little wary of someone from a different religion taking copious notes about the building and then publishing it in an article in another country.

I don't know exactly how I'm going to overcome these difficulties, but I have a basic plan.  Feel free to leave any feedback, if you want (plus, it'd let me know that someone reads this blog, because I have a nagging suspicion that I'm writing to empty cyberspace).
1) Attend a worship service or two, and then ask one of the clergy if I can stay for some time and record epitaphs.  I hope that by attending a worship service, they'll be able to see that I have respect for the holiness of their place of worship.  I'm not just a heartless intellectual taking advantage of the churches' information.
2) Explain what I'm doing, but don't go into unnecessary detail.  In order to be ethical, I think it's necessary for the clergy to understand the basics of my project.  However, I've learned that most often, less information is the best information.  If they don't really care what I'm doing, but they're fine with me roaming their church for a few hours, that's great.  On the other hand, if they want to know exactly what I'm doing and why, and then hold a lengthy conversation about it, that's great too.  And I may get more information about my project as well.
3) Make a donation at their coffers.  It's just common courtesy, and again, it shows I'm not a "heartless intellectual."
4) If they ask my religious affiliation, introduce myself as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and not a Mormon.  Not only are there less negative connotations with the lengthier name, but it's also what the prophet has asked us to do.  So I think it's a win-win.  Although I am a bit concerned that its unethical: what if the clergy are upset because they think I'm trying to lie to them about my religion?

Anyway, this is my list so far.  My hope is that between the clergy dealing with tourists and reading about charity and long-suffering all day long, they'll be very kind and gracious about my research.  However, it could be that they see me as an outsider, that they're sick of tourists and sick of catering to people who aren't part of their congregations. Although the latter option just about makes me sick when I think about it, it's all part of the field studies adventure.