You get so used to things being a certain way, and then you hop across the pond and well, you know, you’re in a different place.
I woke up this morning slightly against my own will. In the States I had a pretty stubborn and regular sleep schedule, but since I’ve been here the never ending sunshine throws off my internal clock. Never in my life have I been in a place where the sun sets at midnight and rises at 3am.
After 45 minutes of getting ready and 30 minutes of driving through Scottish green hilly country side I arrived in a small town called Alloa. Carol dropped me off and as I walked up I had an awkward stare down with a woman as she opened her cigarette pack. “You’re new here, aren’t you?” “Well, yes. I’m waiting for someone.”
I was anxiously watching a little girl play with ant poison only to be scolded and have no one wipe her hands off when Ann walked in, interrupting my immediate thought to scoop the girl up and scurry off to the bathroom. Ann was medium height, middle aged with brown hair, glasses, and the most soft spoken tone I’ve ever heard. She asked if I’d like a look around or if I’d rather just sit down. I opted for the second.
Carol and Graham refer to themselves as having no religion, so the first time I requested to be taken in for church it got Carol’s wheels turning. She mentioned a few churches, one of which was St. John’s in Alloa. Her friend Ann went there. She said they were very active in the community and even had something called a community house that served the poor population. I immediately said this sounded like my kind of church.
So when I walked up and this lady was whipping out her cigarettes I felt for sure I’d fit in. I’d heard the term “community house” and my pre-conceived Shane Claiborne driven schema flipped into gear and I immediately started thinking about edgy artistic idealists living in a small house doing radical things.
I walked into an old, traditional looking building, the likes of which are common here in Scotland-a country with history of thousands of years instead of a few hundred. The congregation was small and full of gray hair. I was the youngest attendee save two high school kids. The music cued in with the high school boy playing piano and a woman and man singing songs I’d never heard before, about dispelling the darkness, about Jesus coming back. I’m not in Scum of the Earth anymore, kids…
…and it’s quite lovely.
The service was done by an kind spirited elderly man who sat for most of the service, and preached on equality of humanity. Society puts more weight in your value if you are more prominent, he explained, but that we should always talk to each person as they have the exact same value as the next.
As we sang the women in front of me stood up and bounced, smiling at one another. As these women and Ann stood, so did I. Mid-service Ann leaned over and told me I was quite welcome to sit, too, and only then did I notice that only about half the congregation was standing while the other was sitting. This immediately struck my heart as I’m known for being the stubborn one who won’t stand unless felt lead. No one’s controlling this girl’s worship.
Next came the granting of peace to one another. Growing up Catholic, I am familiar with the liturgy and all the steps that go along. You politely spin around in the relevant circle and shake hands and maybe hug. In St. John’s though, they all got out of their pews and I’m pretty sure each one came over and shook my hand, as they did everyone else’s. Not only that, but they allowed anyone upon their own discretion to receive communion, and you’re allowed to get coffee both before and after the service (and in the middle, too, I’m sure.)
After service I found myself in several pleasant conversations out of which I simply had to be drug by Ann. Multiple times, that is. I ended up speaking to the minister for a bit, sitting down, of course. We sat talking about what I was doing in the area, about snippets of his life of being ordained, living on a farm when the war hit, about his grandfather. He was absolutely delightful. Later I found myself in conversation based on mutual ground of interest in going to a festival called the Big Tent festival that is focused on environmental issues. I was utterly delighted to find someone with similar interests in a church in a small town who was middle aged. I also learned that the community house is not one house, but three. And no one lives there, but it is a place for people to drop in, for youth to come and hang out, and for an opportunity to find a listening ear.
I love going to Scum of the Earth, but sometimes you need to step out of what your norm is to find goodness where you might not normally look. And sometimes the angsty, counter culture, reactionary attitude gets overwhelming (insert commentary of current American Christian culture and the reactionary movement to it here). It’s refreshing to be around an older generation who is sincere, open minded and lovingly happy and stable.
I’ve just experienced a breath of fresh air, that’s all.
Oh, and I invited that woman to camp with me at the Big Tent Festival, as well. Full win.