sometimes I miss the blue hymnbook

I probably write the same things over and over again, like a bluebottle banging his head against the kitchen window and I’m not going to let that stop me doing it again.

Sometimes I just don’t know what is going on with my life, or more specifically with my church life, which can sometimes seem like my life.

Here I am living in a manse, in a pretty middle class area, married to a minister (a female minister), in a church that is mostly Methodist, where most if not all of the children are African-Irish, with lots of single parent families, and asylum seekers, and people from different parts of the world on the edge of an Irish speaking region, in a city that pulses continually with tourism and students and so on.
There is often a conversation going on in my head on whether all of this is great or terrible.
There is just too much coming at my senses sometimes, too much to get me thinking or reflecting or angry and frustrated.
Sometimes the frustration comes from just wanting everything to be in its place and organised and familiar, for people to be like a good old Presbyterian church of my past where you roll up and roll out no alarms and no surprises. It has happened recently that I’ve craved the grey suit and tie of my past, the efficiency of the soup lunch that has been served and cleaned up in under an hour, the same person sitting in the same pew for 40 yrs and no new faces, everyone living a few minutes away, the same old badly sung but familiar hymns from the blue hymnbook.

On the other hand it’s great because lots of my preconceptions about Christianity or the church are being challenged by the collision of cultures and by meeting people from around the world.
For instance my view of other churches and particularly the Roman Catholic church is being  gently prodded. I don’t remember meeting my first Catholic until I was about 10 yrs old. He was the neighbour beside where we briefly had a mushroom farm. He came over the fence with a football wearing a Celtic top and we briefly played football in a rushy field.
My next memory of meeting a Catholic was in the minibus going a cross community hike up a mountain organized by the RUC in 4th yr at school. All I remember is that despite being a Catholic she was cute. There was another cross community trip in lower 6th and a nun, Sister Rose was present. I was wary and kept my distance. So we’re up to 3 Roman Catholic experiences by 18. It was time to take things to the next level…

I briefly lived for a year with a bunch of Catholic in student halls at QUB, lads from Strabane and Derry. Yes, that is right. I actually lived with Catholics for about 9 months.
They took the piss out of me buying ‘The Daily Express’ (and rightly so) and asked searching questions like ‘Are you coming out with us tonight or are you going to hang out with your real friends?‘. By ‘real friends’ they meant the people I knew in halls from Christian Union, people like me and possible Christian snogs or links to snogs. Female snogs of course.

I escaped into a house with my real Christian friends in 2nd and 3rd year. Once a Roman Catholic girl in my chemistry class called Maria invited me into the Roman Catholic chaplaincy for a carol service or something. I am not sure if I even set foot inside the building such was my fear of the papists doing something to me. It was a no go area that large building on Elmwood Avenue. What happened beyond those doors was anyone’s guess but after reading Chick tract literature in my teens I was aware that it could only be badness.
Catholics where dodgy when it came to religion. About the same time an elderly man my mum did home help passed away and there was a discussion about how to go to the funeral in the chapel. I think my parents went but stood at the back of the chapel.
A ‘mixed marriage’ was something that was foreign to my experience.
Basically a Roman Catholic wasn’t really a Christian because they went to a false church and was a member of a false religion and a believer shouldn’t be yoked to a non-believer.
So I grew up with a deep rooted suspicion of Roman Catholicism that is almost part of my DNA and still flares up.

Yet that is being gently challenged. Nothing major has been said, no great event just watching for example the love of  some couples in ‘mixed’ marriages. Growing up in my evangelical Protestant circles with all the politics the impression was that these really where recipes for disaster, something bad or far from ideal. There are other things to challenge my thinking as well, but it’s not really the place to talk about them.It’s just good to be challenged.

One of the local ministers told us how he gets pissed off (not sure that those are his exact words mind..) about the missionaries,outreach types, church planters etc he encounters from time to time who say things like ‘We just want to bring Jesus to the west… ‘.
He gets annoyed because he is in charge of church which has been used since the 1300’s right in the centre of city. I probably thought the same last year. There where not many churches here, we could be missionaries to this city that needs a vibrant Christian witness.
Is this not an arrogant thing to think? That meant  for example I was discounting the large and active Roman Catholic church I can see from my bedroom window as being a church.  I walk past it multiple times in a week and rarely think of it as a church.
If I’m being honest I’m still not completely comfortable with saying it is. There are suspicions and issues and things that I think wrong.
But what makes a church or what doesn’t make a church? Why am I Presbyterian? What does it mean to be a Presbyterian here? Does it matter? Are you saying that your branch of Christianity is without its fault and heresies? And so on.

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