That's a little snapshot of my week. I had such a good time. I've known the family for years, so it was good to be with friends and make new ones, and get away from work of course, but I also learnt a lot. I asked Alasdair if I could shadow him because staying with him and his family on previous occasions, I saw peripherally how his life as a priest was so different to the priests I know in central London.
The incident that set the idea in my mind was on his day off, answering the door in his pajamas and having to put on his wellies to go open up the church hall because whoever was supposed to hadn't! The vicar at the church where I work certainly wouldn't have cause to do that. It's good for me to see with my own eyes a situation I haven't really come across, namely a priest who is a radial point, the only full time person who ultimately looks after the church.
Also, his tradition is pretty Anglo-Catholic, and though my churches down in London are high enough to have robed servers and processions, Alasdair's Scottish Episcopal church is almost as far away from what I'm used to as the worship I experienced at the other end of the candle at Momentum or on Pentecost last summer, though not as high as my weekend with the Society of Catholic Priests. It's an important part of being in the Anglican Communion to understand the diversity of traditions held within it, and crucially it is in experiencing all these types of worship for myself that I am able to comprehend on a spiritual level that whilst my tastes and needs in liturgy and worship are different, God is in all of it.
So in doing thee's and thou's morning and evening prayer next door everyday, Mass both east facing and west facing (sometimes just the two of us), serving in cassock and cotta - I got my hands dirty in a way I didn't on the Catholic weekend away, plus Alasdair was very happy to answer my questions. Being with a priest who is not 'my' priest or just 'a' priest, but rather a friend, was a very useful space because (and this is also a mark of Alasdair's patience) I was able to push him to answer my questions further and defend anything I didn't understand or maybe didn't agree with, and also push back and challenge me.
That personal connection and staying with him and his family in the rectory was also able to give me insight into a priest as a whole, 'normal' person, that they talk about at vocation events, but is hard to actually understand in reality, to imagine a priest complexly, as the saying goes. At the same time, when off duty and in civvies, whilst not being the rector, even I as a friend and temporary member of his household could not shake an awareness of him being A Priest. That issue of perception is also often talked about at vocation events.
One thing I learnt about myself was I clarified why I don't like doing certain acts of kneeling in worship. I don't like kneeling to receive communion, and when I served on the Sunday in Scotland I had to genuflect, and boy, I did not like that either. It was as if, as my knee hit the marble, God winced. That kind of abasement is not part of our relationship. That's not to say I don't have a great reference for the Lord of the Universe, but you can have deep respect and show complete obedience without prostrating yourself. Sure, that's how some people show it, but I don't!
I'm also still processing something I 'learnt' in a way, but it's hard to articulate. It's something about being rooted in a place and how I don't feel called to that, at least not right away. I'm reminded of a sermon I heard about Psalm 84, and Hebrews 11 "They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." I've written before how I don't feel like I have a 'home', but not in a bad way, because I look to making a home in God, and in a more tangible way, making a home where I find God in other people. I don't know, it just doesn't feel like that rootedness is part of my path ahead of me, til the distant future...
Anyway, I got away from my liberal urban bubble and also got to know some of the laity. They were all lovely and when I tagged along for home visits, everyone welcomed me in very gracefully. Sure I heard gossip and politics, but you get that everywhere there are people, and there was no maliciousness amongst the people I met. Talking to the theologian/CofS minister was also interesting to get away from Anglicanism and hear another story of vocation.
But against all that it was just a church serving God and creation. It is reassuring to feel the same undercurrent where ever two or three are gathered in Jesus' name, and to learn from people who are dedicated to God. As I said in the video, where ever I go, "it's still church".