A year ago I was ordained as an elder of the Church of Scotland.
If someone had told me even five years ago that this was on the cards, I would have laughed out loud. The day I opened the confidential letter from the minister saying that my name had been put forward in the Kirk Session [governing body of the congregation], and would I be willing to consider it, I literally had to sit down I was so amazed.
I had all sorts of reasons as to why I would not be a good elder. (For one, I’m far too young!) And I explained these to the minister: I could never tell someone else what to believe; I myself am conscious that my beliefs and faith have always evolved and I don’t necessarily agree with what I thought in the past; and I have a LOT of questions, theologically. I also intimated that I am fairly Way Out There in terms of my curiosity about other belief systems and in terms of my personal practice. I gave him the example of having advised someone who’d been assaulted in her own home that she should physically bless the space until she felt safe. (I didn’t actually suggest using burning sage, but –)
I was imagining that all of the above would make him reconsider the proposition, but he didn’t bat an eyelid. He said the Church is already a broad church, with a large spectrum of attitudes and beliefs. He reassured me that I would never have to tell anyone else what to believe. He explained that when there is a vote on some issue, each elder must vote with his or her conscience. In fact, the Church of Scotland is very un-democratic in this respect, as the elders are not bound to represent the views of the congregation at large. He said that, in addition to forming the Kirk Session (which makes decisions about the spiritual side of the church, as distinct from plumbing problems and the like), the elders are an important point of contact with the members of the congregation, because with a congregation of 700 he can’t visit everyone regularly.
And as for my many doubts and questions about Christian theology, he said “Good! As you know, I believe it’s a Mystery.”
I had also thought that Michael and the Dafter would perhaps not be thrilled at the idea of me having more things to do – meetings in the evenings, visits to make to those in my elder’s district, more responsibility during church services. But they were both enthusiastic, said the Church needed Way Out There people like me, and I must do it if I wanted to.
And so it came to pass that a year ago I was one of three people ordained as elders of South Holburn Church. In the Church of Scotland you are ordained for life, as a minister is. And although I am under no illusion that it will always be plain sailing, it’s been a really good year. I already liked the people at church very much, but working alongside them has been a distinct pleasure. Doing things like helping to serve the wine during Communion is never particularly relaxing, but I was relieved to discover that I could get out of my own way, mentally, and feel every much a part of the service as before.
The most challenging part of it all was giving up being an Outsider. I am very comfortable in that role: as an outsider, you can maintain a critical distance, not be implicated, go your own way, take what you like and leave the rest. I think many people feel the same way, because at least here in Scotland people don’t tend to join groups (including the church). However, I’ve found that even though I’ve made a commitment to the Church – which is necessarily an imperfect organisation, like all human constructions – I can still be myself.
The avatar on my blog is the photo from that day. Despite having badly sprained my ankle two days earlier, I was really, really happy.
And of course, the occasion of being Ordained meant I needed a new garment. I knit myself the “Tarragon” cardigan from Rowan organic wool. What I haven’t revealed on Ravelry (the knitting & crocheting über-website) is that the true name of this garment is my Ordination Jacket.
So here’s to another good year at church!