I went to church for the first time in longer than I’d care to admit. Living in the Czech Republic, finding an active church, let alone an active church that has services in English can feel next to impossible. The joke is that there are more steeples than believers and it often feels as though that really is the case. So coming to Scotland and seeing all of these sweet little parishes in the neighborhood where my AirBnB is felt good.
After walking through Leith, I picked the prettiest church I could find and decided: that was where I was going to spend my Sunday mornings on my hiatus in Edinburgh. It had all the makings of a fairytale church, with the little garden round the front and close to the sea. I had visions in my head of the idyllic Sunday morning where the Lord shone his light through stained glass that painted the faces of the congregation in packed pews. We’d all have a big luncheon in the garden afterward and all would be wearing flowery dresses and throwing our heads back with laughter— you know, the stuff from movies like Steel Magnolias.
Long story short, the church to which I had planned on going was bolted shut, ten minutes before their service was supposed to start. I sheepishly felt a bit defeated— I, a “seasoned traveler (obviously in my own mind in a moment of pride)” hadn’t seen the obviously posted notice that the service time had moved during the summer months. I met Hannah, a fellow traveler who was trying to do the same thing I was and we booked it across the neighborhood to get to another, more humble parish on the busiest street in the neighborhood.
We ran through the big blue doors and again, I was mildly dumbfounded to find that Hannah and I were the youngest people in the congregation by about forty years and that we were sitting amongst maybe twenty-five people. Definitely not what I had imagined. The church was pretty all right, but nowhere near the extravagant, semi-decrepit building I had imagined in my dreams.
I quickly learned that Pilrig St. Paul’s was special. Not because of the building or the number of people there. This cozy little church on Leith Walk was full of people who were warm and loving and smiled at the two of us strangers and invited us in. Pastor Mark preached straight from God’s heart, messages of inclusion, love and acceptance— using Myres-Briggs personality types. And I didn’t just hear it. I felt it. In the people around me and my newfound traveler friend beside me. We were welcome. We were home here among these sweet people.
It takes a special kind of person to become a church lady. I hope I can be one someday. The love they showered on me was something so simple, yet something I very quickly realized I had been missing in my life for so long. Yesterday, when I came running in to church through pouring rain, they had refused to let me leave without first drinking a steaming cup of tea, and filling my travel mug up with another for the road. My new friend, Dot told me all about her life and asked to hear all about my job and my family. They were proud of the welcoming space they had created and if I could have stayed there all day, I would have.
This week also marks a year since I began the craziest adventure of my life. Much like this wonderful little church, the moments I hold most dear came from the most unexpected sources. The kindness of strangers, the ideal moments gone wrong, the humbling moments of getting lost. The best things happen when your expectations go out the window and you simply let yourself live and invite God to move.
Much like Pastor Mark said this week, when we follow a mysterious, creative, loving God, our lives unfold in ways we never could have imagined on our own. One year down the road, I am even more grateful for that big, fat, enthusiastic yes to my life in Prague. There are moments I look back in awe at the way my journey was designed. Things fell into place and I found what lights my soul on fire.
As I’m sitting on a train careening through the Scottish countryside, my heart feels like it could absolutely burst. Between having time to reflect on my year here, and having my cup filled until it was overflowing, I’m so grateful for all of the amazing souls I’ve met on this journey, but I’m especially thankful, to the core, for everyone who has supported me along the way. I cherish every phone call, text, prayer, letter and word of encouragement, from the day I sent the application for the internship last October, to the sweet text I received from a friend this morning. You all have reminded me that home is a feeling, and across the miles and trials, we all have the power to carry a bit of it within ourselves.