This week’s article comes from someone who was part of the St Mary’s congregation when living in Glasgow a few years ago, reflecting on that experience and on the impact that St Mary’s has made on her life since.
On being away: thinking (always) of St Mary’s:
I first came to St Mary’s at the end of a November. I’d had a bit of a bad go in another parish and I needed to find a home. The very first night I came—a little uncertain—I forgot my keys behind on a pew when I left after Evensong. Unable to get into my house and without my mobile I called the number listed on the bulletin from what had to be the nastiest, oldest phone booth in all of Partick. It took a while to connect with the Provost because he was out with the choir and servers but eventually we connected and keys and I were reunited.
A few weeks later when I came to speak to the Provost about coming to St Mary’s to perhaps join this congregation we met in the Parish office in the dark of late November/early December. As we met in his office I could hear fireworks going off for St Andrew’s day and as I left the sky was lit up. The very next Sunday—my first official day—coincidentally we had ‘champagne’ (it was fizzy and alcoholic) after the service and I knew that this was a “GOOD” place and a place for me.
It was in those first moments when I fetched up at St Mary’s, a bit wounded and needing to be there but also needing to be by myself with space around me, that I knew that St Mary’s was a place that offered welcome. Later, I came to understand that St Mary’s knew how to welcome, that the congregation had space for me. And this is, in a few words, is one of things that I remember most about St Mary’s: ‘welcome’ and ‘houseroom’. When I came to that first Evensong I knew that there was a place for me and for everyone else who found themselves at the Cathedral’s doors. A measure of that welcome, of that community, of the hospitality that St Mary’s offers is that it doesn’t just happen on the first day or in the fact that people say hello to you when you’re new. It happens all.the.time, over and over and over again.
For me—now that I am far away from St Mary’s and from Glasgow—what I remember best are the things large and small that come to me all the time. It’s that wall of noise that rose up when, after many tensions and a lot of worry, that first moment of coming together as Bishop Gene Robinson and the clergy, choir and servers processed to the altar on that glorious occasion when we all came together as God’s children and when the work of the Holy Spirit was made manifest in joy and in song. It is knowing that the list of the names of loved ones remembered on All Souls is kept close on the High Altar and in the body of the Church throughout all the year. It’s that amazing cacophony of sound on Pentecost as the many voices are raised up in their own languages. It’s the laughter before, after and sometimes during the services. It’s being welcomed into St Mary’s with prayer and it’s learning about prayer each and every Sunday. It’s about walking from my flat in Partick up the hill, over the river until I caught that first peek of the steeple and knew that I was coming home. It was about finding a place where I knew I could be most myself before God.
St Mary’s was where I grew in my own faith as I was both embraced and challenged. Challenged by different ways of doing and thinking about liturgy and worship but, at the same time knowing that we were all there for the same reason and that we knew why we had come together. Many times this came in everyday ways when the Holy Spirit was at work in quiet, ordinary ways. Sitting with a knitting group of an evening; that commitment to practical faith seen all the time and in so many and manifested in walking, meeting and doing; and seen in the ever-present sense of community, Whether community came in sharing a sleepy early Easter morning as the Paschal fire was lit and the smell of incense mingled with the smell of bacon cooking our breakfast or whether it came in the vision and mission of the Cathedral ‘open, inclusive and welcoming’ found everywhere from bulletin to website to the hearts of congregants.
Beyond that gift of welcome and community St Mary’s also gave me another gift. It was at St Mary’s that I was able to begin to articulate something that increasingly demanded my attention. St Mary’s was where I came face to face with my vocation, with my own call to priesthood. At the time I knew only that St Mary’s, as many places had, formed me. Since then I have talked about St Mary’s to others, used it as an example of a healthy, vibrant, loving, and growing church. St Mary’s has always had a place in my heart; now I use it in my vocation and formation. It was at St Mary’s that I learned what a Cathedral could and should be. It’s that ‘standard’ that I’ve set as benchmark for other cathedrals: for being community and for being in community
I’ve always thought it was significant that it was Advent Sunday when I first properly came to St Mary’s. As Advent is the beginning of the Church year, so Advent Sunday was the beginning of my journey with St Mary’s. Not only was it the beginning it was a time both of the season and in my own faith journey that was a bit dark. And as the fireworks lit the sky when I met with the Provost, so there was light in the dark and for me St Mary’s will always be remembered as being that light.
[Image Credit:www.freeimages.com / Ni Rocha]