On a greyish Monday morning, holding a very sharp little dagger of a knife, looking out of the window of the portacabin,
I could see the girls’ playground full of my friends.
And I learned the word ‘Hooligan’.
There was a boys’ playground and a girls’ playground.
The boys’ playground was full of footballs and noise, games of British Bulldog and ‘Lob’.
The girls’ one had things like skipping ropes, dance routines, and daisy chains.
Feminist as I consider myself these days – it suited me fine.
I doubt they’d get away with that now.
Even though I was a skinny little thing and probably the shortest, I was considered the one ‘robust’ enough by the girls’ playground dinner ladies to take messages to or get something from the boys’ playground dinner ladies.
I was proud of that.
The fact that my Year 3 class teacher, a very nice elderly nun called Sister Anita was teaching me how to sharpen pencils with a lethal-looking knife.
She wasn’t a fan of the pencil sharpener… “weakens the lead”.
All the nuns I met through school – especially the secondary school ones, were as cool as you like.
Philosophical and feminist with really interesting perspectives on life.
Also a couple of terrifying hursuit ones, but I’ve always rather admired badassery.
The point is, my memories of religion are mostly very positive.
The priests I met weren’t perverts (that I knew of, anyway).
The people in the church weren’t boring, they were a right laugh, generally.
The music wasn’t that lame droney stuff that you might associate with church, but rock bands and catchy numbers.
Most of the people really wanted to help others and do good things.
As an adult, I actually helped with the running of something called The Alpha Course –
where we cooked sweet and sour chicken and encouraged people to ask big questions.
The Alpha Course is brilliant – go and do it if you haven’t.
What I realised (which is something I may get to at some point) after a time,
was the God stuff wasn’t why I was there.
It didn’t really stack up for me, eventually.
Spirituality though… I am all over that sh^t.
I don’t want to disrespect anyone’s faith.
Faith is a brilliant thing that brings people strength, comfort, and guidance on how to live life.
I would defend your right to have it, practice it,
even sing religious songs with a speaker strapped to yourself outside Superdrug as a woman did last Saturday.
(Maybe not that. That did test my patience while I was in the freezing queue for 15 minutes. ffs)
But then there are terrible things done in the name of religion.
Wars, killing, subjugation, prejudice, extremism, hate crimes, hypocrisy, suicide bombings.
Like everything; good and bad – just not for me.
I’ve made up my own version.
If I had a personal mantra, I suppose it would be
“What CAN I do, rather than what CAN’T I do?”
“Where are the good bits?”
(another one would be not to mix Tequila and Red Wine in the same sitting.
Bad business which may or may not make you throw up into a river behind a community centre at a 30th birthday party
Cannot deny or confirm anything re above)
While there are some things done in the name of religion I can’t personally reconcile.
I CAN find so many great, transferable elements of church:
Really lovely buildings with incredible architecture
People who care about strangers.
Bellowing out songs in a group
(my singing voice is dreadful, but I make up for it with gusto)
A calm space to sit without distraction
Humans need that stuff ^^^.
Two places you see people, meeting in groups, standing, singing their hearts out, with their eyes shut, pledging allegiance and love, with a common thought, WILLING something to happen,
and football matches.
You see, my school was literally next to the old Southampton Football Club ground – The Dell.
Saints car park was the only thing between my house and school – I had to walk through it and would see players most days.
Had I been interested, (which I wasn’t), I could literally watch entire games from my friend’s flat that overlooked it.
The ‘hooligans’ Sister Anita was talking about was an infamous visiting team,
who had lost the game on Saturday, and spray-painted ‘Die Saints Scum’ on the Portacabins, and pulled up some railings.
She was quite unimpressed with the whole business.
What I am taking a long time to say, is that Christmas is often the time that ‘once a year’ churchgoers…go.
Familiar songs, cosy stories, tradition, pretty decorations.
But it’s the year-round stuff I am interested in.
Communities where we can get that sense of connection, belonging, shared interests and values, togetherness, support, purpose, higher meaning.
Each with its own lingo, traditions, and rights of passage.
This year has tested us to the limits because it took things away that bound us together.
They might not be church, but they are community, connection and fellowship all the same.
Workplace offices – (we often see our colleagues twice as long as we saw our families during a day)
Dance & Fitness classes (I miss that)
Scouts & Guides
Yeah we muddled through on Zoom (I mean thank feck for Zoom, right?) but it’s not the same as actual living breathing humans.
One of the positives from this whole virus fiasco, it’s that I think we will never take actual physical company for granted again.
So as we head into 2021, I invite you to consider how you are going to do your own version of church.
Where will you find connection, support and like-minded (or wildly non like-minded… debating society anyone??) people.
Where are your people?
Or who do you want them to be?
They are all out there, ready and waiting to connect again – or even for the first time.
To form new tribes for fun, support, and interaction.
The excellent parts of humanity.
Groups can help you reinvent yourself, who you meet, and what you do.
Almost always better than the sum of their parts.
When you set your New Years’ intentions – it’s great to look inwards, but why not also look outwards.
Not just who are you going to be and what are you going to be… but who are you going to do that WITH?
Autocorrect wanted me to put ‘whom’ but I am not really a whom kind of person.
Churches, clubs and teams will welcome you with open arms,
and if the one you choose is a bit rubbish – don’t give up – find another one.
You might find yourself dressing up as an alien
Singing the eucharist
Performing in a pantomime
Knitting and chatting
Slam dunking a ball
There’s a church out there for everyone, you just have to decide where to look.
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