Saturday, 19 September 2015

Life lessons...

This past week saw me returning to England for a couple of days with Mark and Sarah of Order of the Black Sheep then back to Scotland to meet up with Glen and journey north to the Orkney Islands. Surprisingly, both journeys brought valuable lessons about life and church.
Having experienced an OBS worship service at the Greenbelt Festival two years ago, I was intent on spending time with Mark and Sarah to learn what I could. I shifted my schedule to make sure I could attend. I wasn't disappointed. Mark and Sarah were welcoming. The service was relaxed, many people simply lounging on black bean bag chairs. The prayers were rooted in the context of the younger adults who were present, some from the alternative community but equally not. Being a black sheep means different things to different people. The sense of welcome in the midst of uncertainty and doubt is what keeps some coming. The inclusiveness and non-churchy vibe is what draws others. The willingness to engage people where they are at is a touchstone for others - including parents with children.

This is the part of OBS that surprised Mark the most as the community has evolved. Before becoming a vicar, Mark was a musician with a heavy metal band. The ministry was initially formed with teens and adults connected to that scene but over time it has morphed from one thing into another. Mark and Sarah are willing to try one thing and if it fails to try something else. I think OBS works because they are willing to learn from their mistakes. In the process they have created a space where families feel welcome, not because it's a family focused ministry but because it's a people where they're at focused ministry.

This is what connects this experience to the Orkney Islands for me. I wanted to go to the Orkney Islands because they are known for the high concentration of Neolithic sites like the Standing Stones of Stennness and the village of Skara Brae. What I didn't know was that amongst these sites there were also Pictish, Viking and Medieval Scots ruins as well, often at the same places. Over time in this archipelago one culture has been integrated into another rather than one displacing another. As climate changed or new political circumstances arose the people adapted. You hear it in the accent as people speak with a Norse as much as a Scottish accent. They are quick to tell you they are Orcadians, proud to have thrived in a remote and harsh environment.

This adaptability is captured by two contemporary sites beside each other on Lambholm, a small island linked to the "Mainland" by a causeway. The first is the Italian Chapel, built by Italian POWs interned in Orkney during the Second World War. Missing home, they asked if they could have a chapel for services. What they did with the space is extraordinary. They sourced all the materials themselves, turning two quonset style buildings into a work of art. When I walked in I thought the walls were tiled. Everything is plaster or cement, painted to look like tile, wood, marble, and the like. They used what they had a created a masterpiece.

Equally impressive is the Orkney Wine Company housed right next door. No grapes grow at 58° latitude, but blueberries, rhubarb, cranberries, etc. certainly do. They are making amazing fruit wines. They even make Tattie Wine - wine from potatoes. It's quite good with a slight whiskey finish.

What did I learn about life and church from these experiences? The importance of resilience. When changes come you can moan and fret, or you can try new things, adapting as necessary. In a time of change as a church we need to be willing to experiment as needed. We may not always succeed but we just may create something amazing in the process.

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