We took a mini-break last week, and went into Cornwall for three days. Ash Wednesday fell in that week, so we found ourselves a local church where we could join people for a Communion service and the traditional ‘ashing’.
We arrived at a small village church right out in the sticks. We only expected a few people to be there, but we found the chancel so full that we could not find two seats together. Everybody ignored us. Nobody said hello. They were too busy greeting friends and trading chairs. In the end I found somebody bringing in extra chairs, but still no ‘hello’ – she plonked them down and moved on.
I was sitting next to an elderly gent with a wonderful Cornish accent. In loud tones he was discussing with his friend his food likes and dislikes, and then repeating himself so I had the benefit of hearing several times that he didn’t eat much meat, only pork or chicken, and you couldn’t get a decent Cornish pasty for love nor money, especially not those Ginsters things. Could you believe it – they actually mince the meat in them???!!
He too completely ignored me.
Service started on time, led without sparkle but with sincerity. Then we got to sharing the Peace.
‘I bet’, I thought, ‘this is the sort of church where people sit stony-faced with crossed arms on the grounds that there is no way anybody will make them shake hands and share God’s peace with each other…’
But I was wrong. They all clearly knew each other well. Everyone got up and moved around. A few even shook our hands too.
I turned round and the womAn behind me stuck out her hand. ‘Peace be with you,’ she said quietly.
Suddenly I realised. People weren’t being deliberately unfriendly. They were shy.
A moment later, Cornish pasty guy turned his head towards me. He said ‘are you on holiday here? I haven’t seen you before.’ He did not make eye contact and I thought ‘he’s actually quite shy too.’
At the end of the Peace, another elderly gent stood up, and thanked everyone warmly for their good wishes, cards and phone calls while he had been ill. I liked that.
At the end of the service, a younger guy stood up and warned people about an email scam which had elderly folks scurrying to the nearby town to send money by Moneygram. Firstly, it’s not true, he said. Secondly, if you send money that way you can’t get it back. He spoke with clarity and clearly with genuine concern.
Then a younger woman said she had some thoughts to share with everyone, if they would like to hear them. There was enthusiasm. She had left the book in the car, she said, so she would share them over coffee in the Cabin.
We’d noticed the little room with the bright pink doors when we had entered the churchyard. Cornish Pasty man invited us to join them.
They were clearly a close-knit, warm-hearted community who cared for each other, and I felt rebuked that I’d rushed to judgement so quickly at the beginning.
OK Lord … I get it. Next time, give people a chance.
(image from This Blog Sparkles)