There are times when I have to pinch myself because none of what I am doing feels real.
We traveled down to Jerusalem yesterday for last night’s big St Andrew’s Day shindig. (Driving through Jerusalem for the first time was terrifying. As someone said to me last night, ‘Turn signals are for the weak’. But that’s another story…) As we were getting in the car in Tiberias, I asked Justin, ‘So, do you know which way we need to go?’ ‘Of course,’ he replied. ‘Down the Jordan valley, till you see the Dead Sea, then turn right and keep going up the hill.’
Just typing those words still makes me shiver with a mix of excitement and disbelief. It’s mad. I shake my head constantly at the madness of it all. How is it I’m here?
How am I here? is a question I’ve been asking myself almost hourly since arriving. How as in how did I manage to persuade the interview panel back in May that I was the right person to fill this post? How have they not seen through me in the months in between? How could I possibly have any of the skills I need? How deluded was I as I prepared to move?
But also how as in the wonderful Scottish way of saying it to mean why? How as in what exactly am I meant to be doing? Why am I here?
I know I’m here to lead worship and serve the congregation of St Andrew’s Galilee. And I inwardly offer effusive thanks and praise on a daily basis for all the incredible training I received at Old Saint Paul’s which means I can quite happily lead worship for 2 people or 200. I am finding ways that I can maintain my liturgical integrity whilst serving people who range from Catholic to Calvinist. And hallelujah for liturgical seasons which I am intentionally using to make small changes but which also give both me and the congregation the assurance that if something really doesn’t work, once the season ends, we’ll try something new. I’m finding some people love candles. Others loathe them. So for Advent and Lent, the penitential seasons, we won’t have them (other than the Advent candles). For other seasons, we will, and for some seasons, we will have them in abundance. Liturgical appropriateness + lateral thinking + a bit of congregational compromise = a big win. (For now. I’m very aware of a little phenomenon called the honeymoon period…)
But once I am out of the church, it is a totally different story.
I go shopping and literally have no idea what I am buying. There is cheese with pictures of tomatoes and cheese with pictures of cucumbers. What’s what? Finding food Coleridge will eat has been easier than finding laundry detergent for my sensitive skin.
I stopped at the garage to put petrol in the car this evening and ended up having to drive away with a still empty tank because I had absolutely no clue what the Hebrew on the card machine said.
There are obviously sales going on in a lot of the shops at the moment, but I can’t tell what the deals are and what’s actually on sale. And that is AGONISING!
Books with beautiful and intriguing covers are all in Hebrew. Oh, the pain!
It is debilitating not being able to speak the language. I have so much I want to do: create a website for the church, update its publicity materials, advertise Christmas services, build networks of contacts. But at the moment I am working without internet access in home or office (out of desperation, I’m now using my mobile phone to connect my computer via 3G) and with an old printer from the era of the Gutenberg Press. Because I understand neither language nor bureaucracy I’m reliant upon others to either advise me or simply to sort it things on my behalf. It’s a position of both incredible frustration and vulnerability.
So, how am I here? What is my purpose?
At the moment, to be honest, it feels as though I’m the one being ministered to. Members of the congregation are offering the ministry of generosity and immense helpfulness (including texting pictures of good brands of necessary items). Managers and staff at the hotel are offering the ministry of gracious hospitality. Fellow clergy, though miles away in Jerusalem, are offering the ministry of encouragement. Friends and family, even further away in Scotland and the States, are offering the ministry of prayer.
I keep having to remind myself that we’ve only been here for about two minutes. That I’ve hardly slept in the same bed for more than 4 or 5 nights in a row over the past couple of months. That I am in my first ever (sort of) solo ministry post. In a different denomination. In a new country. Beginning at one of the busiest times of the liturgical year. Surely that’s enough to send just about anyone but our Lord Himself diving under the duvet, right?
As I said, madness.
So perhaps just getting out of bed and taking each day as it comes will suffice for now. And the big existential quandaries can be left until Epiphany at least.