Sunday, January 21, 2007
Stars fell on Alabama?
Well I don't know. I come to Alabama, where they've had wonderful weather for months, and today the rain is coming down in stair-rods. I could be in Dunoon - except that the rain is vertical rather than horizontal. Maybe in a Humphrey Bogart movie instead - the ones where men's hats shine and drip and the windscreen wipers go at double speed. Hmm.
But happily I'm not in the situation of an ordinary tourist, and the experiences just get better and better. Last night we all attended the most amazing service in honour of St Aelred, of whom the Revd. Paul Woodrum said "Of all the gifts Aelred has given he church, the one most uniquely his is the joyous affirmation that we move towards God in and through our relationships with other people, not apart from or in spite of them." This Aelred fest has been organised by Integrity Alabama for the past 12 years to celebrate the contributions of gay and lesbian people in the life of the church, and people come from all over to join in.
The Eucharist last night was in Grace Church, where Ruth used to serve; the church was full of people, incense (with bells on the thurible so that it tinkled at every swing!) and music. This last was quite extraordinary to someone more used to hearing bottleneck guitar played by Ry Cooder over a candlelit dinner than in a candlelit church - folk music played by authentic folk musicians. Hard to sing along with, mind, but great to listen to. The preacher was the former Bishop of Alaska Steven Charleston, a charismatic Native American with a long grey pony tail and a tendency to storm down the pews to exhort the faithful to remember that they were loved - over and over, so that the "Amens" rolled out in a manner unheard of in the Piskie churches of my experience. We laughed, we nodded, we assented. Great.
After the eucharist we were all treated to a three-course dinner in the hall, and I was asked if I was Irish, if I'd speak some more, if I'd like more wine (what do you think?) - and presented with one of the roses off the tables when I left. All this had been organised by about 20 members of Integrity, who had worked 130 volunteer hours to put everything together. The passion and commitment of Episcopalians here - or at least the ones Ruth seems to work with - forces me to look at the lukewarm climate in which we operate at home. The tiny church where we worshipped this morning, in Bessemer, has the same size of congregation as Holy Trinity, Dunoon, but every member present at the lunch and annual meeting today spoke with a fervour and enthusiasm for making things happen which left me in no doubt that things would happen.
Away from matters ecclesiastical, we continue to eat far too well and in interesting and historic places. Yesterday I had fried green tomatoes - you couldn't not, really - in a diner celebrating its 100th year, with the original marble and murals still in place, and all around the accent of the South, which sounds mellow compared to more northern voices and draws out vowels so that "bids" becomes "beeuds".
I don't feel like a tourist here. A traveller, maybe, but not a tourist. The rain is still dripping off the eaves, but Ed has lit a log fire and I'm off to laze in front of it. And then I'll eat some more....