On The Hunt: Finding a Church in Scotland

I write this after enjoying a beautifully sunny day on a beach in North Berwick where my new friend Ahmed and I were kicking a football back and forth. Since our first arrival in Edinburgh (nearly 2 years ago), Leah and I were on the hunt for a church community. Before our move, we had tracked down a few churches, though with our eyes on a particular one. I had researched the church for some months hoping to get a pulse on the community from a distance. On our first week in Edinburgh—and with extreme jetlag—we decided to head to this church even though it was nearly an hour bus ride away! Everything about the church reminded us of Bakersfield. The community was filled with a nice mix of sweet old ladies and rowdy teenagers, though families were surprisingly sparse. The service was nice, energetic, and very charismatic of a familiar flavour. We left the service feeling as though we hadn’t skipped a beat. But, it was for this very reason that we felt most compelled to find a new church. For Leah and I, our time in Edinburgh was not about replicating our life in Bakersfield, rather quite the opposite. We wanted change and to experience a piece of life that we had never known. So, after chatting with a few of my PhD colleagues, we began to attend a Scottish Episcopal Church called “Ps & Gs” (Short for St. Paul’s and St. George’s; also, the heading image shows the exterior of Ps and Gs).

Inside Ps and Gs

Like the Scottish people, the Ps & Gs community is extremely welcoming and kind. The church provids three services on Sundays with a more liturgical focus at 9am (with a friendly face tickling the ivories of the organ); a family feel at 11am; and young-adult approach at 7pm. Obviously, with the kids, we mainly attend the 11am service. The church, being quite relaxed in its liturgical approach, still took some getting used to. For instance, wine instead of grape juice (aka, “diet Jesus”) at communion seemed odd…I know, I know, it’s in the Bible. But, even more odd was having to drink from the same cup of the old mustached dude before me, who I know left some remnants of the stache for me to unwittingly ingest (I started dipping my bread after this incident!). Also, the liturgically-driven sitting and standing left me feeling like I was in a Richard Simmons workout video rather than a church. But, looking back on our nearly two years of attendance at Ps and Gs, the oddities have slipped away and we remain thankful for this community. Our greatest joy in the church comes from their kid’s programme.

A bench in front of Ps and Gs

Penelope and Markie love their classes and daily ask to go to church on Sunday (even when mum and dad don’t really want to go J). The programme is relaxed yet organised, and the teachers are sweet. Our favourite part is the conversations on our way home following church. The kids learn about the issues of the world and actively pray for them. Penelope and Markie will regularly remind us (usually at dinner time prayer) to pray for the refugees and those without money for food or a home. It makes my heart happy that my kids are concerned for the poorest and most vulnerable people of society and that their lives are not simply self-interested.

We’ve been the thankful to the church for the numerous opportunities to participate in the community. During our first year here, Leah was warmly welcomed into the Mother’s connect group, which provided so much support for Leah and the kids as we transitioned our life to Scotland.  Now, although Leah is working full time and can no longer attend regular meet-ups, she has maintained friendships with many of the women and the kids often look forward to going to “Mother’s group” during their school holidays. Leah and I also run a bi-monthly in-depth Bible study (looking at the Gospel of Mark!) with university students. We typically have 6-8 students and cover anywhere from 4-8 verses in about three hours. We often eat together and enjoy each other’s company. The Bible study is strictly dialogical and requires participation. I help the students navigate the ancient context and Greek language, but still require their interpretive and investigative skills. The students have become aware and skeptical readers, questioning every ambiguous pronoun and every scene change. They understand terms like “pericope” and don’t take words like “gospel” for granted anymore. I watch these individuals regularly grow in their faith as their confidence to wrestle with scripture gives them a clearer vision of who Jesus is. These studies have been a great source of joy for both Leah and I. I also participate in the monthly student gatherings that are held at the church and enjoyed sharing at one of the meetings this last school term.  I was also asked to share on a passage during the Good Friday service this past Easter, and will be speaking a few more times during the 7pm service over the summer holiday.

Student Bible Study

Now, back to Ahmed. Ahmed is a Syrian refugee and new to the UK. He is just a kid, only two grades older than Penelope. Ahmed’s family was displaced by the grueling effects of war and terror in his home country, and he has had little in the way of normalcy. But today, Ahmed was not a refugee, he was just my friend. As friends, we kicked around a soccer ball, played badminton, and tried to fly a kite (with little success!). We chatted about his mates at school and how difficult it was adapting to the UK. We pissed off a couple making-out as our soccer ball flew within inches of their head…and it made for a good laugh! As I goofed around with Ahmed, I watched my kids and wife digging in the sand with other Syrian children. P’s and G’s had graciously reached out to refugee families resettling in Edinburgh with an aim to simply make their transition to the UK easier. Thankfully, P’s and G’s doesn’t only pray for our troubled world, but actively engages it. My family and I have never wanted to merely pray for our world, but rather actively engage it; and I am thankful to P’s and G’s for providing us opportunities to remain faithful to our call while on foreign soil.