Tomorrow, we’ll say goodbye to Bea, our Time for God volunteer from Germany who has worked at Sacred Trinity Church for a year as part of her voluntary service and faith journey.
“Soo, Beatrix, we’ve only got two last questions for you before you can leave and we’re going to look for a placement for you. Firstly, how would you describe Jesus to a stranger? And secondly, if you had the chance to ask God one question: what would you ask?”
This was the moment I realised that I probably made a mistake applying for a year abroad with a Christian organisation. And that it was not true that basic vocabulary in English would be enough for this job interview. Luckily, I got a cup of tea and biscuits to calm myself down and to play for some more time thinking about an answer for these two questions. But to be fair, who would have thought that drinking tea and eating biscuits would actually prepare me better for working in an English church than talking about the nature of Jesus?
After I’ve managed to get through this interview without any harm I finally got Sacred Trinity Church, Salford, as my placement and my personal adventure could begin!
An adventure that consisted of
342 days which are
8,208 hours which are
492,480 minutes which are
342 days filled with
64 days of helping out at the local primary school
35 times helping with services at Salford University
29 choir rehearsals
15 team meetings
11 film nights
3 Time for God conferences
2 Christian Festivals
and – last but not least –
1 house move
Apart from that, my year was probably filled with (hmm, 342 days, at least 3 cups a day, could be) more than 1000 cups of tea. Not bad for a German, is it?
So in those 342 days I’ve helped with almost everything that was happening at Sacred Trinity and I got the overall experience of being completely involved in the community for a year. I feel like I have been a real member of the congregation and I’ve experienced a year in the church in all facets.
Unexpectedly, I have learned a lot by just sitting in church, waiting for visitors when we open up the building. It always amazes me how many people just want to have a quick look round or are looking for some quietness, how many people tell us that they went past the church for the last 20 years and never had time to have a look at the building and how many people just want to talk to someone. We always get visitors from different nationalities and so many different people coming in, so that it is really worth just sitting down, having a cup of tea together and listening to their story. Often I am very surprised that I meet all kinds of people just sitting in church making a pot of tea and it is great that I get to know so many people I probably would have never met otherwise.
But relationships in general have been a really important part of my year.
It has been a very powerful experience to be in a community of over one hundred Time for God volunteers from all over the world who came to the UK this year. To be fair, there are quite a lot of Germans, but also volunteers from the United States, from Hungary, Romania, Jamaica, South Korea, Ukraine and many other countries. And we really grew to be a community when we have met for our Time for God conferences. Especially when you are going to a foreign country together where you basically don’t know anyone, you automatically develop a deeper relationship to each other. And I am very grateful for this community, all the different people I have met and all the new friendships. Next year there are going to be five Time for God volunteers in Salford – who knew that this is becoming the new place to be?
But having diverse backgrounds and having to adapt to a foreign culture obviously can also be very challenging. One of the main things we needed to learn before our service and the sentence we probably heard the most at all of our preparation conferences was
“It’s not wrong, it’s just different.”
That may sound easy, but it is definitely challenging. Faith is always something very personal and very emotional which means that if people do things a different way than one is used to it, it is easy for one to feel like it’s the wrong way to do it. Being a Lutheran myself, it can sometimes be difficult to be exposed to the traditions, rituals and beliefs of the Church of England. But I have definitely enjoyed discovering a different church and all the positive and negative aspects that come with it.
Besides, I am also convinced that there are advantages for a church to have someone who has an outside view on the church, someone who didn’t grow up with all the traditions, someone who can also question the way specific things have been dealt with for years.
Nevertheless, I’ve experienced great generosity and hospitality while being here and Salford/Manchester definitely became my second home (and third home – after we had to go through all the stress of moving house in June).
And this hospitality wasn’t always certain after you unexpectedly voted for Brexit just a few weeks before I was supposed to come to England. But everyone assured me that it wasn’t as bad as the media presented it and that not everyone in the UK hated foreigners 😉
It has been a wonderful experience to be a “full-time Christian” which has changed my view on the church and my faith massively. The times when we have been the busiest in church were paradoxically the most exhausting and at the same time the most fulfilling parts of my year in the UK. For example, I have never experienced Easter the way I did this year because I never had the opportunity to fully experience Lent and that was only possible because I was able to concentrate on those things instead of having to do school or university at the same time.
All in all, I’ve definitely learned a lot about community and how an active and inclusive church life can look like. I’ve also learned that a different way to do things is not automatically the wrong way and how important it can be to just be there for people and to make them a cup of tea.
And I’ve learned how to make time for people, how to make time for myself and how to make Time for God. Maybe not in that order though.
And – just to make it clear – I still can’t explain the nature of Jesus to a stranger and I’m still not sure which one question I would ask God if I had the chance, but perhaps that’s part of the journey as well.
I’ll hope to see you all again one day,
“We are not there yet, but we will be. It is not yet done and over, but it has been set in motion. We are not at the end yet, but we are on the way.” – Martin Luther