True fear is sitting between a priest and a nun at Sunday Mass and hoping they don’t realise that not only are you not Christian, but also know none of the words to any the prayers and hymns.
So yeah, I went to church for the first time in a while. Since I was staying with a pastor, I expected it would happen at some point, and having been shown the inside, and being told the building process of the church, I was excited to see what it was like in session.
Arriving 15 minutes early so I could settle in and not attract too much attention, I sat down in the middle next to a kindly looking gentleman, who informed me that a nun would soon be arriving to sit next to him.
The nun arrived, and she proved to be just as nice as the man before her. However, as the pair identified me as a visitor to the church, they were eager to know of my religious proceedings back in Wales.
I can’t claim to know the rules, but I’m pretty certain lying to a nun in church is frowned upon. Unfortunately, I was also worried that outing myself as agnostic (at most) would also be a mistake. And revealing my status as a ‘Dudeist’ Priest would probably give her a heart attack.
So I told the most basic of truths; that I hadn’t really gone to church whilst in university, and wasn’t a regular attendee in Wales, as my grandmother was always the most religious member of the family. Thankfully, service started before they could interrogate me further, and I found myself enjoying a tradition that I had long since forgotten. Not enough to make me convert and become a regular church goer, but enough that I can look back fondly on the experience, and maybe tell a tale or two when I return to Wales.
I awkwardly bowed when necessarily, and desperately attempted to sing along, quiet enough that no one would notice how truly out of place I was. But as expected, it would become increasingly evident that I didn’t belong. Crossing my arms over my chest, I was blessed by Max whilst others received communion, and noticed an elderly African-American lady to my left scowling with disapproval.
Afterwards, people were invited to greet their neighbours, and after shaking a few hands and wishing peace upon those nearby, I retreated back to my chair, crossing paths with a girl who seemed eager to shake my hand from the other side of a small group of people.
Sitting back down, I said a quick prayer for my grandmother, and refocused my attention on Max, who was now ordering all ‘visitors’ to stand. He welcomed us all to St. Columba’s, before allowing the others to sit down, leaving everyone’s gaze focused on me.
Telling a story of when we first met, and he held me upside down by my ankles (this was at least ten years ago, there would be no chance of this happening now), he once again welcomed me, and finally allowed me my seat.
If I’m honest, I was expecting something far more humiliating, but as I would later be told, there were far too many guests for him to focus a significant amount of time on me.
Mass ended, and I scouted about the room for the girl I had previously come into contact with, but she had disappeared into the sea of churchgoers heading out front to converse. Meeting up with Max’s friends who I had dined with earlier that week, we snuck out the back to the parish garden, where we and a small group of Max’s ‘inner circle’ enjoyed a few glasses of wine in the sun.
Afterwards, we attended a reception at a hotel in one of the nicer parts of Oakland, where we were treated to music from a local performer, who played us a strange mix of African soul and contemporary pop music.
The religion-based questions continued, as I struggled to find other topics of conversation. I was invited to get in contact with a stern looking, but friendly fellow by the name of Carter, who suggested we get drinks when I arrived in Los Angeles area.
I am currently unsure of whether the invitation still stands, as when reciting our prayers before eating, Carter, who was opposite me, became very aware of how I didn’t know all the words, and he too looked at me with disapproval.
Fortunately, I managed to leave, dignity mostly in tact, on good terms with the other party goers, and head back to the parish for my last evening in the Bay Area. Unsure of what to do with ourselves, we then went to the cinema in San Francisco, where I was finally able to watch Days of Future Past.
It was a pretty decent flick, but didn’t quite live up to the hype that had amounted in my mind. The ending was as pleasing as everyone claims, but I had already heard what had happened, and thus was not in awe as much as my fellow watchers. I’d watch it again, sure, but for now, The Winter Soldier and 22 Jump Street remain my favourite films of the year.
So that’s Oakland and San Francisco done with. On to Los Angeles!