In some circles you only have to mention the word and eyes will roll, but what of it? Whether we like it or not, our society is marked by a greater degree of diversity than that of our parents of grandparents. When I was a little girl in Wales my father was the only ‘European’ in the village, although there were some English ‘incomers’ and even some North Walians. There were three channels we could get on the TV – and then only with some effort; the telephone was fixed and you could get it only on a waiting list from the nationalised telephone company; and you could have any meal you wanted at the one restaurant in the nearby town as long as it consisted of meat and two ve. No doubt there were some homosexuals, but if there were, although it had been legal since 1968, no one was ‘out’. It was not atypical of the area. Last time I was there, there were many different types of places selling a variety of foods, you could get your mobile phone from at least two shops in town, and on any tariff you cared; and there was a ‘gay bar’, as well as a lot of Poles and some people of colour from I don’t know where. Diversity. Talking with some older people who had known my daddy, they weren’t much enamoured of the changes, but the changes weren’t going away – although it turned out two of the chapels had, and the Church of Wales church had about it a neglected air although it was, I was assured, still open.
As in my old hometown, diversity is a reality in modern life, and however little or much we like or dislike it, it isn’t going away. Moving from an isolated rural environment to Edinburgh, I am at times almost overwhelmed by the range of diversity on offer here – and I’d not be telling the truth if I didn’t say there were times when I just want to be back in an environment with which I am familiar, and where diversity amounts to taking the high or the low road to the next village. My congregations then were all white, mostly female, and wholly middle class; an environment I felt very much at home in, fitting all three categories. Here I find myself offering the kiss of peace to and this is just thinking on the last four Sundays) a female Nigerian student, a Scottish woman, an American tourist, a German tourist, a Malaysian student, a woman from the Hebrides, a Danish woman, and a couple of English students, as well as a Scotswoman who lives in the same tenement as I do. At coffee afterwards, I had a chance to ask what they were doing there, and the answers were interesting.
They’d look at our website and found it looked welcoming in terms of the language we used and what we said about ourselves. Some had come from other churches in the city because they’d heard ‘good things’ about us. One young woman said she’d heard we welcomed ‘people like me’. I didn’t need to ask what she meant. Sometimes I go to the 8 am Communion service, and there I find a congregation more like the ones I am used to – mainly white, mainly Scottish and mainly middle class – and mainly women. We don’t have coffee, but on the way out I speak to people, and the story is always the same – the 10.30 sung eucharist is a little too ‘lively’ for them, and they love the old Scottish prayer book – so they go to the early service, or to Mattins at 9.30. The same Church, two diverse congregations. I even manage to get to Evensong occasionally, and that’s an entirely different story, many students, many tourists, and quite a lot of people who go to it because they ‘like the peace and the calm’ and they don’t feel ‘left out’ because there is no Communion service – even though in practice we’d welcome them if they wanted to come. I have not yet managed Mattins myself, but am told that is yet another diverse group.
That is our way of dealing with the fact that diversity exists. We try to offer everyone something they might want in terms of style of worship – all directed to the same Holy Trinity. In this way, at least, we can be all things to all men. Some of the implications of this I shall come to presently.