It’s Tuesday, the phone rings, a familiar voice, welcome relief from the pesky automated sales calls, “How about coming along to the Tree House Cafe tomorrow tea time for a get-together with the Tollcross shopkeepers?” “O.K. Elaine” I say, once I realise I’ve no good reason not to and in fact should have volunteered, considering I’m the Kirk Session link person for Tollcross Community Pastors or ‘TCP’, (who are behind this event) meant to be offering support and oversight.
The trouble is, I have to admit that when TCP got going, I recoiled. Not really my sort of ‘thing’! I shrink from the idea of going about the streets of Tollcross in a red hoodie, let alone one with ‘TCP’ emblazoned on it, with visions of approaching complete strangers or walking into shops with any other intention than to exit as quickly as possible once I’d made my purchase. I discovered, not for the first time, that God has other ideas – thank you Kirk Session for assigning me as Elder to TCP! How was someone of my cautious temperament going to offer any kind of useful support to this intrepid bunch!
TCP’s call for volunteers to help repaint the Treehouse Cafe gave me the chance to take the first step, overalls and a paintbrush being far preferable to red hoodie and no pretext other than determination to get to know the locals! That couple of hours was really enjoyable. O.K, as usual I was content to let others make the running in the conversation and listen in whilst applying the umpteen layers necessary to cover over the old green paint with the new yellow in the patch I did. At the end of that time though I felt I’d got to know Danny and Rona a wee bit at least and got a tiny insight into the life of the Treehouse Cafe. Enough to make me want to know more.
I had a similar experience at the shopkeepers tea. A bit scarier this time – no practical task to hide behind! Initially felt a bit of a Wally, going in, heading for the table of familiar Barclay Viewforth faces and watching the shopkeepers do the same thing and seek each others’ company as they arrived. Elaine soon saw to that though by a bit of table rearranging and before long, I was enjoying a really interesting conversation with Uta about her jewellery business and background. I found myself itching to know more about others too among this extraordinary group of people. Meal over and Elaine got everyone’s attention to find out whether we (-the ‘them’ and ‘us’ had evaporated by now) would be up for another get-together in a month or so and throw in a discussion on a topic of common interest/concern, suggesting ‘dealing with people with challenging behaviour’. This obviously struck a chord as we got started on it there and then! It begins to dawn on me what an important role the local shops play in caring for the more vulnerable members of our community. They’re the ones with the open door, among the few showing any interest or concern and often the first to pick up on the signs of a dip in physical or mental health. We like to think that our church – and each one of us in our day to day – does the same. Shared interests. Shared humanity. Chance to share our faith too?
Thanks TCP for forcing me out of my comfort zone, a few small steps at a time and giving chance to meet and start to get to know some more wonderful people! But don’t think you’re going to get me wearing that hoodie!