Recently, I have realised that most of my life in Great Britain is connected to church. Nearly everyone I know I have met through church work, either directly through my own or indirectly through larger networks. This isn’t to say that my church friends aren’t lovely people. They’re fantastic. I just rarely go anywhere without my title of ‘minister’ tagging along like toilet tissue stuck to my shoe whilst coming out of the bathroom. I wanted to rectify this after my trip to the United States and in particular missing my friends where I could easily be the person I wanted to be without having to worry too much about how this might look if someone saw a minister. So, I joined an organisation that has nothing to do with church, and last night I went to the first meeting. For someone who normally pegs out as an introvert (with however small a margin) on the Myers-Brigg scale, walking into a room where I know no one is no easy feat.
To avoid awkward conversations on the front end, I plan to arrive around 5 minutes late. I sit at a table with two or three people. The whole group is on average older than I, but still younger than most churches. A man near me insists that I get some minutes from the last meeting, and I dutifully take them from him. It provides me an opportunity to escape from the worry that I am too scared to talk to anyone whilst I look busy. A man in his 40s spots me, and in a friendly manner hands me a sign in role. Other than that, no one bothers me. Around me is the low hum of the chatter of people who all know each other. My eyes continue to be glued to the minutes, and the meeting begins.
The mundane business caries on with the people who are all used to it, and bring out the humour of the very ordinary procedures. Social events are announced, with a call for volunteers to staff them. I don’t know the language well enough to understand what the job would entail, so I don’t volunteer. The whole business meeting takes around 30 minutes, which causes my stomach to churn as I realise that social part of the evening will continue. Food has been laid out, and people begin to move. The guy who handed me the sign-in sheet approaches me. He is the membership secretary, and seems quite happy for me to be there. I tell him I only just signed up, and he remarks that’s why he hasn’t heard about me. I mention the social event for new members, and not having enough signed up so far, he quickly gets my email address. ‘Make sure you get the food,’ he encourages me. ‘We don’t always get this.’ I get in the queue, and then make my way back to the table.
A conversation is already in process, as someone talks about applying for a job in Scotland. Every once in a while, the one speaking will look at me in the way people do to make another feel included in the conversation, even though that person hasn’t a clue what’s going on. As social convention dictates, I stupidly nod along at appropriate times. A lull hits the conversation, and the voice of every extraverted friend and family member comes crashing in my mind, wondering why I can’t simply start a conversation like they can. Without my collar or title as a minister, I feel I have no ‘in’ or reason to start the conversation, but I give it a go with the guy who has been applying for a job. It’s a job that I had never thought about what the interview process would entail, so I barrage him with questions. He sounds like he wants to talk about it so this continues for a few minutes before hitting a lull. I look at the clock, and it is 9 PM – 55 minutes after I arrived and it having taken me half an hour to get there. I tell the extraverts in my head that I have had enough, and I am going – no matter what they think. I announce to the four people around me that I have a long drive home and need to leave – as if they needed to know that and were wondering what my plans are. This is likely more for the extraverts in my head to let them know that I have a good reason for packing up early. I find the membership secretary and tell him the same thing. He is speaking to someone next to him, so he barely raises his head to say good-bye. I walk out to find my car, relieved now with the pressure off.
Trying to join an established group is difficult. I am the odd person out and share none of the histories of those around me. Whether or not they have an obligation to a new member isn’t the point of this, but if the enclaves are too hard to break into, my personality doesn’t serve me well. Despite my own tendency to remain at the table alone, I am determined to see this through and give it a fair chance. I want a life outside the manse, so I will keep trying until I see it as futile.