What would a Scottish tourist make of St Andrew’s, Colombo?

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A Scot – let’s call him “Jimmy” – arriving in Colombo would find St Andrew’s Scots Kirk services fairly familiar, although looking around at the congregation from a variety of countries and denominational backgrounds – Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Pentecostal etc – he would be on less familiar ground. The hymns, children’s talks, monthly Communion and sermons are all pretty traditional Scottish Presbyterian fare. It may be disconcerting for our virtual Scot to see perhaps 20 people in the church at 9.30, but when the opening prayer is over, there may be three times that number! Jimmy would definitely not handle the heat very well – even with the overhead fans: it’s very rare for temperatures in Scotland to reach the 30C or more which is normal in Colombo.  

Jimmy would probably have enjoyed the Public Speaking teaching and coaching which I delivered: Scots tend to like people who speak well. Numbers varied from 20 to 2 or 3 and good progress was made by a number of attendees, to the point of some taking part in Sunday services by reading the Bible or leading prayers.

Some of the activities of the church would be familiar to him – the Thrift Shop resembles what we call a “Charity Shop” or even a “Jumble Sale”. Jimmy would be amazed at the funds which it raises for Netherlee Cottage, and probably envious! The Kirk has been involved for many years with social care, and Netherlee Cottage is the kind of venture which “Crossreach” would promote in Scotland. But I doubt if Jimmy had seen anything like feeding the 100+ local workers on a Thursday lunchtime, although sometimes churches provide a cup of soup and a mug of tea to homeless people at the weekend and in recent years Scottish churches, like many others in the UK, have set up “Food Banks” to provide basics for people struggling to cope.

The visit to the Bohra Mosque in July would be unusual to Jimmy, but its purpose would be clear. Even in Scotland, there are tensions between religions, so the opportunity to build bridges and learn about others would be warmly welcome. 
Nowadays most kirks have house groups or such-like where members can get to know each other and where fellowship can be built up between members, so the Sunday evening “Six foot above” meetings would be familiar to Jimmy. He is very aware of the importance of the church showing that it’s unlike the day-to-day world, where gossip, criticism and back-biting are the norm. Fellowship meetings play an important part in the church’s witness to show that we are in the world, but not of it.

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