Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Easter Weekend from Hell: Prelude, Part 1

When I spent the 1988-89 academic year doing a time-warped Junior Year Abroad in Oxford, England, I and several other Americans in my program were lodgers at Coverdale* Theological College. We weren’t the only internationals there: Coverdale* played host to students from Africa, Asia, Canada, and Europe as well.

One of the Europeans was a man from Switzerland whom I’ll call Lukas Renzberger*. Lukas* was ordinarily a student at a Swiss Reformed seminary in Berne, and the fact that we were both from the Reformed tradition and outsiders compared to the Brits made it easy for us to hit it off. Lukas was about 27 at the time, a big, good-looking, well-set-up young man, and single. He would have been very easy for me to fancy, except that my affections were hopelessly, uselessly, but deservedly and thoroughly tied up with the Englishman I’m calling Nigel.*

Not being infatuated with Lukas* made college life with him all the more pleasant. We were friendly enough that it was a comfortable and relaxed thing for him to invite me to spend Christmas with his family in northern Switzerland, but not so close that the invitation and my acceptance carried any awkward implications.

I had a good time there with him and his family, up to mid-day on the 25th. Then, just before Christmas dinner, Lukas* and I got into a debate about the significance and meaning of Holy Communion. Only his father calling us to the table ended it, and after that, Lukas* seemed very distant, only speaking in Swiss German when we were all together, and turning off my attempts to start conversation when we were alone.

This bothered me. Did he think I was a heretic because I didn’t share his Zwinglian views? Maybe he thought I shouldn’t be holding forth on such topics at all! After all, he was the theological scholar and I was only an architect.

But when we both got back to Coverdale* in January, he seemed to be his old amiable self. Our friendship fell back into its usual easy course and I let what had happened in Switzerland go unmentioned.

Fast forward to late February that year, towards the end of Hilary Term. I was in Lukas’* room at college one Saturday afternoon and we were discussing our plans for the upcoming month-long Easter vacation.

"I’m joining some of the Coverdale* ordinands on the inner-city mission to Liverpool," he told me. "We’ll be serving there for a week. After that, for Holy Week I’ll be up at Iona. I’m on a programme at the Abbey with the Iona Community. Have you heard of Iona? It’s up on the west coast of Scotland."

"'Have I heard of Iona?'" I repeated. "Of course I have! I’m Presbyterian, aren’t I? At my church back home in the States, it’s practically a rule that if you get over to Scotland, you have to visit Iona. It's part of our heritage!

"In fact," I went on, "I’m planning on visiting Iona, too. Only, I don’t know exactly when I’ll be there; it depends on where else I want to go first. But maybe I’ll see you there!"

Lukas* agreed that that would be nice. And even if we couldn’t make contact during the vac, we made a date to go out to dinner when we both got back to Coverdale* the second week in April. My treat this time, I told him. I’d never yet had the chance to reciprocate his hospitality in Switzerland.

All very frank, friendly, and free. You will see anon how things actually fell out between us on St. Columba's holy isle.


Sandy said...

I am looking forward to the next posting!

St. Blogwen said...

Fair warning-- I'm giving background info in three parts!