An atheist walks into a church.

When I was a little girl I went to a Presbyterian church. I remember one year scoring the part of ‘Mary’ in one nativity play and being unbelievably stoked in doing so, but that’s about as far as the church memories, and my acting career, goes. As I grew up I started to stay at home and read books about dinosaurs, space, and other science-y things.

You can pretty much see where this is going, and I don’t really need to tell you I no longer go to church. But it’s stated for the record.

A few days ago, my Mum received a phone call from an older family friend. This family friend is a member of the Presbyterian Women’s Fellowship, of which every month they allow guest speakers to come and share their life story to the small elderly women’s group.

This family friend was ringing to see if I’d be their guest speaker for August.

Wait, what?

An atheist who lived in China (a globally known athetistic minded country) is being asked to speak to a bunch of old Christian women?

Warning bells were indeed ringing. Church is not a preferred choice of venue for, well, anything I do at all these days. What in the world do they want me for? Are they going to frown at my story? What is going to happen?

However, I was raised that if you can do something nice for another human being, then do it. I agreed to be their speaker and, with my mum’s words of ‘play nice and be good’ seeing me out the door, off I went to church for the first time in countless years (like, 17 years).

Arriving just before 10am, I was warmly welcomed with a cup of coffee and these delightful cheese and pesto toasted rolls placed in front of me (they were simply divine tasting (pun intended)). Everyone started to settle down and become quiet, so I cleared my throat and began with “Hello, my name is…”

“Wait a moment,” miss Intimidating Lady (my affectionate nickname choice) says, “We have to take minutes”.

Oops.

I was promptly reminded that churches are a business, as I sat and watched the proper etiquette of minutes and finances being discussed and distributed amongst the Fellowship.

Ten minutes later I was allowed to begin, and from there I spun the tale of a 22 year old Kiwi girl living in China, who had absolutely no Chinese knowledge before embarking on such a journey.

Two hours later I was just getting to the good parts of what happens when you muck up the tones in Mandarin, when IL ahems and mentions “we’re very sorry, but we must stop you there’.

Oops.

How did two hours pass without me being aware of it?

We finished with the Fellowship gathering and holding hands to say thanks (I awkwardly joined in the holding hand because they were staring and waiting) and after a brief chat with a dairy farm owner (who was pleased to hear China still wants our milk), I left and drove home.

Strange as these next words will seem, it’s true. Those two hours were one of the most self-rewarding hours of life experience I have ever had. Here I am, a silly, average, 22 year old girl, speaking to an engaged and genuinely curious group of women whose life experiences are two decades behind mine. They were interested. They compared their ideas of China with my own. They asked questions that pierced my definition of human essence. They made me think.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, a car by its garage, a glitter by its gold, or a person by their beliefs.

Thank you Fellowship for teaching me this.

E.

(I’m sorry to report that they were not a Fellowship of any ring, still searching for that one, heh).

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