This year has proven to be a time for many changes. Most of us are stuck at home. Social gatherings are banned. And very soon, I will be saying goodbye to one of my fellow New Wine Discipleship interns from my internship year: my friend Mary.
While I was settling into my bookshop internship, Mary had just arrived in the country from Ukraine, as the intern at the church I now go to. My first memories of her are vague, mainly because in a setting full of new people – like our weekly discipleship course – it can take me weeks to recognise and get to know everyone. But I managed to connect with people in my own time. I befriended the first person I got talking to properly and I met more on our shared commute.
My first bonding moment with Mary was a little different. About 24 hours into our Ukraine mission trip*, I needed her to show me the loo before our first church service. We had just reached the facilities when she suddenly said she’d forgotten how weird Ukrainian public toilets could be. I was halfway through wondering how toilets could be weird, when I saw for myself: they were very dirty holes in the ground. As I quickly decided I was not emotionally prepared to use one, Mary was laughing at the shock on my face which she has described as “unforgettable” many times since.
That was just the start of our many in-jokes. During our last discipleship day celebration, I tripped after one mojito, and Mary will never let me forget how I complained at length to her about how lightheaded I felt. A few weeks later, I started going to her church and joined her in the worship band. She became one of the main people I hung out with, and it’s fair to say we are complete opposites. Mary is a spontaneous, fun-loving extrovert. I’m an introvert who thrives on alone time and careful planning. Mary keeps me moving. I try to help her slow down when life gets busy. We have our differences, but I think we balance each other out.
As you can tell, social events with Mary are never boring. On my birthday last year, we went to a Chinese restaurant with a calculator that read out Chinese numbers when someone pressed a button. After some experimental dancing to the noise, Mary asked the staff what it was, and accidentally scared them because they thought she was complaining. At a Christmas social, she got a magnifying glass in her cracker, and spent the evening pretending to be a detective and trying to see into people’s minds. When we shared a room at a weekend away, she kept dancing wildly to Taylor Swift music and singing into my hairbrush. She was also determined to learn how to do a Scottish accent. No, I don’t know why. Yes, I did ask.
Now, in a few short weeks, Mary will be moving to Southend to work at a church there. If and when my church reopens, I will have to get used to life without her sense of fun, her crazy jokes, and her passion for God, her friends, and her job. There will be a big space in church for a long while, but I am grateful for the laughs we’ve shared, her kindness and support, and our last evening together on my birthday just before lockdown. If I can learn even a bit of her confidence and her faith, I will be proud!
*Fun fact: our first day on the trip was exactly three years ago yesterday, according to my Facebook memories