A couple of years ago, I spent the summer in Britain, most of it in Cambridge, England. It’s a beautiful cobblestoned place, built around the venerable Cambridge University.
Around just about every corner, there’s a church. One day, a friend and I walked by the medieval Church of St. Edward, King and Martyr.
There was a sign in the front that announced a Goth Service every other Tuesday night. The next Tuesday, it said, the featured music would be Leonard Cohen’s.
We thought we’d read the sign wrong or that something was lost in translation. Maybe Goth was a someone’s name because it couldn’t be the Visigoths.
We could picture it – people in black leather and thick black eye shadow, sitting in the pews of this medieval church. That would have been too bizarre.
The Church is cold and stoney and cavernous and despite all that, welcoming.
There was a man with red spiral curls, dressed in tight black leather stretched out on the alter floor lighting tea candles in the shape of a big cross.
There was a dark-haired woman in a low cut bustier with long black sleeves, fishnet stockings and black boots with fringe. And there was a stout man with a graying beard testing out the CD player.
His name is Reverend Malcolm Guite. A few minutes later, he slipped on his clerical robe and he led the service. It was a small gathering. There were a few older women who seemed like they’d been there before. One of them asked for prayers for her daughter, who she said was about to make a very difficult decision.
It didn’t seem right to bring a microphone and recorder. Anyway, I was there just because I was curious. But I went back to St. Edward Church about a week later. This time, I brought my recorder, and asked Reverend Guite to tell the story about his service.
What those of us in the church heard the night of the Goth service, was the music of the 78-year-old Canadian poet, songwriter, and singer, Leonard Cohen. It was a Cohen CD that Reverend Guite had been fiddling with before he took to the pulpit.
To some people, it may be a bit shocking to bring secular music into the church. Reverend Guite thinks it’s a way to reach those who are not moved by the hymnal.
The Goth service gets people to open their hearts, he says, including hearts that are broken… lost in obsession or addiction.
The night Reverend Malcolm Guite conducted the Goth service, something happened. I was sitting close enough to take part, but far enough from the alter to feel separate.
It was just more comfortable. But when it came time for the Eucharist, the time to approach the alter to receive the wafer, I looked up to see someone signalling to me from the alter.
It was the woman in the bustier. You want me? She walked up to me and extended her hand.
I wasn’t sure what the tradition was there, but she whispered it to me. We knelt next to each other. She told me what to do. I guess I knew anyhow.
She leaned toward me to give me a hug and walked me back to my seat. I realized that in this service meant for those who feel marginalized who don’t belong, she invited me to belong.