From California to Cupar

For Emilie Krenn-Grosvenor and her family, leaving the west coast of the USA for the east coast of Fife changed every aspect of her life. Three years on she reflects on what Catholics in Scotland and the USA can teach other.

Before we moved to Fife my husband and I had lived in one place for the entirety of our lives–– Los Angeles. Moving from California to Scotland was a change in almost every sense. Our family moved from an apartment on one of LA’s busiest thoroughfares to a cottage in Fife. My husband went from being the main provider to being a stay at home dad as I began studying for a PhD at the University of St Andrews.

Our eldest began high school in a country he had not even visited
before. We were, however, immediately enchanted by the countryside which surrounded us, which made the adjustments easier to bear. We learned how to drive on the left, what a TV licence is, and how to pay council tax.

We learned that enjoying the outdoors was not dependent on sunshine, but on dressing for any and all weather. Our chihuahua became accustomed to wearing a coat and, along with the cat, learned the luxury of lying by a wood stove on a cold night. Thankfully Scotland has been every bit as warm in its welcome.

My husband and I have often been asked by our Scottish friends and neighbours which we like better, the US or Scotland. There is no simple answer to this question, as our hearts have been stretched to hold both. In terms of my life as a Catholic in both countries, each has given us different gifts.

Blessings and battles

For me, the greatest gift I received being a Catholic in Los Angeles is an appreciation of the diversity of our universal church, and of humanity more generally. Like a lot of Catholic Californians, my Faith has been deeply influenced and enriched by Latin American culture, despite not holding such roots myself. Our Lady of Guadalupe is everywhere in Los Angeles – on necklaces, inside churches, and the sides of liquor stores.
In December, as her feast day approaches, the Mexican markets are full of her likeness on statues and tapestries large and small. The florist section is awash with red roses for her honour. Bilingual Masses are common, and not only in Spanish or English. Should I like, I could go to St Bridget’s in downtown LA and listen to the Mass in Mandarin, or the parish of St Sebastian’s, to hear it in French, all the while knowing that each Mass, no matter the language or expression, is participating in the same liturgy, and sharing in the same Eucharist.

These particular sights and sounds are ones I deeply miss. Unfortunately, by the time I left in 2018, the divisions within the Catholic Church in the US were keenly felt, a problem which has only been exacerbated since. Despite the huge diversity of Catholicism within the US, it is also true that church communities could be a bubble, where people valued their own expression of Catholicism over others.

The obvious reason is that the division of Catholics in the US is reflective of the country’s politics, but that is a gross oversimplification. Suffice to say that debate over political policies at this point in US history often involves issues of life or death which directly affect the lives of parishioners, be it access to medical care, gun control, or the threat of deportation to name but a few.

The gift of peace

In contrast the gift of Catholic parish life in Scotland has been peace. Our church, St Columba’s, is a close-knit community that remains open in its welcome. Its round building furthers the sense of involvement we feel in the Mass alongside other Catholics. It is small in comparison to our parish in Los Angeles, but it is also brimming with life. I particularly appreciate the consistency with which my toddler is not the only child struggling to control their volume!

At our first Mass, we were recognised as newcomers right away, and welcomed with great enthusiasm by both Monsignor Pat McInally and a number of the parishioners. Since then has marked the first time in our marriage that my agnostic husband has felt comfortable regularly attending church with the children and me.

According to him, this is largely because we are not distracted by the allegiances of our neighbour. We can rest in the love of our community. Of course, this has also manifested as a sort of Catholic guilt for me. Instability has increased, not decreased since our leaving the US, and there is a sense in which I feel we should be there responding to it.

However, the peace that Scotland has given us has also been a reminder of what parish life can be: a holding of one another. This peace communicated to our family a fundamental Christian truth: we are not worthy of goodness because of what we suffer or what we do––we are worthy of peace because we are. Furthermore, when we care for each other as a society it frees our Church to minister more fully in those areas where it’s most needed–– the way we sit with sick members of our community, accompany a single parent as they build a new life for their family, or the spirit in which we welcome refugees. It also frees us to imagine more boldly what we are called to as a Church.

Loving and listening

This is something that American Catholics contribute to the Church– zeal in discussion. Our convictions are no mystery. While our willingness to enter into difficult discussions is at its worst divisive, it is also, at its best, fruitful in allowing us to dialogue and move forward together as a Church. Making sure all voices are heard may also translate to taking careful consideration as we endeavour to move with the Holy Spirit in a world of rapid change.

The priests, religious sisters, and laity whom I am blessed to know in California are often called into such discussions because of the love they share for their neighbour– because of the small works of mercy they do which make them aware of larger issues. As we embark on this journey of synodality, my family is resting in the care and welcome Scotland has shown us so as to imagine a Church where all experience that same sense of community in Christ.

In the meantime, our family is just now getting to know some of the songs in the hymnal a bit better, my current new favourite being ‘Listen’. I am appreciating the instrumental music at Mass, and the peace it gives me when I pray, though I absolutely have times when I crave the concert-like experience of American worship.

We have begun to feel that familiarity which comes from seeing the same faces each week and have found small ways which we hope contribute to the goodness of parish life. Soon, our youngest will be baptised into the Church at St Columba’s, and his faith will be nourished by all the gifts belonging to universal Church, from California, to Scotland, to Rome and everywhere in between.

Emilie Krenn-Grosvenor is a Phd Candidate at St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews. Her theological interests include feminist theology, popular religion, and integral ecology. She lives in Fife with her husband, three sons, dog, and cat.

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