The Glasshaus (written in the German/English dialect typically found at the Schloss Mittersill. We had names for everything, like a language all it’s own. The glasshaus was one of those places of solace where the world stops while you are in there. I have often wondered about the ghosts of memories that must haunt those walls. Truly, if every the phrase ‘if these walls could talk’ this would be the place to go and listen. You would learn A LOT about life at the castle. The people, the secrets, the dreams and the millions of frustrations that lay in between the two. This simple room was like none other I have ever entered. You walked in and nothing else ‘out there’ existed.
I spent many mornings in there, watching the sunrise on the valley, sipping hot coffee and prepping myself for a full day, and I often ended my day getting into all kinds of trouble and mischief. Some of our best pranks and plans began around a table in the glass haus and some of my fondest memories of times gone by were with friends within those four walls. That is life in a community of foreigners living in a world that sometimes doesn’t feel like it really exists.
The castle sits on a hill, in a small valley in the Austrian alps. When the mist lies in the valley you can truly begin to believe that you live in the clouds. It’s mystical and beautiful, happy and wonderful and sometimes it’s lonely. That was the way of things when living in castle on a hill. The saying ‘Das laben ist hart in den bergen’ was one that floated through every nook and cranny of that building. The English translation is ‘life is hard in the mountains’. We used this line as both a joke and a sigh because it was true and yet it was a gift and we all knew it. Community was the centre of who we were, it created intimacy and it was founded on trust and belonging. It didn’t matter where in life you came from, or where you were going. When you entered the gate (as a guest , student, volunteer or staff) you became a member of a very special family; a family that exists to this day. I know that if I land in a city anywhere in the world I will most likely know someone there and that if I ever needed a pillow for a night all I would have to do is say the word and the door would be opened.
I first discovered the castle as a 19 year old rebellious girl, desperate to break out on my own and ‘find myself’. I hadn’t expected to grow so attached, or to be loved so freely there. What I found was not just a job for a year, but a home, a family, and what I later described as a hospital for the soul. Years later I returned broken and bruised and in need of a new life and with one email I was warmly welcomed home. I spent three years there that time, three years of growing, learning, laughing and often crying. Three years of discovering who I am, who God is, and who God wants me to be. I found healing there, I found hope there, I discovered joy there and when I left, leaving part of my heart behind I left a new person; a new woman with a new purpose in life and new energy to take on the world. It was a rare gift indeed, one that I took for granted during my years there but one that I have thanked God for every day since.
I was looking through old photos the other day and as often happens I was reminded so clearly of where I have been, and where I am today and as I thought about it I wanted to take the time to remember with my words what community is, what it should look like in the context of the church and what being a member of a church family really should look like. It loves without judging, it’s praying for each other, it’s sharing ourselves with others, it’s holding each other to account, it’s laughing together, playing together, and sometimes it is crying with each other. It is celebrating life’s victories and mourning and grieving together. It is about helping each other grow deeper in our spiritual lives and knowing, more than anything, that regardless of where we have been or where we are going, that we are not alone. We are family. Once known that deeply, there is no goodbyes, only ‘see you later’s’.