Drunk at the WI

A couple of years ago, it feels odd to say, I was a church-goer. Not just a sit-at-the-back type either, I was a Sunday School teacher and a weekly bible study group attendee. Now back to my more usual atheism, it does feel odd and slightly embarrassing to admit that I was part of the god squad.
But a belief in the supernatural aside, going to church and its associated events is an amazing thing, I believe. It can truly foster a local community spirit and provide a sense of family, both of which are lacking for many people these days. As families spread across the country and the world, it’s a real comfort having a group of cross-generational people with whom you share a real bond and love for.
And this is what I’ve been missing since I made the decision to stop going to a place of worship, where they worship a god I don’t believe in. Whilst I’m a member of the No More Page 3 campaign and a semi-regular at the Feminist Library’s salons, both of which are fantastic, I’ve not found this sense of family and a commitment to community spirit anywhere but church. Scouting around for something that might fit the bill I hit upon the Women’s Institute. Famed for ‘Jam and Jerusalem’, ‘Calendar Girls’ and fearsome matriarchs in charge of the local village. The WI is not, in many people’s eyes, the no.1 destination for a twentysomething Londoner to get her kicks on a Wednesday night. A typical response from colleagues was a slightly bemused “the WI? As in, what my grandma does?’
So it was with some trepidation I entered the church hall and stepped into my very first WI meeting. At first glance, it was a young audience. Around my age, with a few white-haired ladies dotted about the room. Compared to my Feminist Library meetings there was rather less blue hair and piercings and more of a professional/trendy vibe. The meeting itself was a wine tasting, which was fascinating, if rather boozy. By the interval, four glasses of white in, I was in need of some food. Oh, the food. The ladies had brought home baked biscuits and crackers, cheese twists and a variety of home made chutneys. This was more like the WI stereotype. I struck up conversation with the woman sat next to me, another newbie, who was lovely and very interesting. We chatted about how we felt we’d reverted back to the girl guides (though I don’t know if they have a badge for wine tasting). I got the impression that there was a slight ‘us and them’ split, though, with the (relatively) old timers in a clique of super-bakers and the first time visitors looking on from the sidelines. I also wasn’t sure how members of the group would perceive my ‘full frontal’ feminism. I almost felt like a rebel, a subversive. Perhaps I’m mistaken; having drunk rather a lot on my very first visit I might not have been in the best position to judge. So I’ve decided to go back for another try. Who knows, in a few months I could be applying for Bake Off…

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