Mystery Worshipper: Shaun the Sheep
Church: Christ Church
Location: Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 January 2008, 11:00am
A stand-alone building at the end of a short track off the main road in Harris – there were no other buildings anywhere to be seen. If the Scottish Episcopal Church "pub sign" hadn't been at the end of the track, I would have driven right past it without ever knowing it was there. What looked like a little tin shack on the outside housed a lovely little church with lots of natural light. A small hallway led to the simple sanctuary area, painted in white, with a small plain altar to the left and the organ in a little alcove to the right.
This is the only church of the Scottish Episcopal Church on Harris (there are another three SEC churches on Lewis to the north). The congregation was mostly middle-aged and older, but with some single younger people there too. There were no children present. The building is also used on Sunday evenings by the Roman Catholics while their church is being rebuilt following a fire.
The Hebrides, memorialised by Mendelssohn, among others, in his Fingal's Cave overture, lie off the west coast of Scotland. I doubt there are very many churches that enjoy such a dramatic location. The landscape is a mountainous moonscape, with rocks deposited by glaciers during the last Ice Age, steep hills, lots of sheep wandering round, and stunning views over the Minch (the stretch of sea between Harris and the mainland).
The Revd Daniel Davies, rector of the church, presided and preached.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion.
How full was the building?
There were 35 chairs set out but only 15 people present. Still, the room was so small that it didn’t feel half-empty.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I was parking my car, another car pulled up and the driver bade me welcome. I was among the first to arrive, and after I had seated myself, most of the people who came in later said hello and welcomed me, including the rector. Someone also came up to me and asked if I would read one of the lessons, which I was glad to do.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were no pews – instead there were wooden chairs with no cushions (I did see a couple of people bring their own cushions) and a holder at the back of the chair in front for hymn books. However, they were perfectly comfortable – I’ve no complaints!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As people came in, they were all chatting away, wishing each other happy New Year. As it was such a small church, clearly everybody knew each other. Some people were looking out for others to arrive and speculating as to whether they would come or not.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service for Epiphany." This was followed by an announcement that two members of the congregation had died the previous week, and the details of funeral arrangements. We prayed for them and their families, and then there was a short period of silence before the start of the service itself. The opening words of the service were from the Scottish Liturgy 1970 – "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Scottish Liturgy 1970; Hymns Old and New – New Anglican Edition; and a typed sheet containing the collect, all of the Bible readings for the day, and the prayer after communion.
What musical instruments were played?
A Yamaha electric organ, which had clearly seen many years of service (not to mention better days).
Did anything distract you?
At the beginning of the psalm, the organist accidentally hit one of the drum keys so the first few words were accompanied by an electronic drum beat until she managed to switch it off!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the happy side of stiff-upper-lip. Considering there were only 15 of us in the room, the singing was very hearty, which is just as well because the organ, despite being on maximum volume, couldn't produce very much sound. For the final two hymns the organist simply gave up and let us sing unaccompanied!
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The rector spoke very clearly and did a good job of connecting the epistle and gospel readings for the day, and of linking the gospel story of the Magi with its Old Testament antecedents.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In the gospel, Matthew is addressing the Jews and encouraging them, with imagery soaked in the Old Testament, to consider Jesus’ claim of being the fulfillment of the Mosaic covenant. The Magi anticipate the coming of the Gentiles into the house of faith. The revelation once given only to the Jews is now available to all – we are all part of the same body, and the same promise is given to all through Jesus. The gifts of the Magi represent peace and justice (gold), recognition of Jesus’ high priesthood (frankincense), and the ultimate victory of Christ on the cross (myrrh) – with these gifts, we glorify him.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Most of it. The welcome, the liturgy, the setting, the sense of everybody participating – it was all wonderful. Even the organ, with its sound quality leaving quite a bit to be desired, added to the sense of community and belonging and occasion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The organ was clearly on its last legs, so that wasn't ideal, but none of the service made me cringe or disapprove or wish I wasn't there.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was absolutely no opportunity to hang around looking lost – before I’d left my row two people asked if I was staying for coffee, the organist had asked the rector if he could give me a copy of the sermon, and a number of people came up to chat. The fact that the room was so small meant that there wasn’t really anywhere to hide, but also that chatting to whoever was there was very natural and I didn’t feel awkward or out of place at all.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I took tea, which (unusual for church tea) wasn’t of headache-inducing strength and was actually rather pleasant – I couldn’t see which brand it was though, so am not sure if it was fair trade or not. There was some discussion about the fact that the coffee was instant; this was felt to be the reason why more people chose tea. Biscuits were also served (chocolate chip cookies and digestives; unsurprisingly the cookies disappeared first).
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was just here on holiday, so being a regular isn’t an option, but if I lived on the island I'd be very happy to make this my regular church – it was very friendly but not at all "in my face." It is a little bit lower down the candle than I like, so I’d need to head to the mainland for an incense fix every now and then.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The friendliness and feeling at home straight away.