The Cathedral Church of St Andrew was built in the 1860s by a local architect, Alexander Ross, of local deep pink sandstone dressed with limestone. Sadly, the funds never stretched to the spires he envisaged on the two west towers, but the building is majestic nonetheless in its riverside setting. The exterior is liberally decorated with ornate tracery and statues. The great west window, portraying the Last Judgment, is one of the largest stained glass windows in Scotland.
There seems to be a lot going on, with at least two services a day. Christian Aid week was about to start and there was a range of activities around that. In summer they operate a popular tea room and shop.
Inverness is the "capital of the Highlands." A river runs through it and the church sits gloriously on the west bank, opposite Inverness Castle, which is actually a working courthouse. It's very central, close to shops, restaurants, hotels, and residential streets. It's not far from Loch Ness, home of the legendary monster.
The Very Revd Canon Alexander Gordon, provost, celebrated and preached.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist
How full was the building?
The worshippers were few and scattered perhaps 50 in a space that could hold a few hundred. However, this was the third of four services for the day, and there was a marathon happening with the finish line very nearby, which could have prevented some people getting there as well as attracted some away from church. I was assured it was a smaller congregation than normal. There was also an altar party of four and a mixed choir of 20, which helped to beef up the crowd.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were friendly greeters either side of the glass doors inside the west porch.
Was your pew comfortable?
Typical pew, carpeted in blue, and typical vinyl kneelers in the same shade. Adequate, considering the alternating standing, sitting and kneeling going on.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quite quiet. I didnt notice anything in particular.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome on this the twenty-sixth Sunday of the year." The provost then went on to welcome visitors and explain that everything was contained in the booklet in the pews. After the first hymn, the service started more formally with him saying: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A comprehensive leaflet included the order of service, words of all hymns, the weekly notices, and a form for signing up to join the congregation.
What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ, but what an amazing one. The massive instrument, an opus of Makin Organs Ltd of Shaw, Lancashire, was installed in 2004, and features huge polished tin pipes and an impressive rank of fanfare trumpets. The organist has apparently been there since he was a teenager, and he clearly knows the instrument well.
Did anything distract you?
I was distracted by a couple of things: The priests volume setting was too loud, and I dont have great hearing, so it really was. Also, I found a lot of the congregational responses to be different from what I am used to, so I had to pay unusually close attention to the service sheet.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was slightly on the high side of the middle, maybe. There was no incense, but the sanctus bell was rung at the appropriate moments during the eucharistic prayer. The priest was vested in green chasuble, the altar party and choir in blue and red robes, respectively, with albs on top. It was reasonably formal, but not actually stiff.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Notwithstanding my distraction with his volume setting, I thought he was good. He spoke well, intelligibly and interestingly. He followed a thread and tied it up neatly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In a nutshell, it was about the dangers of exclusivity. "When religions go bad, it is because people believe that they are right and others are wrong." In a wider sense, it was about the importance of wealthier nations continuing to be generous with international aid, despite the inevitability of some waste and inefficiency in the delivery of assistance to needier nations. He encouraged us to focus on the good that has been done in terms of education and disease eradication, and pay less attention to the cries of detractors. Aid works, he said, and it is not only in our self-interest, it is a moral imperative that we continue to give. He ended by saying, quite powerfully, that "for Gods sake" there is much to be done, but we, as prophets of the truth, must also be aware of what is happening that is good.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Oh, the music! The organist and the choir, separately and together, were fabulous. Holsts anthem Turn back O Man was over far too soon.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The temperature. It was a gorgeous sunny day, but by the end of the service my feet were beginning to distract me with cold. To be fair, one of the notices in the sheet said they are trying to sort it out, but of course somebody does need to throw money at the problem.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, they were pleasant enough when I spoke to them. The provost shook everyones hand and the tea ladies were gracious. But they all sat in groups around little tables, and when I finally sat down at one by myself, looking up and trying to appear friendly, they left me sitting there alone.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade instant coffee. Decent tea in a pot. China cups, but disappointingly (for Scotland, the land of cakes!) there were only cheap bought biscuits.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – I loved the music, the location, the liturgy, the message of the sermon and the building. I loved the town.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, sure, indeed. The sermon especially packed a good Christian message.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The divine music, I hope.