It's a modern church that consists of a main very plain hall. No windows, but with a large skylight over the sanctuary, which let in plenty of sunlight to illuminate the mass. The church is reached though a large narthex/community area where coffee and leaflets, etc. were laid out. Excellent well-signed toilet facilities, and it appears that whoever designed it was considering accessibility. There is a slope up to the front door, though someone had parked on the larger slope at the side entrance. I didn't see a loop system, but the readers and Father Edward used microphones.
St Bride's shares a priest with the communities at Aberfeldy and Birnam. This parish seemed an oasis of normality. The newsletter included details of a prayer group and a special welcome to visitors. A nice touch was a mention of how a visitor could donate to the parish in a tax efficient way. The parish has a charity thrift shop in the town (called Calypso Cave to honour the connection of the parish with Malta). It was advertised in the newsletter and appears to be a fundraiser for the parish. It should do well as people look for a respite from tartans and fudge. The porch included a box for donations for the local food bank, and the posters showed the parish is interested in supporting their local community.
Pitlochry is a burgh in the county of Perthshire, situated on the River Tummel. A visit by Queen Victoria in 1842, on which she commented favourably, plus the coming of the railway eleven years later, made Pitlochry a popular tourist destination. Even today it is a town full of tourists, with some charming Victorian buildings and the inevitable tartan outlets and fudge shops. The church feels like a little hidden chapel in a glade in the forest, as one has to go under the railway bridge and up a woodland slope to find it. Fortunately the council has put up signs, as it would be easy to give up the journey. There is a small amount of parking at the top of a little hill, so anyone with mobility problems needs to get there early. The rest of the congregation parked their cars at the foot of the hill and then walked up to the church. The little woodland glade includes some benches that were being used for a quick cigarette break by some of the congregation on their way out.
The Revd Edward Vella, parish priest, was assisted by an altar server.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Mass
How full was the building?
Pretty full. As usual with a Catholic crowd, most folk arrived just in time for mass. A small sprinkling of young families and baby Catholics gave the church a happy family feeling.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I thought I was going to be welcomed, as a man was standing at the door when I arrived. But I think he was just taking the air. I had to get past him and then ask him if I needed a hymn book. He did ask me where I came from. Otherwise, no one spoke to me.
Was your pew comfortable?
A wooden bench pew. It had a slightly disconcerting sloping back, which meant that the unwary visitor could feel they were falling backwards as they settled back.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A gentle murmur of people greeting each other. A lady distributed the latest edition of the diocesan newspaper to us in the pews so we had something to read rather than bothering to pray while waiting for mass to start.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. Welcome to the great feast of Corpus Christi!" Father Edward told us a bit about the feast and rather wistfully remembered Corpus Christi processions of his Maltese childhood. I think the woodland slope and the weather would make processing around Pitlochry rather tricky.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Liturgical Hymns Old and New. Mainly new stuff, but we sang "Guide me, O thou great Redeemer" at the end. The congregation also sang the tune of the parts of the mass from memory.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ accompanied the debut performance of a young trumpeter. His contribution certainly gave energy to the entrance hymn, and Father Edward thanked him before continuing with the opening prayers.
Did anything distract you?
I couldn't find a statue or a picture of St Bride despite the church's being dedicated to her. There were fire exit signs and a wooden plaque of the Madonna and Child, and an interesting wooden plaque of the crucified Christ, but no obvious saint. Then I started to wonder whether I would recognise her if I saw her anyway.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Father Edward clearly thought that the mass was the best place to be in Pitlochry that morning. Observing the rather bored tourists trying to amuse themselves in the town, I concluded he was probably right. We had a priest who believed in what he was doing and wanted us to join him in celebration. So we did. It made for a rather impressive mass.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Very enthusiastic. Thirteen minutes is quite long for a Catholic sermon, but Father Edward kept us interested. The clock on the back wall had stopped at 7.45 so maybe the time ran away with him. He beamed at us and spoke with conviction. I would be very happy to hear more of his sermons.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The first reading describes how God formed a covenant with Moses. The gospel shows us that Christ is the new covenant. If we were promised 1000 every time we came to mass, the church would be full and we would all be there. But every week we are promised a far greater gift the Body and Blood of Christ. Yet people stay away. So when we are tempted not to come to mass, we should consider whether we treasure money more than the eucharist. St Thomas Aquinas was devoted to the eucharist. He wrote the liturgy for Corpus Christi and has given us so many beautiful eucharistic hymns. (It's always good to get Thomas Aquinas into a sermon.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The trumpeter lifted a normal Sunday mass to be a real celebration and matched Father Edward's delight in the feast.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
After mass had started, a lady decided to sit next to me. Rather than enter the pew from the opposite end to where I was sitting, which had plenty of room, she entered at my end and indicated that I should move over. So I shuffled along, taking my copy of the diocesan newspaper with me. Then her husband joined her, so I shuffled a bit further. Then a young couple and their baby arrived. So I now had a family of five on the pew, with me sitting on my diocesan newspaper at the other end, which just a moment ago had been empty. I think they were visitors diving into a pew, as a local would have filled up the pew from the empty end. I was distracted, and I imagine so was everyone else as we shuffled to the right in turn. It wasn't really their fault, but it made me rather self-conscious as a troublesome newcomer.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The layout of the church meant that the coffee ladies had to bring hot kettles through church from a little kitchenette. This meant that with the breakout of chat among the crowd, there was no chance of a prayer after mass. I took some photos and hung around in an obvious fashion. The parishioners helped themselves to coffee and chatted about their experiences of the traffic, etc. Everyone stood in front of the coffee table and ignored me. I was surprised that a parish in a tourist town hasn't worked out a way to be sure visitors are made welcome.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was in plastic cups but, as I wasn't offered any, I can't tell you what it tasted like.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would need someone to give me a coffee to make me feel more welcome, but I would like to be at more masses celebrated by Father Edward.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, very much.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sunshine coming through the glass roof during mass