St Silas, Glasgow, Scotland

St Silas, Glasgow, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Silas
Location: Glasgow, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 June 2008, 11:00am

The building

Externally, the building looks traditionally Victorian. Internally, the original furnishings have been stripped out, leaving a large airy space filled with padded chairs arranged in what I would describe as a roughly semicircular layout. The original sanctuary at the east end is now used as a storage area. In front of the stored items, and extending into the chancel, there is a large central dais where the worship group sits, and a table that serves as an altar. There is also a large projector screen hanging from the roof.

The church

A diverse congregation in age, colour and race! There were a lot of folk who looked to be round about student age, and a lot of families as well as older folk. It seems to be a very lively and thriving congregation who run several house groups and are involved in a number of outreach and social projects too.

The neighborhood

St Silas is in the Woodlands area of the west end of Glasgow, close to the university, with Kelvingrove Park just over the road. The area is a mixture of traditional Glasgow tenement housing plus shops, with plenty of cafes and bistros. The River Kelvin runs through the area and there is a lovely riverside path, much used by the locals for walking dogs.

The cast

The Revd David McCarthy, rector, led the service. The Revd Christian Okeke was the preacher.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion.

How full was the building?

The church seemed pretty full, though there was a noticeable emptying when the children went out. Even so, I would guess there were about 150 or so there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There were a couple of chaps strategically positioned in the porch to wish people good morning as they walked in. I was greeted again when I was handed my service book and other bumph (required reading). Finally, after I sat down, a lady asked if she could pass by to greet the people in the row in front. Having done that, she then enquired if it was my first time there. When I said yes, she sat down next to me and engaged me in conversation. We were then joined by her husband, who also talked to me for a while.

Was your pew comfortable?

They were padded chairs with a rack on the back for books and were reasonably comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Noisy, confused, relaxed, seemingly disorganised – take your pick! The service started 10 minutes late, and I was told afterward that this was quite normal – the church operated on St Silas time! I’m not sure that it would have been possible to be quiet and prayerful before this service if you were so minded, especially with a friendly, chatty neighbour!

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Morning everyone, morning. Welcome to St Silas."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a book with the order of service for communion in it. The Holy Bible, New International Version, was in the pews, but the readings were also projected onto the screen. There were also several different bits of paper with notices and things on them.

What musical instruments were played?

Keyboard, three guitars and drums.

Did anything distract you?

Ummm...where to begin? There was a very cute guy sitting two rows in front of me (alas, too young). The guy slightly behind me to my right seemed to spend the entire sermon with his sketch pad. There were some parents wandering up and down the side to the children’s area. Finally, I couldn't work out whether the pillars were painted pink or lavender.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

This was snake-belly low church, happy but not clappy (though I did see a few arms in the air and some kids waving flags during the last song). Not a vestment or dog collar in sight! Modern worship songs (don’t get me wrong, I like many of these). I would have mistaken the rector for one of the congregation if my neighbour hadn’t pointed him out and said, “That’s our rector.”

Exactly how long was the sermon?

22 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – The Revd Mr Okeke raised some good points but kept repeating himself. Many times.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

One in a series on “Who is Jesus?” This week the topic was Jesus the Living Temple. If we think of our relationship with Jesus as the Living Temple, how should we worship? (1) In spirit and in truth – if Jesus is the Living Temple, we have no need of the buildings and formalised worship there. The temple in Jerusalem – the rules and rituals associated with it – had become a barrier preventing the Jews worshipping in spirit and truth. Does the ritual and ceremony in our worship today become a barrier that prevents us worshipping God? (2) Our worship should be genuine. (3) We must make every effort to be found in Jesus and not in the church (i.e. the building) – when the end time comes there will be no temple or church building (Revelation 21:22).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The hospitality shown to me at the start of the service...

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

... but it was quickly to evaporate, as will be seen. That, and one moderately nasty moment at the start of one of the songs during communion, where no one in the music group seemed to know quite what they were doing. They made a couple of false starts, which really didn’t sound good, and it took a little while for them to get back on track.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Curiously, very little, which came as a surprise after what happened before the service. My talkative neighbours went off to talk to someone else. I hung around a bit and someone else eventually did come to tell me about some of the house groups and that it was a busy congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I didn’t see any about, and there was no mention of coffee either verbally or in the printed notices. The chap who talked to me after the service said that lots of people tended to go to lunch in groups. By the time the service finished, I was definitely as much in need of food as caffeine.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

5 – They were a lively and reasonably friendly bunch with a lot going on and a lot to recommend them. If you’re comfortable this style of worship, I’m sure you'd think it a great place. However, it just didn’t light my candle.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Sadly, I can’t honestly say it did.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The challenge posed by the sermon: what barriers do we, or rather I, put up which get in the way of me worshipping God in spirit and in truth?

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