Tobermory Parish Church, Isle of Mull, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Tobermory Parish Church
Location: Isle of Mull, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 26 May 2019, 11:00am

The building

A Victorian Gothic building dating from 1897 – it replaced an earlier structure. Additions and improvements have been made over the years. The interior is plain but pleasing and comfortable. One cannot help but notice the colourful rose window and the baptismal font. The lectern was a gift from Navy personnel who worshipped here whilst stationed at the Tobermory training base during World War II.

The church

Tobermory parish church is part of the wider North Mull parishes covering Craignure, Dervaig, Salem and Tobermory. The church website announces that many church activities take place, of which the congregation are kept apprised via a quarterly newsletter. Other links with the community include a monthly outreach service at the sheltered housing complex in Tobermory and regular visits to nearby Tobermory High School. The church is a popular venue for weddings, and the church hall is used for fundraising activities throughout the year.

The neighborhood

Tobermory is the capital of the Isle of Mull, the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides, lying off the west coast of Scotland. Tobermory was founded as a fishing port in 1788 and is a picture postcard pretty town, with brightly coloured houses rising up from the harbour, with the church topping it off. It is well known in the UK from the popular BBC children’s TV programme Balamory. Tobermory is also home to Mull's only single malt Scotch whisky distillery. Mull’s economy is driven by agriculture, fishing and tourism. Many people pass through Mull to access the holy isle of Iona.

The cast

Their minister very recently died in a climbing accident, and a locum minister took this service. A member of the congregation read the lesson from Acts. There were three people who sat alongside the minister in the important seats at the front. I'm unsure why they were there, as they didn't do anything in leading the service.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?

Thirty-five worshippers, mainly elderly – only three men (I wondered why – given the age demographic, perhaps the menfolk of Tobermory have gone on to glory). The children’s Sunday club were not there to swell the numbers due to a virulent sickness bug going through the local school. We were told that there are usually twelve children plus some parents.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

It is a steep walk up the hill from the harbour to the church that overlooks the bay. We paused to look back at the view from the church entrance and then received a warm ‘Good morning’ as we entered.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes – wooden pew, thick cushion. Bookrest. No kneeler. Perhaps a little cramped to the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Two features. From one corner the organ was played softly. From the diagonal opposite an elderly lady loudly conversed with her neighbour until the moment the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning. A warm welcome to worship, especially to visitors.’ Invitation to coffee after the service was given. Notices followed, focused on the aftermath of the death of their minister.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Church Hymnary (the purple one).

What musical instruments were played?

Four manual digital organ, an opus of Phoenix Organs of Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, which was installed and dedicated in December 2009.

Did anything distract you?

The deep grief and loss of this church over the death of their minister were palpable. It almost felt intrusive to be present, never mind write of it. It has only been through prayer with and for this church that I have felt able to write.

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

The minister’s opening prayer was beautiful. She used metaphors and images that evoked the setting of the church on the edge of the world without slipping into easy sentiment. She spoke of the poison that can hide in the beauty around us, as she segued into a prayer of confession. There was a short children’s talk, despite the children’s absence! Letting our light shine in the world, with lovely anecdotes about getting the chickens in when it’s dark. Reading and sermon were followed by beautiful intercessions, creating space for grief whilst also looking outward. Beyond the hymns and the Lord’s Prayer, there was no speaking part for the congregation. I missed something in this. But then we all like what we are used to. The voluntaries were simple and competent; the hymns perhaps a little slow. 'You always say that!' said Mrs Eiderduck (truthfully).

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

7 — The minister spoke from notes and was easy to understand, but some of her examples took a little effort to tie into the points she was making.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The amusing story of Eutychus falling asleep during Paul’s long sermon, and falling out of the window (Acts 20:7-12), was used as an initial hook for the sermon, but was not the main focus. She went on to point out that living God’s way impacted on the local economy in Ephesus. When we do the right thing, sometimes there are unintended consequences. We should take responsibility in addressing these impacts. Each of us does not feel that we need to do everything (perhaps an issue in the church?).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Opening prayers and their unsentimental rootedness in the natural world. Hearing stories of the goodness of their minister.

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

The grief, the loss, the clear suffering of God’s people here following their minister’s untimely death.

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

Two congregants welcomed us and encouraged us to move up to Mull! Over coffee, several more greeted us. All who spoke to us wanted to tell us about their minister and their terrible loss. He knew the name of every child in the north of the island. He was a man who made it easy to believe.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Hot, strong, served in a proper cup with saucer.

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

10 — I will pray for this church and these people, and hope I can join with them again in worship.

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

Yes, in the stories and example of their late minister following Christ and pouring out his life for the people of Mull.

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

The goodness and witness of their late minister.

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