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240: Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh, Scotland
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Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Edinburgh
Mystery Worshipper: Mystery Librarian.
The church: Charlotte Baptist Chapel, Rose Street, Edinburgh, Scotland.
Denomination: Baptist.
The building: Typical non-conformist building seating several hundred, with the unusual feature that the main worship area is on the first floor with a gallery on the floor above. The church lounge is on the ground floor.
The neighbourhood: The chapel is two minutes from Princes Street, the main shopping centre of Edinburgh. This end of Rose Street is mainly restaurants and bars with names like Dirty Dick's and Filthy McNasty's! There are various shops and offices (e.g. Age Concern Scotland) further down the street.
The cast: The guest preacher was Derick Bingham from Christ Church, Belfast. The minister, Rev. Peter J. Grainger, also took part.
What was the name of the service?
Harvest Thanksgiving Service.

How full was the building?
Very full. The stewards seemed to have difficulty in finding seats for latecomers, though there was more room after the children and their teachers had left for junior church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A young man on the door greeted me with a handshake and a hymn book and explained the unusual layout of the building. An elderly lady chatted to me on the stairs and, discovering that I came from London, spent a few minutes recalling her wartime experiences there.

Was your pew comfortable?
Fairly comfortable, consisting as it did of a wooden seat with a layer of cushioning.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite chatty – with some movement as members of the congregation took their harvest gifts to the platform.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service actually began with an item sung by the "Chapel Chorale", but the first spoken words were "Good morning everyone... a warm welcome to Charlotte Chapel."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Mission Praise, NIV Pew Bibles, and a printed service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The usual coughs and fidgets, plus (briefly) the sound of an electric motor outside.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional non-conformist with a couple of choir items. The hymns were mainly traditional, with one or two more contemporary songs. The evening service at the same church, however, was led by a band with sax and drums, and the style of worship was more contemporary.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
43 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – the sermon seemed to be appreciated and the preacher well respected by the congregation. I thought the speaker rambled on a bit and that the regular flow of anecdotes sometimes obscured rather than illuminated his main theme.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was "sowing and reaping" and the need for generous living. We need to be generous with our time, money and talents because we do not always know the good that we are able to achieve.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a large congregation, with excellent congregational singing. It provided an effective antidote to small congregations and rows of empty seats.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing hellish, but as a harvest service it did exemplify a certain evangelical discomfort with the doctrine of creation. For the most part the service tended to spiritualize the harvest theme and there was little about caring for the environment, Third World debt, or using the gifts of creation. To be fair, one of the church elders did say a few words about a current Tear Fund appeal for Africa.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A lady in the pew next to me chatted for a few minutes about the service, but I was overlooked in the coffee lounge. This is one of the hazards, perhaps, of a large congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Reasonable church coffee was served in plastic cups and there were also biscuits and slices of cake. Juice was available for children in another room, demonstrating an odd assumption that no child would want to drink coffee and no adults would prefer a cold drink!

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would certainly consider it if I was planning to move to Edinburgh.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, on the whole.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The minister's joke that the church is the one place where people arrive early in order to get the back seats.
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