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398: St Modan's, Benderloch, Argyle & Bute, Scotland
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St Modan's, Benderloch, Argyle & Bute, Scotland
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: St Modan's Kirk, Benderloch, Parish of Ardchattan, Argyle & Bute, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland.
The building: A neat, stone-built kirk with a pre-fab separate hall behind it. Inside, light, neat and well-kept, mainly plain square-coloured windows. Beautiful beams above. The "burning bush" emblem of the Church of Scotland on a red velvet pulpit fall. No statues or crucifixes.
The church: A congregation from a rural area, a long straggly highland parish on the shores of a sea-loch. They also hold services alternately in the other kirk in the parish. It seemed a good representation of all ages and types, and everyone seemed to know each other.
The neighbourhood: The village of Benderloch has one general shop, open seven days a week from early till late, a camping/sports shop and a primary school. There is no pub. There are daily buses to Oban, the nearest town. There are several camping sites and a sandy beach nearby. It's a beautiful, majestic area.
The cast: Rev. Jeff McCormick, BD. The minister and preacher were assisted by Donald and Euan, two young volunteers from the congregation.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full – 40 people, a mixture of babies, young, old, at least as many men as women.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The elder on duty at the door smiled, shook my hand and said "Good morning", as did the teenager who handed me the "Parish Printout".

Was your pew comfortable?
Solid, wide pews with plenty of knee space. No kneelers, as it's Presbyterian, so plain wooden floors. Plenty of space for pew Bibles and hymn and song books.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, but slightly buzzy as people greeted each other and chatted quietly but respectfully. It felt happy, as if people were glad to be there. The adults made a particular point of greeting the small children.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and a very warm welcome to those visitors worshipping with us today. Intimations: coffee in the Campbell Memorial Hall after the service... then notices about the reorganisation of presbyteries..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A large Bible was carried in by an elder and opened on the central pulpit before the minister entered. This was read publicly. The pew Bibles were the Good News version. The song books were Scottish Junior Praise.

What musical instruments were played?
An electric piano/organ.

Did anything distract you?
A baby in a rocking carrier waving his/her little yellow-clad feet. Its toddler sister standing on the front pew, taking off her shoes and offering the pair to the occupants of the next pew. They accepted them with pleasure.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It ranged from, "Oh, oh, oh, how good is the Lord!" to "All people that on earth do dwell." Everyone joined in and I was impressed by the strength and depth of the men's voices. No one clapped or went over the top. The young people left halfway through and then we concentrated on conventional hymns.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
22 minutes, broken up into roughly equal five-minute sections, interspersed with a song, prayer or hymn.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Easy to follow. The first section was the children's. They participated in a quiz for which the prize was a packet of chocolate buttons, and the children were told to "go and fight over them in a Christian fashion". At one point the minister and two children stood up on chairs to illustrate Zacchaeus looking for Jesus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Luke 19 and James 2: "Faith and actions need to go together" and the result is that things happen. Where is the core of our being? Zacchaeus's was in his wallet. We need to invite Christ into all parts of our life, clean or dirty. Practical ideas were given as to what we might then do. Listen to Christ and follow his instructions. That's how Zacchaeus got where he did. It finished with a prayer to ask God to help us do this.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The minister praying extempore in what felt like a truly heartfelt encounter with God that led me there too.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Getting lost along with most of the congregation on one line of each verse of "God is working his purpose out". Singing seven choruses and six verses of "Come and praise the Lord our King, allelujah".

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I went to the hall, as instructed in the service, I was smiled at and waved to the tea and coffee. Later, one or two women spoke with me, very polite and friendly, but not creepy-crawly, and later still the minister, who had talked to my companion.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea or coffee, hot and instant, in Church of Scotland mugs. Plain biscuits. There was a plate out for monetary contributions, but no one asked us to pay. It was served with a smile.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would have to be involved... I don't think they would want someone lazy or not committed... I liked the integration of young and old.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. It really did feel like being with the people of God.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The daft minister standing on the chair to illustrate Zacchaeus looking for Jesus.
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