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701: Perth City Churches at Perth City Hall, Perth, Scotland
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Perth City Hall
Mystery Worshipper: Aspen Dew.
The church: Perth City Churches at Perth City Hall, Perth, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).
The building: Perth City Hall is a large and imposing, yet somehow unimpressive building built in pseudo-classical style in the heart of the city centre. Internally it has a very spacious feel thanks to the high roof, and has seating on three levels – floor level, balconies, and (up near the roof) galleries. The majority of the service was led from the stage, while the communion table was laid out at floor level.
The church: This wasn't a regular church service. Several city centre churches had suspended their usual services for the day so that all the congregations could come together to celebrate easter as one.
The cast: I counted eight people leading various parts of the service, seven of whom were in ministerial robes. No names were given, either on the printed sheets or during the service; I assume however they were the ministers of the participating churches.
What was the name of the service?
Easter day – a celebration.

How full was the building?
Perth City Hall has a capacity of 1,600. The building was filled almost to capacity. By the time we arrived 10 minutes before the service, the ushers were already directing people to the upmost level of galleries, known as the "gods". A few unfortunate latecomers ended up sitting in the choir seats behind the OHPs on the stage.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The ushers on each level said "Hello" to us as we came in and directed us to available seating.

Was your pew comfortable?
We obtained seats in the balcony, which were of the fold-down type such as you'd find at the cinema. While not uncomfortable as such, there was very little room for manoeuvre (we were sat literally shoulder-to-shoulder with our neighbours, with our knees drawn in fairly tight), and consequently I felt rather stiff by the time the one-and-three-quarter-hour service ended. I really felt for the more elderly members of the congregation who had to sit in the balcony. I was also aware of the seat edge scraping the backs of my legs every time I stood up.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was community singing in full swing when we arrived, led most enthusiastically by one of the ministers, with the words of modern praise choruses projected onto the OHPs. Between the end of the singing and the start of the service there was a swell of excited chatter amongst the congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
From where we were seated we didn't see the procession coming in so I missed the first words as my neighbour was still whispering in my ear at the time. The opening response, however, was: "The Lord is risen! Christ is risen!" "He is risen Indeed!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books were used. The words to the hymns and songs used were printed on the order of service. As they were running short by the time we arrived, we had to share one between three.

What musical instruments were played?
There was an electric organ being played. Although I couldn't see to confirm it, I'm sure I heard a trumpet as well.

Did anything distract you?
I found myself very distracted at one point by trying to figure out the logistics of serving communion to more than 1,500 people! There was also a lot of flash-photography during the christenings, which I am not accustomed to as it's not allowed at my own church.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a blend of old and new, with old favourites and modern choruses being sung. The pre-service praise was definitely more on the happy-clappy side, while the service itself was rather more formal and traditional, though it still carried an air of celebration and boundless joy throughout. Altogether, it was very high-octane, powerful stuff.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Imagine, if you can, more than 1,500 people raising their voices to sing "Thine be the glory" in an acoustically sound building. They raised the roof! I could actually feel the soundwaves vibrating through my body – it was incredible. All the ministers who took part in the service carried an air of joy which was tangible throughout. The minister who led the pre-service singing and the communion was particularly enthusiastic and communicated this enthusiasm to the congregation most effectively.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At one point a solo was supposed to have been sung. However, the organist started playing before the orator had finished speaking, so it wasn't announced as a solo. Consequently, much of the congregation sang over the soloist even though it was listed as a solo in the order of service. I was also somewhat irked by the fact that there weren't enough orders of service to go round, and nobody had thought to use the OHPs to display the hymns and songs during the service. I gather this was because they had never anticipated such a large congregation and so were victims of their own success in this regard.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing, though to be fair I can understand why a stranger in the crowd would be missed – there were several congregations present, as well as holiday visitors, seasonal church-goers, and baptismal guests, so an unfamiliar face would not necessarily be noticeable.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service refreshment – though I understand the local caf$)A(& quarter did a roaring trade afterwards.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This was a one-off celebration rather than a regular church service. I don't think I could cope with something on this scale on a regular basis (I very much doubt if the organisers could, either!). But if a celebration of this kind were to be organised again, I would definitely make a point of attending, so on this basis I would score it as a nine-and-a-half.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely, beyond any shadow of doubt. To be able to celebrate Easter with so many other people in such a joyous way was very special indeed. I felt privileged to have been able to attend.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Gosh, there was just so much that was memorable! However, if I had to pick on one thing, it would have to be the baptisms. Especially, one particular baptism of a young boy (maybe about 5 or 6) who had lost his father recently and was now coming forward to be christened. It was obviously a very special moment for him and his mother, and we were honoured to be able to share this moment with them – a happy occasion, yet tinged with sadness.
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