|784: The Steeple, Dundee, Scotland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Dark Horse.
The church: The Steeple, Overgate, Dundee, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland.
The building: The church's steeple is the oldest building in Dundee, dating back to the 15th century, and is one of only 16 bell-ringing towers in Scotland. The rest of the church building is far newer, dating from the 19th century, and it appears to have been razed and rebuilt several times over the centuries. I was taken by surprise when I first entered the building through the steeple to find myself in a bright, modern, airy, well-lit hall which was significantly smaller than the exterior suggested. Further investigation post-service revealed that the building houses two congregations: the Steeple has the steeple end, and the Dundee Parish Church of St Mary's, also Church of Scotland, has the other.
The neighbourhood: The church building is in the heart of Dundee's retail district and is surrounded on three sides by the newly refurbished Overgate Shopping Centre. The plaza outside is a favourite haunt of the local skateboarders; it was interesting to note that the church has a petition box inside for a new skateboard rink to be built. The town's two universities are also very close by, and the church has its own student coordinator.
The cast: The service was led by the minister, Rev. David Clark.
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship and holy communion.
How full was the building?
When I arrived five minutes before the start of the service there were only around 40 people in an area that could comfortably accommodate five times that number. Many arrived after me, so that by the time the service started there were around 100 people in the congregation.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Somebody said, "hello" to me as I came in, and somebody else handed me a service bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was comfortable enough, as pews go. Wooden, and with a cushion.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The building was filled with the buzz of chatter and people moving around to speak to friends and acquaintances. The praise group appeared to be having a last-minute practice session in the corner, as tunes could clearly be heard being picked out on the piano.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to The Steeple Church. It's a lovely sunny morning outside and a lovely morning in which to praise him."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Good News Bibles were provided in the pews. No other books were handed out as the words to all the hymns and songs were projected by an overhead projector. Some of the regulars brought their own hymnbooks with them.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ, a piano and an oboe. At the start of the service it was announced that the praise group was sadly depleted this week, from which I gathered that there are usually more instrumentalists and singers.
Did anything distract you?
Lots, but then it doesn't take much to distract me! Aside from my surprise at the smallness of the interior, I spent some time wondering how people knew which of their own hymnbooks to use. It was about half-way through the service before I realised the hymn numbers were colour-coded: red was the Church of Scotland Hymnody and blue was The Source. I also pondered the reasoning behind the cloth napkins decoratively pinned to the pews at intervals. They turned out to be for holding the communion cups once they were finished with.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd say it was fairly middle-of-the-road. There was a mixture of modern songs and traditional hymns sung during worship, which was led by a praise group rather than a traditional choir. The general atmosphere was relaxed throughout, and there was some natural laughter during the children's address. I was surprised, however, that the minister preached from the floor rather than from the pulpit behind him.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Rev. Clark delivered his sermon very well and with a good deal of spirit and enthusiasm. I was captivated throughout and was surprised that it had taken as long as 20 minutes.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
"The King comes to still the storms." The sermon was based on Matthew 8:23-34, when Jesus calms the storm. Rev. Clark talked about the theological significance of landscapes and seas in the Bible, likening seas to danger and death. He discussed how a lack of faith can allow great fear to enter in. The stormy sea was described as "the storm without", and the parallel was drawn to the demon-possessed men in Matthew chapter nine and their "storm within". Christ comes to calm all the storms of life.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This felt like a warm, happy, caring congregation. That was illustrated well by the speed with which a glass of water was fetched for a woman in front of me who appeared to be suffering with a sore throat.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was a scrimmage to get into the church in the first place. A number of people were gathered round the entrance doors catching up on the gossip, and I actually had to push past one group (who seemed completely oblivious to the fact they were causing a blockage, and didn't even notice I was there) to take the bulletin I was being handed.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely nothing. I sat around for a bit, then moved to the entrance hall where coffee was being served. I delayed as long as I could, aimlessly turning over leaflets, standing by the bulletin board, then finally in the middle of the floor where I was getting in everyone's way. Nobody even looked at me, never mind spoke. It was only when I eventually went to fetch myself a drink that my presence was acknowledged: the woman serving the coffee was very friendly and chatty and seemed genuinely interested in where I was from and why I had come to the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was regular instant coffee served in mugs, accompanied by custard creams or chocolate digestives.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I thoroughly enjoyed the service which was uplifting on the whole. I didn't so much enjoy being an unacknowledged stranger afterwards.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I found the sermon meaningful and the singing and prayers to be heartfelt.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The minister's enthusiasm and energy.