|792: St Mary's, Dundee, Scotland|
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Mystery Worshipper: Dark Horse.
The church: St Mary's, Dundee, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).
The building: From the outside, it looks like one building and one church. This is misleading, however, as there are two different congregations here. St Mary's has the eastern end of the building, whilst its neighbour, the Steeple church, has the western end. Internally, St Mary's is attractive, with stone pillars, a high-vaulted ceiling, and some lovely stained-glass windows including the large east window which depicts the 12 apostles (with Judas replaced by Paul). There are also some bright red banners on the pillars depicting the church's octocentenary in 1990: they look somewhat out-of-place with the rest of the decor, but the anniversary is probably a big thing for the congregation.
The church: Apparently, this is the main parish church for the city of Dundee.
The neighbourhood: St Mary's is located in the heart of Dundee's retail centre, and is surrounded on three sides by the modern glass-fronted Overgate shopping centre. The town's two universities are also close to hand. The plaza outside is popular with the local skateboarders and rollerbladers.
The cast: The service this morning was led by a visiting minister, the Rev. Ronald Blakey, from Edinburgh.
What was the name of the service?
Morning worship holy communion.
How full was the building?
There were maybe between 80 and 100 people present: certainly, there was plenty of room to spread out. In my pew, there was only one person other than myself.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The greeter at the door said hello, as he handed me a hymn book and order of service.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew. As it was un-cushioned, it was not exactly comfortable to sit on, and I had to keep changing position to keep my backside from going numb.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a subdued murmur of people talking, otherwise it was quiet and peaceful, with a voluntary being played on the organ.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service started with an introit from the choir. The first words spoken by the visiting minister were, "It is, as always, both a pleasure and a privilege to be here."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the Church of Scotland church hymnary was used. I'm not certain which bible translation was used for the readings – it sounded like the New International Version, but I could be wrong.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an organ and choir.
Did anything distract you?
There were a number of old battalion colours around the church. I was curious as to which battalions these had belonged to, and which (if any) battles they had been used in. I also found myself watching the minister's hood starting to slip off his shoulder during the sermon, and wondering how far it would slip down before he noticed. Oh, and tying to spot the young people! This seems to be a somewhat elderly congregation; I was one of the youngest there, which is saying something.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was very formal and the worship very structured. Only hymns and psalms were sung – no modern choruses were entertained. A good, traditional, old-fashioned, presbyterian service, in fact.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Rev. Blakey delivered his sermon well and included anecdotes which added colour and meaning to his words.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Making God real. In short, God is not the number one priority in peoples' lives today. The biggest challenge facing the church today is not those who have rejected him totally, or those who are already serving, but the majority in the middle who want to believe but don't know where or how to start looking. A simple point, but a very important one.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organist was wonderful – there was movement and feeling in the playing, without ever letting the organ take precedence over the singing, which unfortunately happens all too often in some churches. I also enjoyed the opportunity to sing "Who would true valour see", which is one of my favourite hymns and (sadly) never used in my own church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It was cold! I had come dressed for the weather, with a light sweater and sandals, and realised near the start of the service that a coat and boots may have been more appropriate. It was also rather irritating that there was no indication of where to go for communion. As most people appeared to be leaving after the main service I wondered if I'd got it wrong, till I noticed a small group sitting in one corner of the church, so I sat with them and hoped I was in the right place (I was).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was genuinely lost following the main service, as I had no idea of where to go for the communion service which followed. People nodded and said hello on the way past, but otherwise didn't stop. I didn't have time to look lost after the communion, though, as I was noticed as a stranger to the church and was immediately engaged in a friendly and pleasant conversation about the church itself. People also asked where I was from, and why I had come to the church.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no coffee as this was their communion Sunday, but I understand that coffee is served most other weeks.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – It was rather more formal than I am accustomed to, as I am from a somewhat relaxed church background. However, I did appreciate the more structured approach to worship, and the people were, for the most part, friendly.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The stained glass windows.