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935: St Michael and All Angels, Inverness, Scotland
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St Michael and All Angels, Inverness, Scotland
Mystery Worshipper: Abed-Nego.
The church: St Michael and All Angels, Inverness, Scotland.
Denomination: Episcopal Church of Scotland.
The building: St Michael's is quite difficult to find in a city that teems with church towers and spires. When we finally tracked it down, we discovered an unremarkable building set in the midst of a fairly humble development of homes on the west side of the River Ness. The interior, however, is quite beautiful. The high altar is a full-sized stone table surrounded by four black wrought iron pillars, on top of which sit four gilt angels, each holding a taper. These were designed by the great Ninian Comper. Comper also designed the magnificent stained glass window of the archangels on the east wall of the church and the gilded tester above. The four archangels depicted in the window resonate with the gloriously subtle colours that Comper so loved. The gilded tester depicts the Holy Spirit, with tongues of fire radiating from the dove, and the seven gifts of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness – inscribed around the border.
The church: The congregation didn't seem representative of the immediate vicinity of St Michael's. I think I detected a number of English accents, and was amazed later to discover that the only man in full Scots dress, kilt and all, was in fact a Sassenach!
The neighbourhood: Apart from a few corner shops and an old elementary school, the neighbourhood around the church is entirely residential.
The cast: Canon Len Black, parish priest and celebrant.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn parish mass.

How full was the building?
There were 50 to 60 people, occupying roughly half of this quite small church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We arrived about half an hour before the service, one of our party desperately needing to use the facilities. A lady who appeared to be re-arranging hymnbooks and lighting candles informed us of their whereabouts.

Was your pew comfortable?
They were the worst pews I've ever experienced (note that Ninian Comper appears to have had nothing to do with their design!). They were made for children, and small children at that. They were really uncomfortable!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some tourists behind us were discussing aspects of the building in clearly audible tones. The regular congregation seemed as uncomfortable about this as we were.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
English Hymnal (words only). A self-produced liturgy book, which was extremely well-done, made the mass easy to follow

What musical instruments were played?
An organ in the gallery. The organist was grotesquely incompetent. Her tempos were wayward to say the least, and she rarely played the harmonies intended by the composers of the hymns. I have never heard worse.

Did anything distract you?
Well, obviously that organist in a bad sense. But in a good sense, all those Comper adornments.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Properly Anglo-catholic.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
4 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – This homily took four minutes to preach, but sounded as if it needed 30 seconds to prepare.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Black lumped together the Epistle – the section in Hebrews about the faithfulness of our Old Testament ancestors – and the Gospel passage where our Lord tells his followers to make ready for the Son of Man's return. Abraham's and Sarah's faith was sufficient for them to be prepared to sacrifice Isaac. But in the New Testament, faith took on a new dimension. It was no longer abstract; it was now a personal relationship. Huh? I didn't get it then. I still don't.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The place, and some very pretty and elegant singing by the priest. He intoned the sung parts of the mass quite beautifully.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That blasted organ-playing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were invited to join a small gathering for coffee in the adjoining church hall.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't recall very much about the cup of tea I drank, but I did enjoy a very pleasant conversation with Father Black.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – So much to commend about this beautiful place where the worship is very thoughtful and reverent. But, oh dear, there needs to be much more "meat on the bone" in the preaching department, and many, many fewer wrong notes from the organ.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
What a joy to the eye! What an insult to the ear!
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