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  1288: Poolewe and Aultbea, Wester Ross, Scotland

Poolewe and Aultbea, Wester Ross, Scotland

Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Poolewe and Aultbea, Wester Ross, Scotland.
Denomination: Free Church of Scotland.
The building: An immaculate beige sandstone building with pale harled side walls. The windows are rectangular clear plain glass. Inside, the walls, pillars and ceiling are pale pink with pale turquoise surrounds. There are dainty white glass lightshades in rows above the congregation. The wooden pulpit is at the front, surrounded by a section where four deacons and the precentor sit, and where there is a communion table.
The church: These are Highland Scots, some of whom speak Gaelic. They respect the keeping of the sabbath. The ladies wore formal, beautiful hats and the men wore suits. Families sat together in groups in the pews before the youngsters went out to Sunday school.
The neighbourhood: Wester Ross, in the northwest Scottish Highlands, is noted for its spectacular mountain scenery. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the area abounds with golden eagles, sea eagles, red deer and other wildlife, some of it exceedingly rare and protected. There is a tiny village and a peninsula with crofts, many of which host tourists. Small narrow roads run alongside the loch, with sheep wandering over them. By the loch is a campsite, a favourite of backpackers and walkers. The famed botanical preserve Inverewe Gardens is another of the busy tourist attractions.
The cast: James Eglinton, a theological student on placement, led the service and preached. There was also a precentor.
The date & time: Sunday, 4 June 2006, 12.00 noon.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service – in English.

How full was the building?
There were about 50 people, filling about a third of the pews.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
At the entrance two men were smiling and handing out a leaflet about the coming week, including a prayer diary. They offered me a Bible and book of psalms. As I went through the inner door, some other people smiled at me. No handshakes, though, until we were leaving.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were plain wood, with a sloping shelf that fitted the Bibles exactly so they could be propped open during the readings and sermon. Foot-rests along the floor made for comfortable seating, especially for the short-legged. We stood for prayer and sat while singing the metrical psalms.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and friendly, with people speaking to each other very quietly, and families coming to sit close to each other. The person in the pew behind me checked that I had the necessary Bible and psalms.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"We worship God together. We sing Psalm 19."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everyone used Bibles, either their own or those provided on the shelves. Metrical psalms were included in the Bibles, after the scriptures. There were also psalm books with more modern metrical settings.

What musical instruments were played?
None at all. The precentor, a man with a wonderful voice, stood up and started each verse and the congregation then followed him.

Did anything distract you?
I was intrigued by the elegant hats worn by the ladies in the congregation. I kept looking at them. It's been years since I've been in a church where they were worn so well.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship is a unique, traditional style. The precentor led us in three metrical psalms, 19, 45 and 8, all sung unaccompanied. Grace notes and harmonies visit the music as people take in the meaning of the words and spiritual context. It is some of the most beautiful, powerful and worshipful music I have ever heard.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The sermon was expository on the readings for the day, Hebrews 2 (the congregation were going through Hebrews a chapter each Sunday) and the last chapter of Job. The Bible is regarded as a whole, rather than the Gospels being the priority.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We human beings were created by God above the angels, full of glory given by him. We can be glad that we are special, but we must take responsibility for acting appropriately in this world. Jesus became a man, and lived and acted in this world in a way that lowered him and caused him to suffer, but his life ended with victory and rescue of mankind. We must not drift away from Jesus, but keep rowing (Poolewe is a sea area), keep working out our salvation, which we have been given.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to an expository sermon that felt as if it lasted five minutes, so full of God's love and appreciation of us. Also the beautiful, spiritual singing.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I felt ashamed of myself because I forgot that the collection box is at the door as we enter, and I had to ask if there was any offering.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
More smiles and nods, and handshakes too, by people as they left. Everyone went out rather quickly, presumably for their Sunday dinners. I chatted with the minister and some other visitors for quite some time.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None at all.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I felt spiritually fed and helped by the worship, sermon and prayers. The congregation also gave me a positive feeling.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Very much so! Even though I was a visitor, I felt as if I was deeply connected to God and to his people.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The beautiful singing.
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