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Leith Parish, Edinburgh, Scotland
Leith Parish, Edinburgh, Scotland.
The church is a fairly imposing Georgian building which was
completed in 1816. Its columns and tall steeple mean it dominates
the surrounding area. Leith was historically a shipping community
and so many of the graves in the churchyard are of sailors.
Inside it is light and spacious; the windows above the gallery
have clear glass rather than the stained glass of the ground
floor. It is also tastefully decorated. However, there was something
I found a little cold about it. Partly I think this was to do
with the massive pulpit, which was about 10 feet tall but had
a huge canopy over it too, probably doubling the height. Fortunately
the minister chose not to use it. I also found it slightly unsettling
that you enter at the front of the church (being late would
be very uncomfortable because everybody can see you come in)
but perhaps that's just me.
They are a member of the Leith Council of Churches and the Leith
Churches Forum. They conduct a morning and evening service each
Sunday. Several youth groups and adult social and religious
groups meet during the week either at the church or in people's
The church is in Leith, which has quite a strong identity as
a place separate from Edinburgh even though it technically is
part of the city. In the past, Leith has had a reputation as
being a bit rough round the edges because it's an old port town.
But the congregation seemed more of an Edinburgh New Town type
educated, comfortably off, establishment types. In recent
years a lot of money and effort has gone into regenerating Leith
and other nearby areas, and it shows. Many old buildings have
been converted into houses and there are a lot of good restaurants
and bars there. The area round the church itself is mainly residential
and well kept. It is a quiet area, not on a main road.
The service was led by the Revd Ken Smyth Baird, church minister.
The names of those who played the organ and did the readings
were not given.
The date & time:
Sunday, 27 July 2008, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were about 70 people on the ground floor and only the
choir in the gallery, but it's a big building, so it was mostly
empty. There was a bit of an age mix certainly a few
people in their 20s though more in their 60s. The minister mentioned
at the start that the young people were "next door"
but they never made an appearance, which was a shame. I kept
expecting them to.
Did anyone welcome you
Yes, there were a few welcomes. A couple of people said hello
at the door but didn't give me any further directions. The guy
handing out the hymnbooks was friendly and one or two members
of the congregation also greeted me. In fact, one lady said
hello so forcefully I felt like I was always there.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a bog-standard wooden pew with a bit of carpet-type material
on it. Not luxury, but my bottom wasn't sore.
How would you describe the pre-service
The church was pretty quiet. People weren't particularly chatting,
or if they were the church was too big for it to make much of
an impact. I didn't get the impression that they were praying
instead, though. I don't think anybody came in late, which is
quite unusual (probably because the position of the doors means
everybody can see you come in).
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning and welcome to worship at North Leith Parish Church."
What books did the congregation use during the
The pew Bible was the New International version and I think
the readings were also from it. One hymn was on the order of
service and the others were from the Church of Scotland's Fourth
Hymnary (CH4). This is the most recent edition, published
about four years ago, so whether a church uses it or not can
be a sign of its general outlook.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ all the way. In fact, there were two organs and two organists
– one in the gallery and one just in front of the chancel.
Did anything distract you?
The huge pulpit, which was very off-putting even though the
minister wasn't using it. Also there was a sort of rushing air
sound which I think had something to do with the sound system.
When I got bored I started trying to pick the paint off the
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was a fairly standard Church of Scotland service that
is, four or five hymns, a few prayers, a sermon, the offering
and the intimations mixed in. It was led almost exclusively
by the minister, although the readings were done by a member
of the congregation. It had a very definite structure, but the
minister also tried to be a little informal. He didn't use the
pulpit, for example, and also mentioned that he'd chosen the
tune for one of the hymns because it was named after the wife
of the organist in the gallery and today was their wedding anniversary.
But the only instrument was the organ; there was no expectation
of clapping or, for example, of discussion in the congregation.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 It's been said that no sinner was saved after the first
15 minutes of a sermon, and whilst I think that's a bit harsh,
I did find the sermon a tad on the long side. Once he got into
the real meat of the sermon (which was making the readings relevant
to today) it was good, but there was too much build-up for my
taste. It's a tough line though, because he was trying to provide
an historical context. Although it was not directly topical,
I did feel that it may have been addressed to some problems
within the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
The sermon focused on Romans 14 (do not judge others, and do
not cause your brother to stumble) and I got the impression
that they'd been going through the whole of Romans in previous
weeks. Basically, Paul sees that there are matters which are
essential to salvation (and on which there can be no disagreement)
and matters which are not. If dealt with inappropriately, however,
these matters can cause serious divisions and so we must be
careful to respect each others' viewpoints.
Which part of the service was like being in
I have been attending a church which does not have an organ,
so hearing the organ played loudly and well was a real treat.
The hymns were also well chosen, I thought, and I especially
liked the touch about the tune named the same as the organist's
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Despite myself, I was fidgeting during the sermon. There was
also something wrong with the sound system. When nobody was
speaking there was a weird whooshing sound, and when they were
it was rather unclear. If I'd been an old biddy with a hearing
aid, I'm not sure how much I would have made out. But probably
the worst thing was an uncomfortable moment when the minister
thanked the youth leader (whose last day it was) for his work.
It didn't seem like it had been an easy relationship between
him and the church, and for some reason the young people under
his charge weren't invited in to make a presentation or anything.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Er, nothing happened. I hung about a bit – nothing. I
even asked somebody where the toilet was but they just told
me and didn't add anything else. The tea and coffee were actually
in the hall next door, so I had to leave the church to get there.
This meant I had to shake hands with the minister. He also didn't
mention the tea and coffee. In fact, he seemed to think he should
already know me, because he heartily asked how I was. In the
end I felt like an idiot and left.
How would you describe the after-service
I honestly couldn't bring myself to go for tea, even once I'd
figured out where it was.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 It was all right, but I spent the whole service feeling
like I was among a collection of people rather than a congregation.
Partly I think it was the effect of the building, but partly
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Not particularly. People were friendly when I went in and the
organ was good, but I didn't feel very enlightened or uplifted
at the end. Actually I feel bad about saying that because I'm
sure all the people were lovely, but it's true.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The twin mysteries of the two organists and the vanished youth.
If you have young people in your church, show them off!
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