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1654: Dingwall Castle Street, Dingwall, Scotland
Dingwall Castle Street, Dingwall, Scotland
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Dingwall Castle Street, Dingwall, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland.
The building: A solid, beautiful stone building, with stairs up to the entrance. Inside, much of the building is filled with wooden pews and three triangular wooden coverings on the walls above the pulpit, communion table, and reading table. The walls are pink. The wooden reading table is adorned with two blue and gold cloths with crosses, and a wider blue and gold cloth graces the pulpit, which also holds the Bible. There is a banner at the front that reads: "Grow in grace". The windows at the side of the church are all plain white glass with red leading round the edges, and high above the pulpit is a stained glass window with three circles, the centre one showing Jesus the Shepherd and the others having angels.
The church: They sponsor youth groups as well as parent/toddler groups and offer Bible study. They are also partnered with a church in Malawi. There is a morning and evening service each Sunday.
The neighbourhood: Dingwall, in northeastern Scotland not far from Inverness, was a stronghold of the Norwegian Vikings until the 13th century and is said to have been the birthplace of Macbeth. There is a history of battles and many men belonging to the armies. The layout of the old town centre is recognisably medieval. In the main street is a very good little museum; the street is only for walking – no cars. There is a walk all around the town, in paths, one part of which arrives at the North Sea.
The cast: The Revd Dr Bruce Ritchie, minister, led the service. Elizabeth Burns, the duty elder, welcomed the congregation and gave the notices at the very beginning of the service.
The date & time: 1 June 2008, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
The church was at least two-thirds full, with adults and children. The pews were filled from the back of the church, and the only empty ones were all at the front. They are near to a theological college and therefore seem to have people connected with the college attending. I did notice that they do not dress formally, and the women do not have to wear hats – quite different from the attendees leaving another local church, formally dressed and wearing fancy hats. There are many local churches and therefore people must choose which one to belong to.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
At the entrance there were two people welcoming everyone and supervising the collection being placed into two large plates. They were cheerfully welcoming as they smiled and handed us our hymn books. As I entered the worship area, several people already in the pews smiled and welcomed me.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very comfortable – solid wooden pews with a soft, firm cushion fitting the whole length. The pews had two shelves along the top, giving us space to place our Bibles, hymn books, specs, etc. There was also a wooden platform along the base of the pew for us to rest our feet. There were numbers on all the pews, and each had an umbrella holder at the end.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere felt happy; there were people chatting quietly, greeting each other, smiling. There was a very quiet baby present also. No one seemed to arrive late. The beadle carried the Bible up to the high pulpit just before the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everybody, and a very special welcome to the visitors."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
In the pews there were New International Version Bibles, and a few people had their own Bibles. We were given two hymn books as we entered: Mission Praise and Psalms and Church Hymnary.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ, played extremely well.

Dingwall Castle Street, Dingwall, Scotland

Did anything distract you?
Yes – watching the PowerPoint words coming up and trying to concentrate both on them and the sermon. There was also, underneath the techie stuff, the following quotation: "The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever. Peter." Which is, of course, 1 Peter 1:24-25, quoting Isaiah 40:8.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely not happy-clappy. The elder read the notices at the beginning of the service, very briefly and very efficiently, and then the minister took over. The congregation seemed to take the service as an important part of their lives, paying attention to the sermon and the extempore prayers. We all remained seated in our pews throughout the whole service. Everyone sang, following the organ and concentrating on reading the words. The hymns were neither too fast nor too slow. There was a group of people who were singing loud and clear, but most seemed to be singing fairly solemnly. One of the hymns was "Be thou my vision", done the Scottish way – the correct way! – without the extra words added in an attempt to homogenise the rhythm. Each person held up their hymnbook and joined in, no doubt thinking as they sang both about the words and the tune. There was no exchange of peace or communion service. As everyone sang Amen at the end of the blessing from the minister, they stood still – no one crossed themselves, as that would have been regarded as untraditional and non-Protestant.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
The children's sermon was 4 minutes. The adult sermon was 23 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Pastor Ritchie preached quite academically but also clearly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
In the children's sermon, Pastor Ritchie said that we are all on a journey and so must follow directions. The right way to go is upward to God. Jesus said, "I am the way," and Jesus is the way to God, the way to heaven. In the adult sermon, he spoke about the disciples looking for truth and meaning, which we are still looking for even today. Jesus spoke the truth about who he was and what he had come for: atonement, substitution, suffering, rising again. Liberal theologians do not see Christ as necessary for salvation, and do not think that sin is an important issue, nor atonement a reality, since there was no need for the death of Christ on the cross. But the cross was necessary, as Christ showed when he prayed in Gethsemane. There was no other way to offer salvation. Some argue that it was cruel for God to send his Son to die for us. But God did not unjustly punish a poor innocent person. In reality, God himself stood in punishment for us and so became our Saviour: "God in Christ reconciling the world to himself" (2 Corinthians 5:19). And so we must ask ourselves: Whom do we see Jesus as? What do we think of our own souls? What do we think of the cross?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the sermon, hearing ideas being set forth and answered efficiently and sensibly, without condemnation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I had to keep putting on my specs to read the words PowerPointed up onto the wall. On, off, on, off...

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People stood up and moved around as soon as the service was over. Several people spoke to me, asking if I was on holiday, how long would I be there, had I ever been in Dingwall before, etc. I was led downstairs to the coffee serving area in the immaculately spotless hall. There I was introduced to some people who were already having their coffee or tea and biscuits, and they had friendly chats with me. It felt really pleasant, and I think that no one would ever be left alone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no evidence of what kind of tea or coffee had been provided – it was already prepared, reasonably hot, and poured out into a white cup and saucer as we chose what we wanted. The sugar and milk were on a table along with the biscuits, chocolate, ginger, various tasty ones.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I was really pleased because everyone was so friendly, and the sermon gave me plenty of thought to continue with.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes – it exercised my brain and let the Holy Spirit keep teaching me.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Be thou my vision" sung right!
 
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