Holy Trinity sits at the high point of the road from which travellers from the west would get their first site of Melrose Abbey. It was built as a chapel on land donated by the fifth Duke of Buccleuch, and consecrated in 1849. It was a small early English or Gothic-style chapel, of cream white sandstone with a green slate roof. However, it was enlarged into the church we see today in 1900. The church’s pulpit and font are made of Caen stone, and the chancel floor with steps and platform are of Sicilian marble. The capital of the south transept columns includes the carved heads of the four saints chiefly associated with the monastery at Old Melrose: Eata, Aidan, Boisil and Cuthbert.
It’s difficult to give a view of the church community from an online service. However Holy Trinity self-describes as (quoting from their website) a ‘group of people who gather together to give their thanks to God, to learn more about faith and spirituality, to support and look after one another, and who like to enjoy one another’s company. We have a big mix of ages, from new-born children to people in their nineties, and we all gather on a Sunday morning to meet with one another and to find new ways of being kind to one another and to the world.’
As its name implies, the Scottish Borders is the region of southeastern Scotland that borders England. Melrose is a small town, probably most known for its magnificent ruined abbey. This rather unusually has a cloister on the north side, rather than the more usual south side. It is one of the stopping points on the Borders Abbey Way. Melrose is also well know for the Melrose Sevens Rugby Festival.
The rector preached and presided at the eucharist; other members of the congregation led the opening prayers, read the lessons and led the intercessions. Being that it was an online service, other than the opening prayers (which came from the snowy churchyard), the remainder of the readings and prayers were recorded in the contributors’ homes, whilst the eucharist was celebrated in the church.
What was the name of the service?A Thousand Bottles of Wine – the Wedding at Cana.
How full was the building?
I rather suspect that at the time of broadcast the building was probably empty. However, YouTube told me that there were up to 63 people watching online, who had come from a variety of places – Dunbar, Selkirk, Kelso, Lauder, West Winch and Hawick were all mentioned in the chat function.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Current Scottish Government restrictions do not permit congregations to meet in person, so no.
Was your pew comfortable?
I have no complaints about my sofa.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a countdown on the YouTube clock as we waited for the service to be premiered, and as I recall there was some rather spiky music going on in the background. There were also a number of folk greeting each other in the chat function.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.’ Uttered from a beautiful snowy churchyard.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a link to the online order of service on the church website, and it sounded a lot like the Scottish Liturgy 1982.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an organ, and there was an online choir of five who had (presumably) recorded their parts individually and which had then been digitally overlaid.
Did anything distract you?
The choir had clearly recorded material at different times, and I was a little distracted by the changing hairstyle of one of the singers: over the course of the service, I think there were three different haircuts/dye colours.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
None of the above – it was lots of pre-recorded segments of parts of the liturgy, which were edited to form a whole. It came from a variety of physical locations: from the churchyard, from people’s homes, from within the church, and there were also pictures of local scenery accompanying some of the music. And for me, that really helped root it as being an act of worship from and within that community. (And in nine months of participating in online worship, it’s probably only the second or third time I’ve felt the desire to join in with the hymns!).
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The sermon came from the rector’s house, which felt really natural (as opposed to being delivered to and filmed in an empty church). I was engaged throughout, and not tempted to go and play solitaire keeping only one ear on the sermon (it’s been known). And there was a moment part way through where, although nothing obviously changed in the delivery, there was a sensation of us having somehow moved into a different place – that what the rector was saying wasn’t just a prepared sermon, but also something that came from deep within and was important to him. And somehow that change of feel made me listen more intently.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God’s abundance. Jesus took a very large quantity of water, intended for the fussy bureaucracy surrounding rites of purity, and turned it into an abundance of the best wine. And that abundance is perhaps something that is difficult to recognise just now, but we need to make the effort to do so. Yes, there are things we cannot do, but we shouldn’t focus on that because it doesn’t allow us the space to see what we actually have. ‘Is your chair comfy? Are you warm enough? Are you choosing to watch this because you want to? Apart from the children, you have to watch this, it’s like spiritual broccoli – it’s good for you!’ In truth, we have so many things for which to give thanks and be grateful. We should celebrate what we have. God gives abundantly if we choose to see it. And finally a challenge: we don’t give enough of our time to God (or, when we do, is it a case of always talking, not listening – send mode, rather than receive?). Since we are in lockdown, what better opportunity to spend more time with God and to let God shape us, to become more at ease with ourselves and others?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
After the sermon, the online choir started a Hildegard of Bingen chant that was lovely, but this then faded down in volume and carried on as an underlay to the intercessions. And it was a beautiful juxtaposition.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The vehicle reversing somewhere in the road outside my flat (with one of those really raucous reversing signals not unlike a crow that’s becoming increasingly hoarse) at an inopportune moment when I had encountered internal stillness.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, there was an online coffee time interview/conversation with one of the congregants who was about to move away from the area. So I stayed for that before sloping off to find some lunch/coffee at home before checking into my own church’s coffee hour.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
One of the benefits of coffee at home is that you make it as you like it. So it was pretty good!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 — I needed to try something other than my own church’s online worship, and this just worked for me today. I will probably revisit online, and would also like to visit in person in the future (though that’s more tricky to arrange!).
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and that in itself was an uplift
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Judging by the online chat, there are a number of us who are going to remember the concept of spiritual broccoli – but it could have been spiritual sprouts!