Mystery Worshipper: August in Hippo
Church: St Mungo's
Location: Balerno, Edinburgh, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 April 2010, 10:30am
The church has its own building where the early traditional Sunday service is held, but the later two contemporary services are held at Balerno High School, from the outside a pleasant enough looking building dating from the 1980s set amid green lawns and foliage. Inside it is a bit of a warren and smells like schools always seem to (with an added hint of chlorine from the swimming pool). The auditorium is dark and festooned with all the usual curtained stages, projection screens, etc. It is an odd kind of space, with paving stone flooring, garden benches, an ugly concrete ceiling, and pipes everywhere.
They support all the usual ministries, including youth groups, men's and women's ministries, house groups, prayer cells, etc. They put a lot of their effort into their wellness centre, which, quoting from their website, is "about being all that we are made to be, emotionally and spiritually" (though I'm not sure what that means!). They also have a counselling programme.
Balerno lies a short distance southwest of the Edinburgh city centre and was known for its flax, snuff and paper mills until very recently. Today the suburb is primarily residential in character – slightly dreary apart from the wild Scottish hills nearby. The school has a river running beside it that was in full spate due to recent snows melting.
The service was led mainly by a youngish man on guitar whose name was not given. Nor is his name apparent from a perusal of their website, although the parish mascot, a member of the species Mungos mungo (banded mongoose), is given prominent billing. The Revd Richard McArthur, senior associate minister, gave the talk. The service was closed by the Revd Malcolm Round, rector.
What was the name of the service?Easter at St Mungos: Guest Sunday. Guest Sunday, a regular feature at the church, is described on their website as "a creative and contemporary church service which illustrates how the Christian faith is still relevant today" and is aimed at people who "don’t usually go to church."
How full was the building?
Full. There seemed to be several hundred people there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were a bit late so had to find where to leave our children. But at each station the leaders welcomed us and the children, and introduced the children to others of the same age. When we eventually made it to the service proper, we were welcomed at the door and ushered to a seat.
Was your pew comfortable?
A brown plastic stacking chair. Hard but bearable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Missed out on this.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Missed these. When we came in, the worship (i.e. singing) was already in full swing.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. Everything was projected onto screens.
What musical instruments were played?
Guitar and drums plus vocalist.
Did anything distract you?
The guitarist 's image was projected onto the screens along with the words for the songs. I found this slightly irritating and thought it made it harder to concentrate on worshipping God. I also really disliked the dark green curtains behind the stage, which made the space seem even more dark and dreary. I was struck by the rector's long greying hair in a pig tail – he seemed to be trying to be the very opposite of the cuddly Anglican priest.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Happy clappy in a Scottish way (they didn't look that happy, but many did raise their arms in the air). The music was light rock, with a couple of older hymns. I enjoyed the relaxed and holy atmosphere of the worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Well, before the sermon (or I thought it was a prelude) we had a sketch, and then an interview, and then lastly a talk. All in all it lasted about 35 minutes, but it all blended into one so I wasn't sure which bit was sermon and what was bonus material!
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The sketch at the beginning was extremely professional and engaging. The truth of the interviewee's story made a long interview fly by. The talk bit was the least interesting and seemed to be the preacher padding out the really interesting stuff.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
(Sketch) In the church of Christ we find freedom from problems such as agoraphobia (fear of going out in public), addiction to pornography, and trauma from relationships. (Interview) The interviewee spoke passionately about the ups and downs in his life, from being a police officer to a homeless alcoholic to running a homeless shelter. (Talk) In Christ we can find help.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music, sketch and interview made me feel closer to God than I have done for a long time.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Having to watch the main protagonists on a big screen all the time! I appreciate it may have been hard to see from some parts of the room, but it made it all feel a bit like a television production.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Visitors were invited to stop by a welcome station. There, we were greeted warmly, introduced to people from the church, and served tea or coffee. The rector introduced himself (in a slightly distracted way).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Perfectly reasonable tea and coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – We live over 400 miles away. Even if we lived closer, this felt slightly too slick, polished and organised for me to make it my regular. It was an interesting one-off, though.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was really inspired by what I heard that God can do.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The story of the policeman/addict.