Mystery Worshipper: Ironted
Church: St Stephen's
Location: Dalmuir, Clydebank, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 November 2010, 10:00am
It is quite a modern building from a Catholic perspective, having been built in 1958 replacing the old church, which was destroyed in the blitz on Clydebank by over 1,000 Nazi bombers in 1941. There are pews that would probably accommodate 300 at a push with room around the outside for processions. There is an interesting wooden sculpture above the altar and some stained glass windows on the north face of the church, although the other windows are plain. The ceiling is quite high so it had a spacious feel, especially with its whitewashed walls. There are no signs outside indicating the times of services or other events during the week.
The church offers a variety of activities, from a St Vincent de Paul Society to help the needy to a charismatic prayer group. A nearby historically significant church, Our Lady of Loretto, was demolished in 2007 amid cries of "cultural vandalism", and so most of the remnants of that congregation have joined St Stephen's.
Clydebank is situated on the north bank of the River Clyde a short distance west of Glasgow. The bombing in Clydebank during World War II, which left 35,000 people homeless in a three-day period, was said to be the worst bomb damage per head of the population in the British Isles. The town was known for its ship building and its Singer sewing machine factory, neither of which now exists. The church is situated close to one of the nicer parts of the town, with the park and golf course nearby, although it is easily also accessible for those living in the council estates.
The Revd Aidan Martin is the parish priest although I cannot confirm that it was he who led the service. Two laypersons, neither of whom was introduced, gave the readings and led the prayers.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
There were probably around 150 people there, about half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman smiled at us as we entered, but the man in the foyer was folding the service sheets and didn't look up. We picked up a sheet and entered, but it took a while for us to find a seat as all the people were sitting at the ends of the pews and toward the back. We had to ask someone to move along. Then we realised that the songbooks were not placed on the pews and had to ask someone where they were located so that we could follow the service properly.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine, if a little narrow. I am not the smallest person in the world, and seats that were built in the past tend to be a bit restrictive.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It felt quiet, although with the hassle of getting there a little late and the struggle to sit down as the service was starting, I don't feel totally at liberty to comment on it.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Sorry, we missed them, due to our late arrival and subsequent search for seats.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns Old and New.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played consistently and well but a little slower than it might have been.
Did anything distract you?
Other than my children?! The wooden sculpture at the front got me thinking about where it came from in the Bible. It was of a man kneeling to pray and two other men looking as if to stone him. The praying man didn't immediately strike me as Jesus and I thought it might be Daniel, which was interesting for a large sculpture at the front of a church. I'm sorry we didn't get a picture of it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The term meditative could be used here, as the singing was very quiet and without seemingly any passion. The final hymn, for which there was a marked sign of improvement, was "Be thou my vision" and I heard someone else say she knew that one. It could be the majority of the congregation didn't know the other songs; we certainly didn't. There was quite a lot of liturgy in the service, but if the responses were in the book we didn't know where to find them.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Martin's introduction was interesting, but then he made a good first point and stopped. Being more used to sermons that last 30 minutes, we were quite surprised that he stopped when he did!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He talked about how people predict the end of the world. He even listed some dates that have been mentioned by people calling themselves prophets. But actually we don't know when the end will be.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Opening the hymn book and finding the final song was to be "Be thou my vision".
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Stopping "Be thou my vision" after only three verses, when there were five written in the hymnbook! Oh, the temptation to sing them anyway! And our son, the Irontedette, became restless during the unfamiliar service and began playing with a ball he had brought with him – and kicked it into another pew!
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a lot. People filed out of the door as they had filed so efficiently in for the mass. There were no refreshments. Mrs Ironted had to use the facilities and asked someone where they were. We were pretty well the last people to leave. The priest was still standing at the door and, with a smile on his face, stopped the Irontedette from running out. But when we turned round to say something else to him, he was gone.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Non-existent, unless it was in a hall somewhere else and we hadn't been invited!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – It is not the style of church that we are used to. However, other than the odd smile, I was amazed at how a family like ours, who clearly hadn't been there before, could be so ignored by the congregation. If we had not been Christians and just been people going along to try out church, then I'm pretty sure we wouldn't bother again.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes and no. Many people (with different traditions from my own) were praying and honouring Jesus. Yet the lack of welcome received and the absence of chatter probably explains why so many people have given up on church, and as a consequence, God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The sculpture at the front. Oh, and my son kicking his ball into another pew!