The Mystery Worshipper, which produced this report, is run by shipoffools.com, the online magazine of Christian unrest. Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who visit churches of all denominations worldwide, leaving a calling card in the collection plate and posting a first-timer's impression of services on Ship of Fools. For further reports, visit the Mystery Worshipper at: shipoffools.com.
1777: Mallaig Church, North West Lochaber, Scotland
Mystery Worshipper: Haywood.
The church: Mallaig Church (also known as St Columba's), Parish of North West Lochaber, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland.
The building: A striking white painted building dating from the early 20th century, with steeply gabled roof, entrance porch, and apse. Whoever planned the interior decor must have favoured rose, as the altar standing in the apse is framed by a wall painted rose, and the church hall features a rose and turquoise patterned carpet with chairs upholstered in rose. The chapel has a quiet air, though, with traditional pews and a little stained glass.
The church: There is a small but enthusiastic Sunday school and a Shipshapes Club for primary school children. Prayer meetings and Bible study are regularly held. They take special pride in their ecumenical relations with churches of other denominations in the area.
The neighbourhood: The parish includes the small islands of West Inverness known in days gone by as the Rough Bounds. Mallaig is the main commercial fishing port on the west coast of Scotland and is linked by rail to Fort William, Oban and Glasgow. The Hogwarts Express of Harry Potter film fame ran over the Mallaig line. The village is a popular tourist destination and is well served by hotels ranging from backpacker accommodations up to the imposing West Highland Hotel. The church is just up the hill from Mallaig Harbour, right next to the West Highland Hotel, and enjoys some magnificent sea and island views.
The cast: The Revd Richard Begg, minister.
The date & time: Sunday, 26 July 2009, 12.00 noon.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a friendly welcome as I was handed a hymn book and asked if I wanted to use a Bible.
Was your pew comfortable?
A comfortable pew with a handy shelf in front for the hymn books.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A quiet atmosphere with lots of children, which gave an atmosphere of all ages being there for worship. What little noise there was seemed welcoming rather than disturbing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, although it’s nearly the afternoon. Good to have you here as we worship God."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Church of Scotland’s Church Hymnary and Bibles.
What musical instruments were played?
An electronic keyboard – the keyboardist was an able musician although the instrument didn’t show off her skills to the fullest.
Did anything distract you?
The scenery! Out of the one window we looked over the sea toward a number of the small islands, and out of the other over the green hills. Hard for any preacher to keep your attention with those on offer! However, he managed to do so very well.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A traditional style, with no participation from the congregation other than the children coming forward for their special time.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The content was excellent but the delivery was rapid! I felt the sermon provided lots of ideas but needed something visual to help the congregation capture them – a list of the key points written down would have been helpful.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Meekness is not weakness, but rather the ability in us to be teachable, live under the influence of the Holy Spirit, and be sensitive to the will of God. We are to be teachable, not unreachable (continuing to learn); gentle, not judgmental (welcoming of those who see things differently); actors, not reactors (taking control of our emotions); understanding, not demanding (putting the self aside in favour of others); and tender without surrender (loving one another to reach unity).
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The ideas given in the sermon and the sense of caring that was apparent between the minister and congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The keyboard was not easy to sing along with, and there was not a lot of variety of music. All the service was the responsibility of one person (great though he was). I would have liked other people to feel they could take a more active part in the worship, too.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of people came over to say hello. But for the most part, people left the church quickly and hung around in groups outside. This was not surprising with such magnificent views to look at. I was warmly invited to a barbeque that was being held at the manse (alas, I was unable to go).
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was not offered after the service – maybe there would be some at the barbeque.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The sense of community was strong and very attractive. People seemed to be genuinely caring for each other. But I suspect as an outsider that it may be difficult to integrate, at least to start with.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The content of the sermon – I'm still thinking about it!