the worship experiment, uk: week 13

The Border Kirk (Church of Scotland in Carlisle)
24 January, 11:00am

I wasn’t planning on getting up to go to church this day. I’ve been attending St. James in the evening, but this morning I woke up around 9:30 and thought, “Maybe I should check out another church since I’m up.” So I went online to see if there was a church I could check out. Criteria: 1) one I hadn’t been to; 2) a service which started at 11:00. I remembered that there was a Church of Scotland somewhere, and since I worked at a Presbyterian church for a number of years, I was interested in seeing what the “original” Presbyterian Church was all about.

A number of things seemed to come up to keep me away. First, the church is in the City Centre, and I couldn’t find a place to park. Then when I finally found one, it was a good 7 minutes’ walk away. This made me at least 5 minutes late. Third, when I got to the entrance, the door was locked. I saw a doorbell but thought, “Surely they don’t mean for me to ring the doorbell! What if it rings in the sanctuary?” So I walked around to the back of the church. No door. I walked back to the front and strongly considered leaving, but I really wanted to see this church, so I went for it. I rang the bell. Did it ring in the sanctuary? I didn’t know at the time, but found out later that, yes, it did. I’m really glad I didn’t know that.

The man who greeted me was very friendly and helped me find a seat—which, by the way, was upstairs.

My first impression … not a user-friendly church. I mean, how many visitors would actually ring the doorbell? I almost didn’t, and I’m a thoroughly churched, vocational church person.

Let’s move on from that. The worship space was set up differently than any other church I’ve been in. True to Reformed form, this church was plainer than that of many of the Anglican churches. There was limited stained glass, and the beams of the church were made of wood rather than stone. Three plain banners hung on the walls. There were three rows of pews stretched straight out, with the largest in the center and a balcony behind. There was a flat stage that stretched the length of the first two rows of pews. Behind the platform there was more seating. There was a large pulpit to the side and organ pipes beyond that. The organ itself was on the back side of the platform. On this particular week, the pulpit wasn’t utilized; instead, the pastor used a smaller pulpit.

I found out later that the service I attended was one that happened monthly. Typically, they have two services; one is a traditional service with organ and full sermon, and the other is considered their contemporary service, with a band. Once a month, they combine for a family service, in which the children stay in all morning and are involved. The also use both the band and organ (though separately), and the pastor doesn’t preach; instead, he does a couple of mini-sermons, which are very kid-friendly and are not expositional. They’re only about 5-7 minutes each.

It was good to see how involved the children were—besides coming up during the “sermons,” they helped with the scripture reading (an older child was part of the group that was reading, while a younger child held up props to show the body of Christ—I Cor 12:14-26), and a teenager read a poem. The pastor held everything together thematically. All of the songs were about being the Church, and the poem and one of the sermons was about Martin Luther King, Jr. and about being the Church in the community. He had an easel pad at the front with the words, “I have a dream” on it. He must have invited people to write their dreams on it throughout the service, but since I was 10-15 minutes late, I missed that part. At the end, he read what people had written and asked the congregation to pray for the “dreams” throughout the week.

A woman who is training under the pastor led the prayer time and asked everyone to turn to their neighbor and pray for something on their hearts. This was obviously a novice idea to the congregation, as she had to instruct them twice and even then, only a few people did it, whispering very quietly to one another. It was obviously uncomfortable for them. In talking to the pastor later, he mentioned this and said that the Church of Scotland, particularly in Scotland, is extremely reserved. I recalled how my pastor at First Presbyterian used to call Presbyterians the “frozen chosen.” Apparently, this congregation in Carlisle is considerably less reserved than his last parish in Scotland! They did attempt to clap during one song.

It was good to see the children’s participation and the pastor’s creativity, and I was impressed with his heart to do everything he could to build unity in the congregation by having this combined service once a month (not to mention, to try to help both polarities of worship style learn from and appreciate each other), but I felt something was missing: expositional preaching. I don’t think it’s good that he’s losing that because the children are in the service. And in a denomination that holds “the Word and the Sacrament” so highly, it’s a bit surprising.

I know they’re doing the best with what they have, but the music was not stellar. Except for the Doxology, I don’t remember one song that was directed at God. Simply put, what we had that morning musically was not worship. We sang “I Am the Church,” a simple kids song about what constitutes the Church, “Welcome Everybody,” a song whose chorus says, “Welcome everybody, it’s good to see you here” to the tune of “Do Lord,” and the South African tune “We Are Marching” (we even sang one chorus in Zulu). I appreciated that the pastor brought in music from the global Church, but once again, this song doesn’t say anything, and I doubt that the congregation can speak Zulu (I sang it in college so was at least familiar with it). We also sang a hymn called “Brother, Sister.” This one was probably the closest to exhorting one another in worship. The band consisted of a drummer, keyboardist, two acoustic guitars which were not in tune, and an accordion. All of the instrumentalists were given microphones to sing.

With the exception of the Doxology and the bringing forward of the offering (there was an offering taken during the service), there was less liturgy than I expected. In general, I’m under the impression that the Presbyterian Church in the States is more liturgical than its counterpart in the UK. When I interviewed the pastor later in the day, he mentioned that the U.S. churches “have embraced elements of Anglo-Catholic worship that we’ve resisted” (he did work in a PCUSA church in the States for a while). He said, “The best of traditions in other churches we adopt now. But even 80 years ago, candles in worship would have been anathema!” Wow! I guess that makes sense, considering one of the things many Protestant churches were protesting was anything that could be construed as iconic or getting in the way of the Word.

After the service, the lady I sat next to invited me downstairs for coffee. On the way down, she introduced me to the pastor, and I found out that some of his relatives live minutes away from my home in the States, and that he’s visited The Chapel before! He came over to me while I was conversing with some others, and we talked for a while. Then his wife invited me over for dinner, so I went, hesitantly. I must admit, this was the first time that’s ever happened. We ended up having a lovely afternoon, learning about each other’s church experiences and hearing one another’s passion for the church. I ended up interviewing them for my paper as well. To top it off, the pastor’s wife, who works for the Presbytery, invited me to come with her on a Sunday in April and help her lead a service at a church (with two parishes) in Scotland!

So what started as waking up early, deciding to try out a church and almost being turned away, ended up as a total God-thing! What an interesting adventure of a day it was.

1 comment:

Jgw29 said...

WOW! What started out as a very shakey experience turned out Great!All forms of Worship aimed at The One.
I have been in a few services that were so Straight Laced if they cracked a smile their faces would crack.
It sounds like you are getting a great worldwide view of Worship.
Scotland should be a very interesting experience in the spring.