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2010: Dingwall and Strathpeffer Free Church, Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland
Dingwall & Strathpeffer Free Church, Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland
Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Dingwall & Strathpeffer Free Church, Dingwall, Ross-shire, Scotland.
Denomination: Free Church of Scotland.
The building: A beautiful building, both indoors and outdoors. It is old and traditional, and with a very high tower, round at the top. Unique! Iíve never seen one like that before. Inside was rebuilt two years ago, with red painted colour high above in the roof. All the upper roof is wood, with flowers on top and gold flowers holding up the top area, the gallery. A lovely round large coloured glass window is full of flowers high above the pulpit area, and a small one is at the back. All other windows are clear. It is light and clean all over. There is an "Alpha and Omega" in gold and red. Outside there is a special memory statue erected 1886 of the original minister, John Kennedy, who was born 1819, died 1884, and it looks similar to the memories in cemeteries.
The church: The church seems to have all ages of people, male and female. They have a parent and toddler group every Tuesday, a youth group, a prayer fellowship, and are supporting the "Road to Recovery" for any people affected by addiction in their area. They are very friendly.
The neighbourhood: Dingwall is a bustling market town in the Scottish highlands, not far from Inverness. It was formerly the site of a castle built in the 13th century on what may have been the birthplace of Macbeth. Nothing remains of the castle today. The high street, lined with traditional stone-made buildings and shops that serve up good food, was once a part of the A9 highway, but the opening of the Cromarty Firth Bridge moved the highway more to the east, thus easing congestion. The town also has many churches of many denominations. There is a museum and many good walks up hills and around the river. Ross County Football Club was the second in the Scottish competition this year.
The cast: The Revd Angus MacRae, minister. Another man led the psalm singing, but I did not learn his name. Neither did I learn the name of the woman who played the piano.
The date & time: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 6.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Evening Praise.

How full was the building?
Half full, about 80 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man welcomed me with a smile. When I went on in, several people welcomed me and asked about my holiday and visiting. They also pointed out to me the beautiful coloured glass.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews have all been removed, and in their place are strong wooden light cream seats, soft and very comfortable, with red cushions. The seats are all fixed to each other and have a gap at the back for the Bible and psalter to be placed there.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very friendly, with quiet chatting among people, young and old. People lent a helping hand to an elderly person who entered. Everyone seemed on time and ready to worship!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Hello. Welcome to come! Wonderful to come on a sunny day!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Sing Psalms with the Scottish Psalter and The Holy Bible, New International Version. The psalms were also projected via PowerPoint.

What musical instruments were played?
The psalms were sung with no musical instrument; a gentleman led the congregation as they sang together in harmony. At the end of the service a young woman played the piano and we sang a scripture song, "Living Lord, our praise we render!" by Timothy Dudley-Smith.

Did anything distract you?
The video that opened the service (see below) was a bit distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service began with a video produced by OMF, the East Asia missionary group, that focussed on work being done in Thailand. It stressed that we needed to pray for the Thai as they were still mainly Buddhist. After that we sang some psalms. No one clapped or was rigid, but all sang beautifully, in harmony, keeping the tunes perfect and obviously worshipping God in their minds, voices and emotions. There were scriptural readings and prayers spoken to lead us, not written prayer, and a small prayer at the end of the sermon. We were also blessed – by the love and care and acceptance and being reborn by God.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor MacRae illustrated his sermon with PowerPoint notes. I felt these helped us to focus.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
he title was "Sealed with the Holy Spirit." The pastor took as his text Ephesians 1 (God predestined us for adoption through Christ; may God give us the wisdom to know him). Focus on who God is, what God has done in the past, present and future. God chose us before time, adopted us as his children. We give God joy as God gives us joy. When we believe in God, we are sealed in the Spirit, as a symbol of God's ownership. We become full of comfort and reassurance. God's Spirit lives within us permanently in our hearts, our minds, our thoughts. We were in selfishness and sin and are now free in life and God. We are saved, sanctified, and holy saints, forever. God guarantees his care and love for us despite persecution by people and the devil. We long to cease from our strivings. We are waiting for every angel, every star, everything recognised by God. God has so far completed his wonderful plan only partially; there is much more to come. Honour and love each other and God.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Wonderful singing by the whole congregation, wonderful feeling of blessing and love by God and being filled by the Holy Spirit.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the sermon, the pastor described how cattle and sheep were branded in the past with very, very hot metal. I felt the pain! And nowadays they have attachments to their ears.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No one ignored me. Many chatted to me, asked about me, and said they hoped I had a very good time camping in Dingwall and enjoyed both my holiday and the love of God.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none that evening, but one of the parishioners invited me to her home for something nice to eat and drink (I accepted). That was great to do. She drove me in her car to her lovely home up the hill, where I could look out and see the beautiful area, the Black Isle and Cromwall Firth. She served excellent cake and juice, tea, and coffee! I stayed about an hour and she saw me back down the hill along the tree area.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived there, I would definitely experiment attending regularly and see what I felt like and if I continued to get blessing of God and teaching from the Bible.

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 positive feeling I had walking in, and the positive feeling I had of the people there, and the positive feeling of the service.
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