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2424: Stromness Parish Church, Stromness, Orkney, Scotland
Stromness Parish Church, Orkney Photo: © Nicholas Mutton and used under license
Mystery Worshipper: Haywood.
The church: Stromness Parish Church, Stromness, Orkney, Scotland.
Denomination: Church of Scotland.
The building: A building currently undergoing refurbishment. The inside was adorned by some lovely stained glass windows at the front, either side of the organ pipes. There was a fair trade stall and some photos of the church community and activities.
The church: Stromness is an island community, and the church provides a varied ministry to the residents and visitors. Worship appears alive and well here. A few days before I visited, a survey had identified Orkney as one of the happiest places in the United Kingdom.
The neighbourhood: The Orkneys are an archipelago of about 70 islands, of which 20 are inhabited, off the northern coast of Scotland. Stromness, on the island called the Mainland, is the second largest town in the Orkneys even though its population is only about 2200. A seafaring town, it is full of picturesque winding streets and stone houses and shops. The church is on the main road just a short distance from the sea.
The cast: The Revd Billy Burnside, pastor.
The date & time: Sunday, 5 August 2012, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
About half full downstairs and a few up in the balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The person on the door was very friendly. She said that the words to the hymns would be on the screen, but gave me a book as well. She explained which book we were using. Great and practical welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. One of the most comfortable pews Iíve sat on. Nice thick cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A lot of quiet chattering. It seemed a happy place to be, with people pleased to see each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to our service, especially if you are a visitor."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Church Hymnary, Fourth Edition (CH4).

What musical instruments were played?
Organ for hymns, and piano for the choir anthem.

Did anything distract you?
The folks in the pew in front seemed to ignore me. When we played the game "consequences" to introduce the theme, everyone was asked to pass their paper suitably folded to someone near them. They certainly were not going to interact with me. The lady behind me wasnít playing either.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal style with a mix of hymns, prayers and readings. Very accessible worship but formal enough not to feel uncomfortable. The service was well constructed and followed a strong theme throughout.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Pastor Billy Burnside had a very engaging style that drew me in straight away. He clearly has a good relationship with the congregation, which he used to good effect.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme was "Consequences." Children rarely think about the consequences of what they do. But as we grow, we need to take responsibility for what we say and do, and think through what might happen. We perhaps also need to think about the consequences of not doing something, and take more risks. Too much planning can often limit us as individuals and as a church. Jesus sometimes appears not to care about the consequences, e.g. suggesting giving away your wealth, turning over the tables in the temple. In reality he was aware of the consequences but also took risks. Are we so comfortable with church life that we donít take enough risks? What are the consequences of that?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The wonderful singing of Psalm 42 to the tune Highland Cathedral Ė it was quite beautiful. Also a reading called "Reflection" that was helpfully printed on the service sheet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Singing the hymn "God weeps" was hard going. Having said that, I did think the words were perfect for the theme of the service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
People were very friendly Ė Iíd have been disappointed if not, given the justifiable reputation of these islands. I had a few deeper conversations that were delightful.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was fairly traded, and there was some delicious home-made cake. The biscuits (mostly untouched with the cake on offer) were not fairly traded.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – If I lived in Stromness I might try others first, but this would be high on my list of churches to go back to.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, the service and the sense that people cared about each other. There was a genuine sense of a strong Christian community.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The choir singing, and the idea of taking more risks, which Iím still thinking about.
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