Hillhead Baptist, Glasgow

Hillhead Baptist, West End, Glasgow, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Hillhead Baptist
Location: West End, Glasgow, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 May 2008, 11:00am

The building

Externally, the building does pretty much what it says on the tin: it looks like it’s a Baptist church and it is. However, the community meets in their church hall (known as the Tryst) as they are in the process of reviewing the future of their sanctuary. The Tryst runs along the length of the church (front to back) and again looks much like you might expect a traditional church hall to look. There is a kitchen/servery down one side, a small balcony over the door, and there may have been a stage at the far end. There was a pair of red curtains hanging floor to ceiling decorated with a Pentecost motif (golden flames), and a table covered in a red cloth holding a Bible on a stand, a wooden cross, and a chalice.

The church

I got the impression that it was a relatively small community comprised of a mixture of ages. They run a Sunday school and a creche, as well as various fellowship and guild groups.

The neighborhood

Hillhead is a residential area in the west end of Glasgow. It’s very close to the university, which makes it a popular area for students. The church itself is just off the Byres Road, which is a bustling and lively area, permanently busy.

The cast

The service was taken by the Revd Dr Derek Murray. I was told that at the moment the community has no minister of their own and services are being led by visiting ministers.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

Pretty much all of the seats that had been set out were full – I’m guessing there were 30 to 40 folk there.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Oh yes – I was greeted by one of the stewards at the door, who commented that it was quite cold and was I warm enough? (I was wearing short sleeves.) As I sat down, the gentleman next to me wished me good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

No pews, but padded stacking chairs. They were perfectly adequate in terms of comfort. The chairs were set out in three sections in an arc facing the long side of the wall.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The piano was playing what I would describe as "settling down" music, and folks were sitting there listening or speaking quietly to their neighbours. I felt a little nervous as I felt rather more visible than I’d have liked.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Welcome to our service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a paper order of service. Hymns came from Baptist Praise and Worship. The readings may have come from the Good News Bible as I think that was what I spotted on the chair next to the reader.

What musical instruments were played?

Just the piano.

Did anything distract you?

Because of where I was sitting, the kitchen was in my peripheral vision. My eyes kept alighting on the blue and yellow mugs that had been set out for after-service refreshments. Other than that, there really weren’t any major distractions.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

I guess you’d probably describe it as a straightforward, uncomplicated hymn sandwich, with the hymns ranging from traditional to the Celtic folk style of the Iona community. But it felt humble and sincere.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

16 minutes, not including some very brief remarks for the children.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

6 – Dr Murray's style was open and easy-going, but he didn't have the easiest of subject matter.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Tranquility vs turmoil. Faith is supposed to bring joy and peace, and we’re taught of a God of love. But actually the Old Testament depicts a God who gets angry not only with his enemies but also his own people. And for that matter, we see Jesus getting angry in the New Testament too. But we don’t really know what to do with anger, how to express it or indeed whether to express it. The cross is all about God's anger being subsumed by his great love. (I wasn't clear on exactly how he arrived at that conclusion.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

One of the lessons was Matthew 11:28 ("Come to me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest"), which made me immediately think of the hymn "I heard the voice of Jesus say," which is a favourite of mine and holds a lot of meaning for me. There was a period of music for meditation after the lessons, and the pianist played and improvised on the tune Kingsfold, the tune for that hymn – and it touched me.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

An almost ever-present concern that I was a little too visible and obviously a visitor. It didn’t help that I took an empty seat that turned out to be virtually in the choir! I was sure that my scribbling might lead to me being unmasked as the Mystery Worshipper. It was a needless concern, though, as my anonymity seemed to be intact when I left.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I didn’t really need to hang around looking lost. It was a small community and I was fairly obviously a visitor. So a number of people came up to greet me, ask me if I was new, and invite me to get a cup of tea or coffee. I was warmly welcomed, engaged in conversation, and even invited to join them on a church canal boat trip if I wished. And then as I left, I heard someone say, "Haste ye back!"

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was a very good mug of tea, and there was a good selection of home-baked goodies. I helped myself to a slice of very tasty fruitbread.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – I came away thinking "I like those people!" I'm also beginning to think about how denominationally flexible I am prepared to be and what's important to me when looking for a church.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

I think so, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The warmth and friendliness of the people I met.

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