St Magnus, Lerwick, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Magnus
Location: Lerwick, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 September 2021, 10:45am

The building

The foundation stone was laid in 1863, and the church was consecrated in 1864. The bell tower was added in 1891. The building is essentially Gothic. The interior décor is a bit of a muddle, but the stained glass is interesting. The window above the altar portrays the crucifixion in the centre light, with surrounding glass depicting the Lamb of God, the four Evangelists, and the pelican, long a symbol of Christ.

The church

They sponsor Messy Church in partnership with four other local churches. They appear to be involved in a number of social events, including something called Soup and Sweet Lunches. In partnership with the local Methodist church, they sponsor Food for the Way, which their website describes as ‘a church based group bringing people together with friendship and food.’

The neighborhood

Lerwick is the principal town of the Shetland Islands, an archipelago to the north of the Scottish mainland, and is the most northerly town in the British Isles. Evidence of human habitation dates back to the Neolithic period, but the first settlement with the name of Lerwick dates from the 17th century. Today Lerwick is a busy fishing and ferry port, with service to Aberdeen and the Orkney Islands. It’s a pretty little town, with shops specializing in local crafts. St Magnus’ Church is located close to the town centre.

The cast

The rector led the service and a lay member of the congregation offered a ‘reflection.’ A lay reader preached.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

The church was approximately one-third full, with a congregation of about 30. Episcopalianism is a definite minority denomination in these parts. A significant proportion of the congregation are incomers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We received a warm welcome at the door, with questions about where we were from. We were shown where we could help ourselves to hymn and service sheets from a stack – they were not handed to us because of Covid precautions.

Was your pew comfortable?

Fairly standard, narrow wooden bench/pew. No kneelers or room to kneel.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Friendly-sounding chat, but Covid distancing meant no one was sitting near us.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘The Lord be with you’ (and congregational response ‘And also with you’) followed by a welcome from the rector and a reference to the fact that it was good to be back worshipping in church.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books (Covid precautions?). Service sheets and hymn sheets were printed for this service, to be taken away/disposed of afterwards.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric organ.

Did anything distract you?

The interior décor of the church, especially the chancel area: a mixture of arts-and-crafts style. There were some attractive wall paintings with occasional blocks of plain paint masking over something. Most of the chancel was papered with red and gold flock wallpaper. Yes, it did remind us of an Indian restaurant c.1970.

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

Very mainstream. The service was sung to a setting that the congregation knew but we didn’t – having the music available would have helped. Familiar hymns. Odd conclusion, when the rector delivered the blessing using our/us throughout.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes, preceded by a two minute ‘reflection.’

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

1 — No theme, no conclusion. Poorly projected, no key points identified or emphasised. To top it all off, the reading had not been the one given in the service sheet, which confused the preacher.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Hard to say. Mention was made of current problems, the food supply chain, shortage of workers, Brexit, Covid, Afghanistan and Afghan refugees, and local councils offering help.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Welcome to the return of the Sunday school after 18 months. A sung blessing on the Sunday school as they left the service.

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

The reflection and the sermon, neither of which made any clear points.

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

One of us hung around in the hall, where coffee was being served, for five minutes without being approached. We noticed another worshipper similarly alone.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Fair trade coffee in an earthenware cup. Only individually-wrapped biscuits, home-made apparently not allowed because of Covid precautions.

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

2 — As a visitor to Shetland, I’d rather explore one of the several other churches. We’re not moving here, but if we did, I’d hope to have the time and energy to help develop the obvious potential.

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

Apart from feeling sustained by the eucharist, no.

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

That preaching should be about clarity of message as well as good and prayerful intentions.

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