St Mary-the-Virgin, Stromness, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary-the-Virgin
Location: Stromness, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 August 2021, 10:30am

The building

Small, simple building, one of the oldest in Stromness. It was converted to a church in the 1880s. Plain on the outside, beautifully maintained. Major renovations took place in 2014, and subsequent improvements include décor and furnishings by local artists. The stained glass is quite beautiful. There is also a mosaic by local schoolchildren. Of special interest in the children’s corner with a rainbow ceiling.

The church

Their website describes them as ‘a church community that is inclusive, vibrant and socially engaged.’ There is one service each Sunday, plus a Thursday meditation.

The neighborhood

Stromness, in the southwest part of the Orkney Islands, is a small town with a winding main street flanked by houses and shops built from local stone. Branching off the main street are several narrow lanes and alleys. The church is in a residential area.

The cast

They are currently without a permanent priest – a retired priest presided and preached. Lay member of the congregation talked about fundraising.

What was the name of the service?

Family Communion.

How full was the building?

The small building could have accommodated about 40 people but felt quite comfortable with a congregation of 14.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We received a warm welcome at the door and were asked where we were from. Visitors are very conspicuous, of course, but regular members of the congregation made it very clear that they were very glad to see us.

Was your pew comfortable?

Very comfortable upholstered moveable chair.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet chat and friendly approaches to the strangers (us).

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Welcome, particularly to our visitors. It’s a joy to be here with you.’ The priest also introduced himself by name.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Printed service sheet and separate hymnbook entitled Hymns Old and New. Also Common Worship for Sundays and Principal Festivals.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric organ.

Did anything distract you?

There was a child talking in the children’s corner.

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

Eucharist with Episcopal Church of Scotland liturgy, with informal announcements by the priest about masks, receiving communion in one kind only, etc. Essentially mainstream, no chasuble or seasonal coloured vestments.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

8 — I was so enthralled by the priest’s content that I was sorry not to have taken notes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

One’s actions should reflect one’s beliefs. Faith may become ossified – the Pharisees emphasized observance more than relationship. He also referred to Afghan refugees and the local food bank.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Intercessions (by lay member of the congregation) were very uplifting. Coffee after service gave a real sense of community.

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

Announcements about events, etc., after the priest’s welcome but before the service, particularly a detailed announcement about a fundraising raffle for which ‘really good’ prizes had been donated – these were listed. Would have been better after the service, not when we were anticipating and preparing ourselves for worship.

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

Impossible to look lost when we were obviously visitors to a small congregation. We were greeted again as soon as the service concluded.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Chairs turned round to make a circle. Excellent coffee in pottery mugs, but I forgot to ask whether it was fair trade. Tea also on offer. Three types of home-made cake. No charge.

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

10 — I would be back like a shot if it weren’t 700 miles from home!

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

Yes, this was a real Christian community.

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

The thought-provoking sermon.

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