The church building rather looms over the surrounding buildings. Apart from a small car park, there is no land outside that belongs to the church. Inside is plain and unadorned, with wooden fittings and red carpet and cushions. There are no pictures or stained glass or anything else that might distract the eye. The light and airy feel was tempered somewhat by the darker wood fittings.
The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland is informally known (but not by its members) as the Wee Wee Frees, to distinguish it from the Wee Frees (Free Church of Scotland, from which it seceded following the latter's earlier secession from the Church of Scotland). They are staunchly Protestant, Presbyterian, Calvinist, evangelical. As far as I'm aware, this is the church's only Glasgow congregation, so I'm not sure how much of the local geographical population it serves.
The church is in Glasgow's West End, probably the most affluent area of the city, relatively close to the city centre in one direction and to Glasgow University in the other. The immediate neighbourhood consists largely of restaurants, coffee bars, antique shops, and Glasgow's ubiquitous sandstone tenement flats. There are two other churches in the same road, Anglican and Methodist, but this church building at the top of the hill is probably the most imposing. There is large student population in the area, although I understand that local church-going students tend to prefer the Anglican church.
None of the participants were announced or introduced, but I am pretty sure that the leader and preacher was the church's minister, the Rev. Roderick Macleod. Worship was led by another unnamed gentleman.
What was the name of the service?Sabbath Service
How full was the building?
I'd say there were about 80 to 90 people present. All of the front pews were empty, as was the upstairs balcony – the lower part of the church was probably about a third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A young man asked me if I would like a Bible, and explained to me that the church sings the metrical psalms in the back of the Bible.
Was your pew comfortable?
I started off thinking that it was comfortable enough – it was a standard wooden pew with a very nice red padded cushion along the entire length of the pew. However, I had to do quite a bit of sitting in it, and by the end I was desperate to stand up and stretch.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Before the service started, everybody was silent. The only sound was of people coming in and taking a seat. A few people had their heads bowed in prayer, but most seemed to be just sitting still and looking toward the front. Everybody was dressed very smartly – all of the women wore hats, and all of the men were in suits. There were no children present. I understand that Sabbath school starts prior to the main service and carries on throughout it.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It was difficult to take down word for word, but it was along the lines of: "We shall begin our public worship of God by reading Psalm 106 and singing to his praise."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The only book used was the Authorised (King James) Version of the Bible.
What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were played. The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland believes that all we need for worship has been given to us by God in the psalms, and worship should not be sullied by man-made inventions.
Did anything distract you?
A woman in a nearby pew was taking copious notes throughout the sermon. I found myself wondering more than once if we were both, unbeknownst to each other, Mystery Worshipping the same service!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship took the form of the singing of metrical psalms. It was led by a gentleman at the front with a strong clear voice, and we sang in unison whilst remaining seated. In fact, the only time we stood in the entire service was for the prayers at the beginning of the service, the prayers after the sermon, and the grace at conclusion of the service. The congregation obviously knew the psalms well, and sang along heartily. There was certainly no raising of hands or clapping or other movement – stiff-upper-lip probably describes it quite well.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Pastor Macleod had a gentle delivery which I'm afraid I found a little monotonous after a while. I also found him quite rambling – if he'd been more succinct I'm sure he could have made all his points in 15 minutes. He only seemed to get animated toward the very end of the sermon, by which time he'd already lost me. The sermon included lengthy expositions about the inspired, God-breathed, infallible and inerrant nature of scripture, the fact that it contains no contradictions, and the error of "the Mohammedans" who believe that they are following a prophet of peace.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It is very difficult to put a 55 minute sermon into a nutshell! He compared Hosea 2:1-13 (the prophet's outlining of Israel's sins and the chastisement for those sins) with verse 14 onward, where the tone changes from threats to promises of restoration. We need to understand these verses not just in the context of the history of Israel and what will happen to them in the future, but also for those whom the apostle Paul termed "the true Israel" – those that have saving faith in Jesus Christ. Infusing the entire sermon (in fact infusing the entire service) was an overriding sense of our utter sinfulness and inability to change or take heed of God's word without the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to regenerate us and lead us from the infinite justice we deserve to the infinite mercy shown through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The gentleman who led the singing had a beautiful clear and strong voice which was a delight to listen to. Also, at the beginning of the service a woman sitting near me noticed me fumbling with my Bible trying to find the psalm, and she came over and gave me her book open at the appropriate page. I really appreciated her noticing my cluelessness and coming to my rescue.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I found a 55 minute sermon way too long. During the last 20 minutes of it (having sat down for almost the entire service so far) I was desperately uncomfortable, and no matter how much I fidgeted (which wasn't much as it would have been too distracting for others) I could not get rid of my creeping backache. I also found pretty much all of the service rather dour and lacking in joy, and every part of it seemed much more focused on our unworthiness and sinfulness than on the freedom to be found in grace.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the service everybody walked out, in silence, and went straight outside into the open air. This being Scotland in February, it was really cold and damp, so to be honest it wasn't an environment where I wanted to be hanging around. I did catch a snippet of someone else's conversation where a young woman was being asked if she was a student here, so it looked like another newcomer was being engaged in conversation, which I was pleased to see.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were no after-service refreshments of any kind – everybody just trooped outside and went on their way, although many people seemed to stop in the car park and chat for a bit before dispersing. There are a few cafes and coffee shops nearby, though I suspect the denomination would rather disapprove of buying refreshments in a commercial establishment on the Sabbath.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – This church was much too conservative, both theologically and in terms of its expectations about behaviour and dress, for me to feel comfortable worshipping here regularly. I would also miss having regular communion services (the congregation has communion twice a year).
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly, to be honest, as it was so dour.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The emphasis on sin and man's depravity and unworthiness infusing every single part of the service.