Sunday, 10 March 2013

St Columba’s by the Castle, Scottish Episcopal Church

Eucharist for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Mothering Sunday, 10 March 2013, 10am
The Revd Bob Gould, Presiding
The Revd Canon John Richardson, Preaching
The Revd Canon Zachary Fleetwood, Rector
Helen Smailes, Organist

It’s good to be able to write something nice about a church for a change, after several weeks of mixed reviews. Of all the places I’ve visited so far, St Columba’s by the Castle is only the second of which I can honestly say that I enjoyed the service and I’d go back there, the other being the Salvation Army.

Just to confuse my readers, I also visited another St Columba's later on the same day. You can read about St Columba's Free Church here

There’s an overabundance of Victorian church buildings in Edinburgh, many of which are a legacy of the 1843 Disruption, and I’d assumed that St Columba’s by the Castle was a former Auld Kirk or Free Kirk given over only latterly to the Scottish Episcopal Church. I assumed wrongly, tending to forget that the late 19th century was also a time of change and renewal in the Anglican communion. The design of St Columba’s by the Castle was inspired by the Oxford movement, and as such it boasts some very lovely stained glass in an otherwise simple interior.

This is the first place I’ve been on my mission where I’ve met anyone I know. What’s surprising is that it should have taken thirteen churches for this to happen; Edinburgh can feel like a small place at times. It’s also the first place where I’ve seen a dog in the congregation, but I didn’t get to meet him/her.

It was also only the second time I’ve heard an organ played (or possibly the third - I'm not sure about Charlotte Chapel), this one considerably less grating on the ear than at Morningside United Church, and the hymns (mostly from With One Voice: a Hymn Book for all the Churches) were proper Songs of Praise stuff, four of them to Irish, Scottish or Welsh melodies, lending a pleasingly Celtic flavour to the proceedings:
  •  Let All the World in Every Corner Sing
  • Lord of All Hopefulness, Lord of All Joy 
  • I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
  • Lord, Make Us Servants of Your Peace
  • Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
There was also a chanted psalm (Ps 32) and sung responses from St Anne’s Mass set by James MacMillan. Everyone sang, and the only part of the service that didn’t require congregational participation was the sermon. A far cry from St Margaret’s and St Leonard’s, where the priest might as well have done the whole thing on his own at home for all it involved the laity. There was more Latin to be heard too, as we learnt that today was also known as “Laetare Sunday” from the opening line of the introit to the Roman mass: “Rejoice ye with Jerusalem, and be glad with her, all ye that love her” (Isaiah 66:10). We were therefore enjoined to rejoice in God’s love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

The Revd Zachary Fleetwood said in his welcome that mothering Sunday occasioned “a slight relaxation of Lenten piety”, which was to be reflected in the clergy’s resuming their practice of processing out, suspended at the beginning of Lent – and perhaps also in the birthday fizz and home baking served downstairs afterwards. There were four clergy involved, plus the Revd Zachary, which seems like a staff quota many churches would envy. I don’t know enough about Anglican hierarchy to understand the difference between rectors, canons, deacons and priests, despite the Revd Canon John Richardson’s explanation of why he was wearing a deacon’s stole rather than whatever he usually wears, but they seem all to have their roles to play.

The sermon was on Luke 15, the prodigal son. I am no doubt reading it wrong, but I always felt sorry for the good son, the Pharisee. All he did was stick to the rules and what thanks did he get for it? Richardson talked about the gospel prodigal for a while and then told us another story, about an outspoken senior cleric in a northern town who was accused of an offence against four people he had worked with. At first he denied the allegation, then he resigned and then he admitted he had fallen short of what he should have done. The news was met with incomprehension and dismay among those he claimed to have led, who saw him as a hypocrite, but the senior cleric is human and as such as likely to sin as any of us. However his brother may disapprove of him, he may seek forgiveness from and reconciliation with his father in heaven. 

He didn’t name names, but we all knew who he meant. It was an altogether more charitable view of those seen as having strayed than I heard at the Free Presbyterian Church a month ago.

About five minutes later, after a somewhat chaotic Peace that involved everyone getting up and roaming around the church, not just a polite handshake with immediate neighbours, Richardson was royally upstaged by one of the Sunday School children who took the microphone to deliver his own summary of the same parable, which they’d been learning about downstairs. The confident little boy got a round of applause for his efforts, and he almost got all the details of the story right. But as the church warden noted, “Like all family relationships, it’s complicated.”

And that was it, apart from the coffee and the birthday drinks and the chat downstairs, which was all very friendly. People who like a traditional service would love St Columba’s by the Castle. Even the incense smells good, and that isn’t something I ever thought I would write. 

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