Morning service, Sunday 29th September 2013, 11am
Led by: Andy Constable, assistant pastor
Preacher: Mez McConnell, senior pastor
Knitting on the Sabbath might have been frowned upon at one time, but we’re so much more relaxed about that sort of thing now, aren’t we? Actually bringing your knitting to church, though, still seems to be overstepping the mark somewhat, but it’s not the first time there’s been a tricoteuse in the back row; the other one was at Charlotte Chapel. Well, they say that the devil makes work for idle hands.
What I’d have liked in my hands was a bible, but I didn’t see them at the door as I came in, and then I didn’t want to walk all the way back in front of everyone to get one when it came time for the readings (bits of John 15 and John 16 – they’ve been studying John’s gospel all year). But not to worry; I had my work cut out taking notes on Mez McConnell’s sermon, one in a series on the holy spirit, taking us into the same territory covered some months ago at Holyrood Abbey Church, even down to the Edinburgh Castle floodlights analogy to illustrate how the holy spirit illuminates Jesus the better to let us see his splendour. They must teach them all that in evangelical pastor school.
Unlike the Holyrood Abbey preacher, though, Mez doesn’t fight shy of theology, even though the trinity is a concept that’s been baffling his head for fifteen years. Yours and mine both, Mez. He even had a PowerPoint diagram showing that the Father is God, the son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, but that the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, the Son is not the Father or the Spirit, and that there are not three gods, only one.
McConnell is an energetic and engaging speaker, well rehearsed and self-deprecating to a fault – “I can’t guarantee much because I’m just a little dude”, “I can barely string a sentence together”. Oh no, laddie, you’re good and you know it, although I think you might have given J.I. Packer credit for the quotation you read out rather than attributing it to “some old dude”.
Hey, dude alert! As orthodox as the preaching was, the dress code was certainly laid back. Hoodies and combat pants (Mez), assorted trainers (most men), blue hair (the knitting woman), and possibly the best hippy skirt/shawl/sandals combination yet spotted this year. I felt distinctly overdressed and I hadn’t really made a special effort.
For those readers unfamiliar with Edinburgh, it’s worth pointing out that Niddrie is not a smart or fashionable area. If you’ve seen Trainspotting, you’ll know what it used to look like before the housing regeneration schemes got going – acres of boarded up and abandoned flats where only the brave or foolhardy would venture. It looks a lot different now, but it’s still economically deprived and not short of problems. Niddrie Community Church is part of 20 Schemes, a cross-denominational initiative to plant new churches in poor areas, and of the East of Scotland Gospel Partnership, all but one of whose partner churches I’ve already visited this year.
Niddrie Community Church is the sort of place where people spot a new face and immediately come to speak to you (leaning in just a little too close, perhaps, and being just a tad too inquisitive), but that’s better than being completely ignored, which has happened elsewhere. I was approached by the leader of the women’s ministry. Sorry, did we just rewind by about 150 years? The women’s ministry! No, no, the Soul Searcher does not do gender segregation, but apparently NCC does. All the elders and deacons are men, and whatever the women get up to is separate. Sharpen your knitting needles, sisters. You need to go in there and assert yourselves. But seriously, boys – and, more importantly, girls – do you really think this is how a church should be in the 21st century?
Music-wise, it was that can’t-put-my-finger-on-it genre that I’ve encountered a couple of times now. A bit Sally Army, a bit Gospel Hall – only one song I’d heard before, I stand amazed in the presence (How Marvellous! How Wonderful!) – all with a rolling electronic keyboard accompaniment and generally pitched too low but otherwise very singable, and with 70-plus folk singing along the sound fairly filled the sports hall.
About an hour in, I spotted the video camera. They really ought to warn folk that they’re liable to be recorded and tell them where to sit if they don’t want to be on camera. I didn’t expect to be filmed, but on the other hand I don’t think they expected to be blogged about. Let’s call it a quid pro quo.