Sunday Worship, Second Sunday of Advent, 08 December 2013, 11am
Minister: Rev Mark Foster
Déjà vu aplenty this week, as I added yet another Church of Scotland congregation to my list. Pilrig St Paul’s happens to be my parish church, in the sense that I live in the geographical area assigned to it, although I didn’t find this out until the middle of September when my visit to Liberton Kirk prompted me to wonder about the churches on my own doorstep.
Maybe I’ve been to too many C of S churches by now, but there were echoes of other services, not least last week’s at Duddingston Kirk, as Pilrig St Paul’s’ (how many apostrophes should there be?) minister, Rev Foster, is more or less a younger version of Dr Jack – same avuncular tone, same balance of humour and seriousness, similar physique though slightly more flamboyant sartorially in his big blue dress and purple stole.
Echoes, too, of Wilson Memorial’s tiny and barely audible choir (muted echoes, I guess), as Pilrig St Paul’s boasts just four choristers, and the same demographic imbalance seen at Musselburgh Congregational Church – fifty-odd mostly elderly folk, 90 per cent of them female, and three bewildered children. The building could have held four times this number with room to spare.
The children’s address was pretty chaotic, involving an invisible time machine, its invisible keys, the symbolism of purple and clues that had been hidden around the church in Sainsburys bags – honey, hairy shirt … can you guess who it is yet? A bear? Fred Flintstone? Unfortunately, the final item, a leather belt, had been found by a diligent worshipper on arrival and handed in to lost property so it had to be brought out again to complete the puzzle, and even then none of the kids could guess. But, yes, all the grown-ups knew it was John the Baptist.
Kids out of the way at Sunday school, the sermon was about John the Baptist as an unconventional role model, unlikely to win friends or influence people. Rev Foster suggested Hallmark has missed a trick by not producing Advent cards featuring John the Baptist with “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”, or “Ye viperous brood” as the sentiment. But in a nutshell, the rantings of this lunatic preacher (John, I mean, not the Rev Foster) are a seasonal reminder that our lives need turning around.
Readings were Isaiah 11:1-10 and Matthew 3:1-12 (NIV) and hymns were from CH4. The organ is set in an ornate carved wall of pipes and pulpit, somewhat ponderous in the jaunty little advent carol but coming into its own for the more traditional hymns, but I do have to wonder why the organist passed up the opportunity to use Es ist ein Ros’ entsprungen, as printed, and choose Crüger instead. Still, a chorale is a chorale and I suppose I shouldn’t complain. At least they weren’t singing praise choruses.
So I’m almost at the end of my year of churchgoing, and I ought to be asking myself if I’ve actually learnt anything. Hard to say. Nothing new or challenging today, at least. At some point soon, I will need to start gathering my thoughts and drawing some conclusions.