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|2639: St John's
Cathedral, Oban, Scotland
Worshipper: Church Mouse.
Church of St John the Divine, Oban, Scotland.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of Argyll and The Isles.
A red stone church dating from 1908, the work of architect James
Chalmers, who designed dozens of churches, municipal buildings,
exhibit halls and private homes. It has a rather confusing,
higgledy-piggledy appearance, as Chalmers' design is attached
to the original building of a half century earlier and was never
fully realised due to lack of funds. To call it "incomplete"
doesn't quite prepare you for steel girders instead of stone
pillars in the main nave and a steel girder and stressors holding
the roof together. There is a magnificent painting behind the
altar, a stunning organ, and carvings in the chancel, and this
incomplete roof above. The decor includes some curiosities,
the most curious of which has got to be a life belt from HMS
Jason, which was hit by an enemy mine near Coll during
the First World War, resulting in the loss of 25 sailors. The
crew, before their last fateful tour of duty, had worshipped
at St John’s.
The cathedral is the main church for a wide area, including
the islands of Mull and beyond, although islanders would not
have been able to attend this service due to the inclement weather.
In addition to Sunday and midweek eucharist, they sponsor Bible
study, a home visitation program, and music recitals. The cathedral
and its halls are available for bookings.
The church is in a side road in Oban and is the second cathedral
in town, the other being the Roman Catholic cathedral for Argyll
and the Islands. Oban is a fishing and ferry port, with regular
sailings to the Outer and Inner Hebrides.
The Very Revd Nicki McNelly, provost.
The date & time:
Christmas Day, 25 December 2013, 10.15am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Three-quarters filled, mainly from the front which was
commented on. Apparently the front pews are not normally filled.
The family I was sitting next to had driven 12 miles to attend.
Did anyone welcome you
I was greeted with a handshake at the door by someone on duty.
I also got chatting to the family in the same pew as we worked
our way around the service sheets.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden pew that was reasonably comfortable. There was adequate space to kneel and kneelers provided.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly expectant some chatting, but subdued and allowing
the organ music to be heard. The choir were gathering in the
room behind us. While we waited, the organist played the second
movement of the Pastorale in F major, BWV 590, by Bach.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
"We start this service this morning by singing our first
hymn: 'O come all ye faithful.'"
What books did the congregation use during the
Booklet for the service containing the liturgy and hymns, card
with the mass setting, double sided A5 piece of paper entitled
"Instant Nativity Play."
What musical instruments
Organ. The mass setting was David Thorne's Mass of St Thomas.
The hymns were a standard mixture of Christmas favourites. The
recessional was Bach's Canonic Variations (Fugetta) on the
Christmas Hymn "Vom Himmel hoch", BWV 769.
Did anything distract
The mish-mosh of architecture. I was fascinated by the contrast
between the finished aspects of the cathedral and the unfinished:
an ornately carved pulpit under a roof held together with steel
hawsers; an organ loft with a magnificent organ also under this
roof; a nave that had carved pillars supported by steel props
at the east end and reinforced steel props at the west end.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed formal style: robed choir and organist, incense and
processions, but nevertheless relaxed. A sensible peace (we
shook hands around us, no wandering around).
Exactly how long was the
No sermon. Instead, we were told we were taking part in an instant
nativity play. As we came into this service we were all handed
a double-sided A5 piece of paper with a nativity play script
and a character highlighted (out of 22). The provost announced
the play, but there were enough people with the same part that
it wasn't compulsory. There were lines where we were all expected
to join in.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
Varied The random selection of parts made for some hilarity:
the part of Elizabeth was read by a man with a deep bass voice:
"I am the cousin, old Zach's wife. When Mary arrived, my babe
leapt to life." The choir read the angels' parts: "We are the
angels, a heavenly choir, who startled the shepherds around
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
The story was a retelling of the nativity story, ending with
all saying: "We are the folk who have good news to tell: God's
Son has come, our Emmanuel."
Which part of the service was like being in
Being part of a community worshipping reverently and in good
order on Christmas morning, with space given in the service
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The frustration of wanting to know why there was a life belt
on a pillar in the nave (before I had researched it and learnt
why, that is).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No coffee was served, it being Christmas day. To my surprise,
though, I was chatted to by both the people on duty. Also, the
provost shook my hand. Most of the rest of the congregation
were greeting each other and introducing family members from
afar. The warden on duty confessed that he didn't know many
people there either.
How would you describe the after-service
None, but we were all encouraged to take a chocolate from a
box on our way out.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 This was the service I was happiest in of the three
I attended over Christmas. I would consider making this my regular
church if I lived in the area.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was very glad I'd made it to this service and been part
of a Christmas day service.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The strange architecture of the cathedral.
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