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  1029: Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, London

Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, London

Mystery Worshipper: Aileen.
The church: Crown Court Church of Scotland, Russell Street, Covent Garden, London WC2 (map)
Denomination: Church of Scotland (Presbyterian).
The building: On Russell Street can be seen a large wooden door with a stone cross above it – that would be the Kirk, as it is known. Inside the door is a long corridor and massive flight of carpeted stairs, with ancient portraits of previous ministers hanging on the walls. At the top of the stairs, suddenly, there is an amazingly beautiful worship area, with wooden pillars and ceiling beams. Ancient flags from Scots regiments and the Royal Caledonian schools hang up there. On the front wall high above the wooden pulpit is a huge, magnificent Royal Crest of George I, resplendent in gold and covered with thistles and roses and St Andrew's cross. The side walls feature many square stained glass windows, one filled with women of the Bible and another with famous Scots, John Knox being central. The prayer desk has two large Bibles on it, open at the readings and hung over with ribbon stoles. The desk swivels round efficiently for the reader to use. The font is made of green, swirly Iona marble.
The church: Scots through and through. Some of the congregation wore kilts. I felt as if I were in a European Protestant church, not in England.
The neighbourhood: The Kirk sits next door to the Fortune Theatre and across the road from Drury Lane Theatre, along from Covent Garden, up from the Waldorf Hilton. There are plenty of street people hanging around, as well as the rich and trendy.
The cast: The Rev. Sigrid Martin, minister; the Rev. Mel Griffiths, visiting preacher. Both wore academic ministerial robes; Rev. Martin's was maroon with a stole in soft cream. William Duguid read the lessons. The organist was Dr David S Knight.

What was the name of the service?
Morning Service.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full whilst the children were present, and then about half-full after they left.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I have never felt so accepted, chatted to, encouraged to participate in everything going on. A friendly welcomer was stationed in the corridor and he asked us to sign the visitors' book. We were given a booklet about the church and an information leaflet. Then upstairs, elders gave out service leaflets and asked us where we came from. They told us to stay for coffee and lunch after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
A solid wooden pew with a green carpet along it to soften it slightly. No kneelers, of course – we sat for prayer. Plenty of space between the pews and no problems with squashed knees.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly chatty and friendly. As requested by the order of service, the congregation became silent during the playing of the voluntary in order to prepare for worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome. Visitors are welcome and you are invited to coffee and lunch. The prophet Micah says, 'The Lord has told you what is good and what the Lord requires of you.'"

What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Bible, Church Hymnary 3, and Songs of God's People. We used them all.

What musical instruments were played?
A 36-stop, three manual organ presented to the church by Andrew Carnegie, built by the London organ building company of Bevington and Sons in 1909.

Did anything distract you?
The flags drew my attention off and on, and at one point I heard a squeaky, creaky noise I couldn't identify. Then I realised it was a sweet little baby in a carry-chair in a pew near me. I've never heard a baby make that kind of quiet little sound before.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was solid and Scottish. All the congregation joined in. The choir, dressed in street clothes, led the singing and offered a Wesley anthem. The soloists were impressively competent.

Crown Court Church of Scotland, Covent Garden, London

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minute children's talk and 12 minute adult sermon.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Rev. Griffiths spoke in a way that puzzled the children and probably the adults as well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He told the children that the Bible is like dynamite – dynamite won't explode until it is lit, and the Bible will not change our lives until we open it and read it. The adult sermon was about us all being in the dock, found absolutely guilty, and the Advocate for the Defense then speaking up, showing his hands and side and saying he was the one who would take the punishment. But we had to agree to that; it is our choice.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The way Rev. Martin prayed. She seemed to pray from her heart, ex tempore, showing love for the world and awareness of God's issues.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lunches will stop soon, as the Kirk must incur the necessary expense of taking down a wall and putting in a lift for disabled access, even though they have a stair lift. The community will miss the lunch program.

If intercessory prayers were said, what issues were raised?
The welfare of the whole world, ecumenism, those ill or in hospital, an end to poverty. The Pope was not mentioned, nor was the election..

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone approached me and we exchanged names. This person introduced me to several others, all of whom chatted for awhile. Everyone was truly friendly, and none of it seemed false.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Fair trade coffee in a plastic cup with a brown holder. The lunch was home-cooked chicken and vegetable broth with cheesecake for dessert. Mmmm.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I enjoyed both the service and the friendly community feel. Would I fit in there? Based on today's experience, a resounding Yes!

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I was gladdened by the prayers, the solidness of the service, and the feeling that that I was a welcome part of the people and their spirituality.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Bible readings. The mix was different from that found in a C of E parish. There was no over-emphasis on the gospel, in fact, no reading from any gospel. It gave the impression that the Bible is one integrated book.
 
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