Fogo Island United Church

Fogo Island United, Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Fogo Island United
Location: Fogo Island, Newfoundland, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 16 June 2013, 11:00am

The building

Very plain, nondescript. The congregation has occupied this building since 1996. The interior of the church was quite plain. There were many windows that normally would let in a lot of light, I am sure, but there was a thunderstorm when we were in the service that day. The congregation were seated in long pews with a carpeted middle aisle. I would describe the interior as simple yet tasteful. The choir were situated on a slightly elevated platform, as was the organ and a lectern. An older building dating from 1877, a beautiful example of Gothic Revival realised in wood, still stands as a museum.

The church

The congregation began as a Methodist mission in the 19th century and joined the United Church of Canada in 1925. I wasn't able to find out anything about their current activities.

The neighborhood

Discovered by Portuguese explorers in the 16th century, Fogo Island was named after the wildfires (fogo in Portuguese) that they saw burning there. The island was settled by the English and Irish in the 18th century, and traces of Elizabethan English and Old Irish can still be heard in the local dialect. Once a thriving fishing community, Fogo Island is struggling to revive that industry after its virtual disappearance in the late 19th and early 20th centuries due to overfishing and a disastrous fire in 1875 that leveled virtually the entire island. The church is in a rural area.

The cast

The Revd Lawrence Watkins.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Morning Worship.

How full was the building?

I would estimate the capacity to be about 200, but the church was practically empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Many greeted us warmly and cordially, mainly with a handshake, both on our way in and once seated. We were handed an order of service on the way in.

Was your pew comfortable?


How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was chatter initially. Then, about five minutes prior to the service, a quiet reverence fell upon the congregation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Let us join together with the introit: 'Come Holy Spirit and Heavenly Dove'."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Songs of the Gospel; United Church Praise Choruses; The Hymnbook.

Did anything distract you?

Some very loud and poor singers in the choir would have been very difficult to ignore. There was another distraction that occurred as we were leaving (see below).

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

It was joyful yet rather reserved, I think. No clapping with hands, but certainly with their voices.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

1 – I had no idea what the Revd Mr Watkins was trying to say. The good man raced from one thought to the next with little connection between them.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It's very difficult to say. Since it was Fathers Day, the title of the sermon was "The Ideal Man." He spoke chiefly about Job and how disaster and suffering could not quench his faith, and how he was a kind man who extended his generosity to the poor. Next he spoke about how we weave our character. Then he spoke about how we must suffer (I guess to develop our character). He ended by stating that Jesus could love the world only with true suffering.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The greetings we received from the parishioners– they were very warm and welcoming.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The sermon – I couldn't make head or tail of it. Pastor Watkins seemed to skip from thought to thought. I don't really know what he was trying to say. There was no practical application, at least, for me.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

As we exited, Pastor Watkins asked us if we were regular parishioners – which I thought interesting, as there were probably not more than 30 people at this service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was no coffee. However, there was a distraction in the parking lot. Unbelievably, someone backed into someone who was parked behind them in the lot.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

3 – The congregants were warm and friendly, but I didn't understand the pastor's sermon or how it is he did not know his own parishioners.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes, because of the warmth and friendliness of the parishioners.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The car accident in the parking lot.

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