The Barn, Culloden, Inverness

The Barn, Culloden, Inverness, Scotland


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Mystery Worshipper: Wandering Star
Church: The Barn
Location: Culloden, Inverness, Scotland
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 June 2007, 10:30am

The building

The Barn was built in 1729 as a tithe barn for the Culloden estate. An outside stair leads to a window that was once the entrance to the hay loft. Later, in the 19th century, the building became a blacksmith's workshop before it was taken over as a mission station in the early 20th century. In the 1970s the congregation erected a new church, leaving the historical building to form the church hall. The result is a very attractive, modern church. There is a wide open grassed area at the front of the church, offering loads of parking space and suggesting plenty of optimism. The entrance hall is spacious, with regularly updated information in the form of leaflets and well presented notice boards. Designed on one level, except for a slightly raised gallery at the rear of the church and another raised area at the front, the building is very well presented, with a lovely open feel. Wall hangings, lectern, simple altar table and cross form most of the interior ornamentation. The toilets and kitchen area are much more in the form of the facilities you would expect to find in a multifunctional leisure building. As I write, I learned that the congregation are planning to renovate the old vestry to provide a community wing.

The church

The building was used by the Jacobite army in 1746 on the night before the infamous Battle of Culloden, marking the defeat of the Jacobites' effort to restore Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, to the throne of England. The atrocities following that defeat were so shameful that even today no British regiment bears Culloden as a battle honour. It is probable that Moravian covenanters used the buildings for their services, forbidden by law to be held openly. I was really impressed with the present congregation's stated vision: "To see the fame of Jesus in Culloden, now, replacing the infamy of the battle in 1746." I think this sums up the church in the community. Their emphasis on family outreach, as well as their other activities and mission work, are all described on their regularly updated website.

The neighborhood

Inverness, in northern Scotland, is unusual in that the city has no official boundaries. Nearby is Loch Ness, arguably the most famous lake in the world. Culloden Moor is minutes away from the church, on the outskirts of Inverness. Despite the historical significance of the area, much expansion has taken place in recent years, and today Culloden appears to be almost wholly residential housing.

The cast

The Revd Jim Robertson, minister, led the service.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Service.

How full was the building?

About a third full. Seating was available for about 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Half a dozen people welcomed me: "Are you new to the area?" "Are you on holiday?" "Where are you staying?" "I hope you enjoy the service."

Was your pew comfortable?

The seating was comfortable stackable chairs.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was a gentle babble, with the worship group playing quietly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

We sang the first song, "All hail King Jesus." Then Pastor Jim said that sometimes in this church someone will utter a "prophetic word." And indeed someone in the congregation did speak out, saying: "I am the God of life, never running out or breaking down, and never going away."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

All the songs were projected onto a screen. There were weekly notices on the seats, complete with order of service. Much of the service was supported with pictures and information on the screen – not entirely successfully, as will be seen.

What musical instruments were played?

Guitar, violin and flute.

Did anything distract you?

A short film about Alpha, and some of the slides used to illustrate the service as it unfolded, suffered from there being a little too much ambient light inside the church to be able to view the pictures properly. That was a little distracting.

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

The worship was very open. There was room for everyone to enjoy worshipping as they were most comfortable. Some happy clappy, some more traditional, but all very genuine and warm.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

31 minutes.

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

9 – Pastor Jim did not come over as a minister at all. Listening to him was rather more like being in the presence of a much loved and admired uncle.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The subject of the sermon was the gift of giving. Generally as far as giving is concerned, Christians fall into two groups: debaters and whingers. Either group can be forgetful at times. As Christians we must be generous in our giving, remembering that the more we have, the more we have to give. Generosity is not only about money. Some people are naturally loving and sociable, and it is not difficult for them to be a blessing. God's poverty is more enriching – Jesus was poor, and just look at what he could do. God does not see poverty as we do. The secret is to let Jesus live loose amongst us. The best path, when considering giving, is to do what God wants.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I think the way Pastor Jim presented the thorny subject of giving was heavenly. He was able to present a balance sheet, which was accepted without shuffling and embarrassing coughs. He had a very homely, approachable manner.

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

In addition to the projected pictures being awash in ambient light, the other technical aspects of the service were, on the whole, a disaster. I could imagine the technicians all squirming, their ears burning with silent whispers of "Who needs this technology anyway?"

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

I could happily have hung around until everyone went home! Many of the congregation came to speak to me, following on from those who welcomed me. We were able to discuss the sermon, with interesting dialogue. Someone shared with me about a new Alpha course about to start. Someone else told me all about the children's work and how Pastor Jim was happy to leave the youth workers to continue with their endeavours, unhindered. As I was leaving I had a great conversation with a young woman who was in the area visiting family and who had been encouraged to call at the church. She was wearing a most interesting necklace, which she explained was made out of balloons! I could see a real market for her handiwork.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Good hot tea, coffee and juice, all fairly traded and in proper cups. Exceptional refreshments, very well received.

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

10 – If I were to settle on the east coast of Scotland, I would definitely make this my home church. There was so much optimism abounding, such faith in the promises of God.

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

It certainly did. I could feel love, joy, care and concern for those present, and those who couldn't be there. I could sense a hunger to let everyone around know, by their actions, that Christ was alive, in all his glory.

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

A fellowship working together, embracing everyone's abilities and encouraging each other.

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