In the business of theology it is hard not to be controversial - Jurgen Moltmann

Sunday, 30 November 2003

On Going to Church in Edinburgh

I went to a somewhat charismatic church this morning, the Community Church Edinburgh (, without the prior knowledge that it was charismatic. As it’s situated in an old stone church building called the King’s Hall, I expected a somewhat traditional church instead of the band, dance, & long time standing.
Nothing bad about it, only that everything was too long. I was a few minutes late for their 1030 service, but it was only just about to start. I walked in to the pew & found that all the wooden chairs had been taken away & they just filled the place with movable chairs. The altar & choir space were emptied, & a big wooden cross was put at the very front. All people were in jeans & very casual wear --- when I had put on trousers for one of the very few times (thinking that I should perhaps be more respectful as a first-timer). A band was set on the front to our right. Then I knew what style to expect.
Yet, not all were young people though. Perhaps about one fifth were middle aged (40 & 50’ish --- to use the way they put it here, as we would say 40 & 50 something), & a handful of older people. Most of the others I thought were in their 20s.
Initially it made me think of the Saturday worship at Shatin Methodist Church as well as some of the Tuesday worships in Breakthrough. Interesting though, the first hymn was “Be Thou My Vision”, sung with a band backing! There were people dancing & waving huge flags on the balcony & the front (the original choir & altar space). Nice. But the singing part was really long, going for more than 45 minutes. I could not keep standing so long; so, seeing some people sitting down in the middle, I sat too.
Then there was the announcement, for over ten minutes. At that time I started to wonder, “Is there going to be a sermon? Was the ‘message’ already included in the singing-praise in these churches? Mmm….”
Then, at exactly 1140, more than an hour after the service started, someone stood up & started talking. I wasn’t sure he was preaching at first, because he was just like talking casually about various things. Then after several minutes of those, he got into the meat of it. It was a pretty good sermon, starting with Gen 22 (Abraham sacrificing Isaac) & going into Rm 12 (living sacrifice) --- full of life examples, historically rooted, holistically biblical, participatory, engaging reflections; but again, tooooooo long! When the preaching ended, it was about 1235. I don't really mind listening to an hour-long sermon if it’s good, but, O, not after an hour of other things!
Then there was still the communion. Chairs were pulled aside & everybody was standing all over, the preacher broke a big loaf of bread for people to pass around, then poured glasses of wine & passed around. There were also some tiny cups for individual drinking. I walked to the front & drank a tiny cup.
When everything ended & I walked out, it was approaching 1255.
In fact I liked the way many of the things are handled, except the timing. It was engaging, free, spontaneous worship, good music, solid sermon. Well, the theology (as reflected in the worship, but not so much in the sermon) was individualistic & somewhat “self-centred”, but that’s always the case with these kinds of so called “contemporary worship”, isn’t it? It’s the problem of the songs.

So far I’ve been going around several churches here, all within 10 minutes walk from home. I have been to 2 famous churches in the Church of Scotland --- the Greyfriar Tollbooth & the St. Giles. I was more like an observer than a participant there. For me, it’s too high church. Yes, I could appreciate the liturgy (& I even somewhat liked it), but it was this unfamiliarity that made me a distant observer. And for some mysterious reason, I did not understand their sermons! Shame!
I have also been to the Sunday service of a Salvation Army Centre once. Interesting experience. They had the whole band in the service. It was a small congregation (perhaps just around 50 persons or less), many old people in uniforms, some middle-aged, a few younger ones. Despite the uniforms, the whole atmosphere was pretty warm; people would come to greet you & talk to you warmly right after the service. (The congregation was small enough that they could immediately know who was a newcomer.) The sermon was good. The whole thing was more evangelical (in the positive sense) than I would expect.
Then there is the Nicholson Square Methodist Church ( This is the one that I have been going back repeatedly. Needless to say, many things (not all, though) make me feel most at home there --- the more-or-less familiar way of worship, the mostly familiar hymns (so many written by Charles Wesley), etc. Sermons are basically solid & lively. The overall outlook is at the same time ecumenical and evangelical. (That’s me!) I can only say that it’s really a Methodist church. People are friendly but cool. (That's really a Methodist church! Haha!) There is also a small addition to the sense of security there --- a few of our fellow students go there too: Savenaca from Fiji, Solomon from Zimbabwe, Amy from Florida. Yet, I am still not at home enough to stay for coffee or lunch.

Chinese church?
There are 2 Chinese churches in Edinburgh but I have not been to any of them. I might visit them some time in future but don’t want to get stuck with any. I heard that they are both about 40 minutes walk from my place. That’s lovely; giving me a good reason for not going. :-p

This nomadic form of church life suits me at the moment, during which I am trying to find (ontologically) a place for myself in terms of faith & theology. Over these coming years of study, I shall continue to swim & sink in the muddy waters between being a most liberal conservative and a most conservative liberal, a muddy zone which I have got into since Boston.

(from my personal journal > 30 November 2003)