Mystery Worshipper: Man in AllBlack
Church: Christ the King
Location: Owairaka, Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 September 2006, 10:30am
The church building, which looks about 30 years old, is a brick octagon with a ridged roof that makes it look rather like a gigantic lemon squeezer. There are a number of such churches around Auckland. Inside it is open and spacious, with mid-brown wooden panelling with matching crucifixes, stations of the cross, altar and wooden benches.
The church has an attached school for children of primary age, and presumably children who attend that school also attend the church. Apart from that, there is very little that I can say about the community. There was a newsletter but it contained nothing about the parish. I did not see any other notices given out. The congregation struck me as being not so much a community as the gathered Catholic faithful of the area.
The Owairaka area of Auckland is a spaciously laid out residential suburb about 20 minutes' drive from the centre of the city. It is roughly 50 years old and is made up mostly of robust, detached wooden houses intermixed with more recent, jerry-built flats. Household incomes are moderate. The church itself is perched on the side of a hill and commands a view across the city toward the happily distant but blasphemous spike of Sky City, Auckland's mega-casino, temple of mammon, and bankroller of a nearby historic church.
The Revd Ray Green, assisted by the Revd Michael Endeman.
What was the name of the service?Mass.
How full was the building?
The building looked as if it was capable of seating 250-300 people and it was completely full. Latecomers stood. There was a fair mix of ethnic backgrounds, reflecting the population of Owairaka in general.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I arrived right at the start of the service, I was merely handed a leaflet and pointed to one of the few remaining seats.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, when I was sitting, although there was a lack of leg room. But when I knelt, I was either jabbed in the back by my seat or winded by leaning over the seat in front.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The hymns and the creed were projected onto an overhead screen of similar vintage to the church building. The rest was done from memory, and everyone seemed to cope.
What musical instruments were played?
One guitar, backed up by full-voiced, magnificent singing from a choir of Pacific Islanders.
Did anything distract you?
Everything! In fact the service was a bit of a blur. Before I could blink, we had reached the homily, and a blink later, communion. One more blink, and everyone was filing out of the door. Not one second had been wasted. The service finished within an hour, despite the distribution of communion to something like 300 people. Even the London Underground during rush hour could not match it. As this church has 10 or 11 masses a week, this is perhaps hardly surprising.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Folky liturgical. The liturgy was mostly spoken rather than chanted, but some parts were sung to guitar accompaniment. There were not many hymns, but those that were included were of recent provenance with some theological content.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The priest read from a script. Some may think this hinders communication, but I personally find it helpful. The subject matter was clearly delivered and basic, but understandable and useful. In keeping with the rest of the service, there was not a wasted word.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As stewards of the earth, we are responsible to God, to one another, and to future generations. We should strive to live more sustainable lives – for example, we could drive smaller cars. (As a cyclist who is regularly put at risk by reckless SUV drivers, I found this music to my ears.)
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The priest's comment about cars. Oh, and the magnificent singing.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing as bad as that. It was somewhat bemusing to realise that by the end of the service I felt much the same as when I have completed the Saturday shopping rushed and tired.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As soon as the service ended, people quietly and efficiently filed out. Some immediately departed, others hung around talking for a while. I lingered in one place, I lingered in another, but no one thought to ask who I was. Eventually I approached a group of people, explained that I was a visitor, and asked what normally happened after the service, and was told that people normally just go home. So that's what I did.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no tea or coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – Were I Roman Catholic, I might consider it. But it was hard to judge what the church community was like. The church appeared to be more a focal point for various groups. I felt that I had not encountered a community so much as a routine.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, because it reminded me that religion does not necessarily set people of different backgrounds against at each others' throats, but actually provides a means for them to coexist. Our political leaders would do well to remember this. This church provided a very simple service that people of all backgrounds could be quite content with. It reaffirmed the belief that Christianity may transcend culture and ethnicity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Stumbling across a new definition for the socio-economic-religious concept known as "economy of communion."