Mystery Worshipper: Ian Climacus
Church: St Anthony of Padua
Location: Tahmoor, New South Wales, Australia
Date of visit: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 7:00pm
A new brick building, dedicated in 1997, with wooden panelling and ceiling. Pews are set in four rows that fan out from the sanctuary area and rise up on a slope so that all have a clear view. Statues of Christ and the Virgin are up the front together with a crucifix; and a rather large wooden confessional is at the back. The church has a very interesting outdoor stations of the cross: painted scenes are affixed on wooden crosses. At the crucifixion scene are three crosses on a small mound behind the station. At the burial scene there is a small open concrete grave next to the station.
St Anthony is a busy saint: his parish covers 13 towns in the area! Tahmoor appears to be the main church, having daily services and an Arabic mass on the first Saturday of the month.
Tahmoor is a town of about 5,000 people just under 100 kms from the city of Sydney. Tahmoor is either the name for the ceremonial mound the Aborigines used for some of their ceremonies, or the Aboriginal name for the bronze-wing pigeon found in the area. Of all the smaller towns in the area, Tahmoor seems to have weathered the freeway bypass of the 1970s the best. A colliery just south of the town has no doubt also contributed to the healthy level of local employment.
The Rev. Bernard Gordon was the celebrant, assisted by a crucifer, a lector, and six acolytes, two of whom appeared younger than 10 and the others in their mid teens.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
About 100 people in a space that I'm guessing could fit around 450-500.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No welcome, though I felt as if I got a few stares as I walked in. Was it small-town interest in a visitor or me being overly paranoid as a Mystery Worshipper? I went up to a fellow and asked if there was a mass book; he thought there might be one near the entrance. There wasn't, unfortunately. He later asked if I had found one. I hadn't.
Was your pew comfortable?
Quite comfortable. The kneelers weren't too bad either.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent. People were praying or sitting quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. I had grabbed a bulletin for the previous Sunday upon entry to get the vital statistics for the report, but no printed materials were available for the service at hand.
What musical instruments were played?
None. No music, hymns or singing.
Did anything distract you?
A few women had donned simple veils with patterns. However, during the imposition of ashes I saw a woman wearing a Lourdes veil I had seen the same veil (on the same woman?) in the church I had visited the previous Sunday! I wondered if God was hinting that I needed to go to Lourdes!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Simple and beautiful said mass.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Bernard has a quite soothing and calming voice – an ideal preaching voice, I thought.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Although Lent is a time of penance and preparation, it should also be a time of joy and happiness.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The reception of the ashes and hearing, "Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." As an Anglican turned Orthodox, I miss this stern reminder of our mortality – the Orthodox don't celebrate Ash Wednesday.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I didn't take the floor's slope into consideration quite accurately enough, and so banged my knee as I genuflected. And I would've liked a mass book, as the Roman rite is somewhat unfamiliar to me.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the altar party had retired, people left as if a fire alarm had gone off. What a mad rush to get out! I wandered around inside, looking at the large and ornate confessional, the painted stations of the cross, and other artwork. No one came up to me. But I didn't care – I generally prefer to be left alone unless I make contact.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I can't judge the worship life of the church from one special service, but I prefer liturgies with sung responses and music. I'd happily drop by on Sunday to visit. There was a wide range of ages and backgrounds and a number of parish activities listed on the bulletin, which is a good sign of a lively and involved parish. I will definitely drop by when the stations are being said to see how the outdoor stations are used.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely. Though Lent and Easter timing and liturgies may differ between East and West, we share a great deal, and I love worshipping with my brothers and sisters in Christ in other churches.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
"Remember, O man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."