St Bernard's, Belmont, OZ

St Bernard's, Belmont, Victoria, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Bernard's
Location: Belmont, Victoria, Australia
Date of visit: Saturday, 27 April 2013, 6:30pm

The building

It's rather modern, mainly sandstone and glass, and is quite large. At the front of the auditorium is a large crucifix with Jesus' legs bowed to the right, making a back-to-front letter J. If there were any stained glass windows they weren't seen, as it was dark outside. Up the front they had a heavy grey marble looking lectern, table and chair, all with engraved gold markings that slightly resembled fish.

The church

They seem to be growing, as evidenced by the baptism of five children on the night we were there. It's a large church with four mass services and a charismatic prayer meeting every week. They also provide reclining chairs, towels, wheelchair and disposable gloves for those feeling unwell. Among their ministries are a play group for young children and a widows' group. There is also a liturgy group that meets to plan the liturgy for high feasts and special occasions.

The neighborhood

Belmont is a southern residential suburb of Geelong, a port city southwest of Melbourne. It has a higher than average number of people who have never married and a much lower than average number of immigrants, as well as a higher number of people who say they have no religious affiliation. However, this church seems to defy the 2011 census. While I didn't notice an absence of wedding rings, there did seem to be many people of continental European heritage, and the church was pretty full.

The cast

The entire service was led by the Revd Vince Jewell, parish priest, who cut quite a figure with his long silvery hair tied back in a ponytail over his white vestments.

What was the name of the service?

Saturday Vigil Mass, Year C, Fifth Sunday of Easter.

How full was the building?

There were more than 400 people there filling 90 per cent of the seats. To the apparent amazement of the clergy, the church was quite full, even though they were competing against a game of the local football club. My wife was surprised by the number of trendy teenagers. However, as soon as the eucharist was received, the back three rows of 40-50 people got up and left before the final song had started.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We had a friend waiting for us, but if she wasn't there I doubt anyone else would have greeted us, as there didn't seem to be any designated welcomers.

Was your pew comfortable?

Modern wooden pews with no cushions, but they weren't uncomfortable – probably because we were up and down like a yo-yo.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Peaceful, warm and friendly. The auditorium was large but homely with warm coloured lighting (no fluoro white lights). There was a loud yet soft murmur of chattering that encouraged conversation. Three older ladies behind us loved commenting on our four-month-old, saying how cute he was.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good evening and welcome as we celebrate the eucharist."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

On entering, we were given a single-sided A4 sheet called "The Saving Word" that contained the first reading, responsive psalm, second reading, gospel acclamation and gospel reading. All other responses and hymns were on PowerPoint and were flicked up so fast that they would be missed if you blinked.

What musical instruments were played?

Keyboard, whose player had her job cut out for her with all the responsive sections in the psalm reading. Once she started playing too soon. Another time she apparently missed her cue, causing the lector to look a little awkward while he waited and waited for the response to be played.

Did anything distract you?

The priest spoke rather fast, especially during the baptism, which made it hard to understand him. There were times when I had no idea what he was saying. Also, being unaccustomed to Roman Catholic worship, I found some of the ceremony a little strange, such as kissing the altar and the gospel book, and the washing of hands. At one point all five eucharistic ministers lined up at the front and rubbed their hands together.

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

It followed a set traditional liturgy, but you could tell that now and then the priest was adding his own words, making the night feel less rigid. The songs werent those you could bop along to.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes.

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

3 – I had determined to rate him a 1 for his habit of speaking too fast to be understood, but then he stepped out from behind the lectern and addressed the congregation more personally. But he still gets only a 3, as I didn't see how the sermon was connected to the readings for the day.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Love is an undeserved gift. We all have great things in us. We just need to let God pull them out. Love the whole person, not just physically but also spiritually.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The abundance of scriptural readings and the people responding with praise.

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

Not being used to these things, I felt uncomfortable as people dipped their fingers in water and made the Sign of the Cross, and as they venerated the crucifix and other sacred objects. The priest kissing the altar and the gospel book also made me uncomfortable. But the most hellish bit was the rapid evacuation of the place within a couple of minutes at the end of the service. Was there a bomb in the building?

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

Nothing. Everyone left. No one attempted to speak with us or anyone else for that matter. Within ten minutes the lights were out and the building locked.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?


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

1 – The priest may have spurred the congregation "on toward love and good deeds" (Hebrews 10:24-25), but they apparently missed the part about "not giving up meeting together". I saw no evidence of fellowship in this congregation.

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

Yes. I appreciated reciting the Apostles Creed with fellow believers.

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

How quickly Father Vince spoke and how quickly everyone left.

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