Mystery Worshipper: Cantate Domino
Church: St Paul's
Location: Manuka, Canberra, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 February 2007, 10:00am
St Paul's is a large 20th century red brick building in a pared-down perpendicular style. It has a long nave with no aisles, a squat chancel and a bell tower with a peal of bells (although they were silent the day I attended). Begun in 1933, it was extended in the 1990s, the new work matching the original building. Inside, the building is lit by yellowish lead light windows; there are also stained glass windows in the east and west walls. Most of the churchyard is given over to the parking lot.
The eucharist is celebrated at three services each Sunday and once during the week, with a healing service on the first Sunday of each month. There are several fellowship groups, including a walking group, tapestry group, senior fellowship, young singles group and movie club. Along with two other area churches, they sponsor the Verandah, an outreach to residents of nearby public housing. The church also maintains links with the Australian National University and with local musicians, and each year recruits a trumpet scholar, who is typically a university undergraduate.
Manuka is an upmarket district in Australia's capital city. The church is surrounded by coffee shops, book and record shops and a large shopping mall.
The Revd Dr John Moses, acting rector (not the dean of St Paul's Cathedral), preached and presided. Also participating were the Revd Robin Lewis-Quinn, assistant priest; the Revd Deacon Jill Elliot; and servers Rebecca Lindsay, Gregory Lindsay, Dennis Alubale and Rebekka Allen. The intercessor was Neale Emmanuel and the readings were given by Des Paine and Barbara Waugh.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
The church was almost full, say about 300 people. There were quite a few youngish people present as well as the usual Anglican contingent of little old ladies. I had to share my pew, which rarely seems to happen in Anglican churches.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was met at the west door by a sideswoman who greeted me briefly and handed me the service booklet, having ascertained that I did not need the large print version. Visitors were obviously keenly sought out and identified, as I had barely reached my pew before several members of the congregation introduced themselves and enquired where I came from. Afterwards, as I was leaving, one of these people mentioned to the rector that I was a visitor.
Was your pew comfortable?
A perfectly comfortable standard wooden pew. There was a very amply stuffed hassock, of which I didn't make use.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet. The organist played something gentle. There were hardly any children present, which may have contributed to the reasonably quiet atmosphere. Most people seemed to know each other well and chatted very happily but most also made time to kneel in prayer before the service began.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St Paul's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A green covered leaflet that contained the full text of the liturgy, the lessons and gospel reading, and the hymns (but without the melody line). No prayer book or hymn book. The liturgy was taken from A Prayer Book for Australia.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ. And a very unusual instrument it was too, being a traditional pipe organ with some electronic components. It is a large instrument, built by the Sydney firm of Peter DG Jewkes and Co with electronic augmentation by the Pipeless Pipe Organ Company. At the end the organist offered a voluntary, which the congregation greeted with applause. The choir and the trumpet scholar were both in recess, meaning that the psalm was recited, not sung.
Did anything distract you?
The acting rector was an elderly man, perhaps called out of retirement. As he was climbing the stairs to the pulpit, his foot somehow became entangled in the folds of his cassock-alb. A heart-stopping moment – I have seen such an accident claim a number of elderly priests as victims. But he eventually sorted the problem out and gained the pulpit in safety. It was also odd that the processional hymn used the melody of King's Weston but with words that bore no resemblance to "At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow." Finally, although not a distraction per se but perhaps distracting for its rarity, all of the clergy were vested in a pattern that perfectly coordinated with the altar frontal and church hangings.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Moderately high but mostly mainstream Anglican. There were copious genuflections and crossings going on among the clergy and congregation (and the service leaflet helpfully indicated when these actions were to be performed). There was no incense and, curiously, no sanctuary bell to punctuate the consecration and elevation. The peace ceremony was by far the most enthusiastic that I have ever participated in. I would say that nearly every member of the congregation managed to greet every other member of the congregation, all accompanied by a roar of conversation. We took communion standing, the elements being ministered by two teams of three: one person with the bread, one with the wine, and a third with a chalice into which the bread could be dipped, for those who preferred intinction.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Dr Moses preached with considerable flair but in an understated style – in fact, he mainly stood stock still! He was very restrained in both verbal and physical mannerisms.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Taking as his text the gospel lesson in which Christ told his disciples that henceforth they would be fishers of men, the rector said that members of Christian churches must engage with people outside of their church and congregation and consider the greater good of society. But then he suddenly launched an attack on fundamentalist and Pentecostal churches, condemning their leaders for their insularity, their denigration of mainstream churches, and their refusal to engage in ecumenical dialogue. Finally, he linked recent announcements on the dangers of global warming back to his theme of working for the greater good.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I was sorry that the choir were in recess, as they have a very high reputation and their musical offerings would undoubtedly have been heavenly. As it was, I thought the remarkably lively peace ceremony was heavenly, in a very earthy, noisy and exuberant fashion.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The notices! A seemingly endless stream of people came up to offer information. It was all pretty meaningless for a one-off visitor, but I suppose it does also show the strength of this church's extramural activities.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Not a chance. I had not even left my pew before I was invited to the hall for morning tea by one of the sidesmen.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I couldn't stay, though. Unfortunately I had a plane to catch and had to leave as soon as the service finished.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I lived in Canberra I would be here most Sundays.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Well, pleased to be an Anglican anyway.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Definitely the greeting of peace. I have never seen the like.