All Saints, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia

All Saints, East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: M McKillop
Church: All Saints
Location: East St Kilda, Melbourne, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 August 2010, 10:00am

The building

One of Melbourne's oldest churches, All Saints is a huge Gothic church. It is said to be the largest parish church in the Southern Hemisphere, holding 1400 people. It is constructed of bluestone, with a steeply gabled slate roof over the nave and similar roofs over the two side aisles, giving the building the appearance of three conjoined churches. A tower was planned but never built. According to legend, the man who pledged money for the tower in memory of his late wife subsequently remarried and found other uses for his money. The interior is replete with the ornate furnishings and artwork associated with the Anglo-Catholic tradition. At the chancel steps are two enormous gas candelabras from St George's Chapel, Windsor, obtained in the 19th century by Father John Gregory, the first vicar of All Saints, and known as "Gregory's Goal Posts." Of special interest is the Nuffield/Cowley Rood, a large crucifix with figures of Our Lady and St John, that originally hung in St Luke's Church, Oxford Road, Cowley, England. The rood lay in storage until 2002, when it was cleaned, repaired, and fixed to the east wall of the south transept. In the past two years there has been a $1 million restoration of the church, and it looks magnificent.

The church

The parish is one of the few in Australia that still uses the 1662 Book of Common Prayer – though really it is the English Missal! It was Melbourne's first Anglo-Catholic parish, and still continues with traditional high mass and excellent music. Many people attend because of the liturgy and music. The parish also has an outreach programme, with community meals and food collections.

The neighborhood

St Kilda was one of Melbourne's prestigious suburbs in the 19th century. There are still many fine homes, but since the 1950s it has become a suburb of apartments, with a vibrant night life. Near the church is St Michael's Grammar, an Anglican school that uses the church for school services.

The cast

The Revd Ian Hunter was celebrant and preacher. He is the locum during the vicar's three months long service leave. The Revd Neil Fryer, S.S.C., associate priest, served as deacon. The organist was Mr David Macfarlane.

What was the name of the service?

High Mass.

How full was the building?

It looked empty – but 75 people looked lost in a church that seats 1400!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A friendly couple welcomed me and gave me the books for the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Wooden pew with fitted cushion and new kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived 10 minutes early and there were only two people in church. It was very quiet. As people drifted in, the quietness was retained, with people saying their prayers and lighting candles at the shrines.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The choir sang the introit from the missal – but I could not make out the words, as it was sung from the back as they entered.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Mass book and bulletin, which contained the words of the hymns. You could ask for a hymnal (New English Hymnal) if you wanted the music.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and a choir of 16 men and boys. All Saints is probably the only Australian parish church that still has a boys' choir.

Did anything distract you?

At the altar, the celebrant turned and spoke to the subdeacon several times. I presume he was asking questions or instructions, as this was his first Sunday as locum.

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

Very formal High Anglican, appropriate to the liturgy and tradition. The choir sang a mass setting, so the congregation was excluded from much of the liturgy – but they belted out the hymns!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

9 – Father Hunter began in a relaxed manner, making us feel comfortable. He spoke clearly and gave a scholarly sermon that was also down-to-earth and easily understood.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Preaching on the gospel, he began with an explanation of apocalyptic scripture. He referred to the second coming, and those groups who emphasise this. He called them "distortions!" I loved his phrase: "Bookkeeper God." He then referred to the Catholic understanding, focusing on God's love, and the incarnational God. It was one of the best expositions on this subject that I have heard.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The communion anthem, "O How Amiable" by Vaughan Williams. It was sung sweetly by the choir, though they lacked the power of other choirs whom I have heard sing this piece. This may be because the church is so large.

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

The music played for the gospel procession was like a dirge. I have never heard such slow and melancholy music for the gospel procession. It made what should be a triumphal procession into almost an anti-climax.

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

I joined the line-up at the door and was welcomed by the clergy. A layman insisted I go to the hall for morning tea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I did not have coffee because there was a selection of port and sherry offered. There were lots of nice nibbles and cheeses to go with it. Tea, coffee and cake were also offered, as well as goodies for the children.

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

9 – I am not sure I could cope with the 1662 Prayer Book every Sunday – but they make up for that with excellent music and friendly people.

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

Yes, indeed!

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

Gregory's Goal Posts.

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