Paul the Apostle, Melbourne

Paul the Apostle, Melbourne, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: Adeodatus
Church: Paul the Apostle
Location: Melbourne, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 September 2011, 10:00am

The building

A traditional Melbourne 19th century bluestone church building. It stands on a large block of land that also contains the offices of the South Port Mission, a welfare agency of the Uniting Church.

The church

This community stresses its orthodoxy in belief and practice. Holy communion is celebrated weekly. The church supports the adjacent South Port Uniting Care plus an overseas aid project in Zambia. There is a regular Bible study group.

The neighborhood

South Melbourne was one of the earliest parts of the city to be settled. It contains some magnificent wide streets with some fine Victorian and Edwardian houses, but also towers of low cost high-density housing. Not far from the church is a bustling produce market and the headquarters of the Australian National Academy of Music.

The cast

The Revd Ross Carter, minister.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

About one-third full. Mostly over 55 in age.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A greeter smiled and handed over a copy of the order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

The usual wooden Protestant church pew: comfortable enough for me to be glad this wasn't an Orthodox church; upright enough to keep me awake.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet enough. Chatterers talked in the large front lobby before entering the church proper.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome in the name of the Blessed Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God's grace, mercy and peace be with you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Together in Song, the hymn book of the Uniting Church of Australia.

What musical instruments were played?

A substantial pipe organ above the sanctuary.

Did anything distract you?

I have really tried hard to think about something that jarred. All I can come up with is the thought that the lack of a younger demographic was a bit depressing.

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

The worship was dignified and reflected the orthodox ethos of this congregation. The Apostle's Creed was recited, and the Matthias choral setting of holy communion used. The young organist, who had an excellent voice, acted as cantor and led the people in singing Psalm 105.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

21 minutes.

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

8 – At a late point in the sermon, the Revd Carter said he was going to be "controversial" and went on to talk about the "first" and "second" peoples of Australia, which he tried to relate to the theme. I guess my concentration lapsed here. I was not sure if he was talking about the indigenous people and us or the "boat people" (recent refugees to our shores whose arrival has caused considerable controversy) and us. Perhaps both.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon was based on the parable of the day labourers and its apparent injustice. We are offended by the latecomers being paid the same as those who had worked all day. Likewise, Jonah was offended by God's clemency toward the late repentance of the citizens of Nineveh. The point of both these stories is to remind us of the overwhelming generosity of God, whose prerogative it is to deal with his creation as he wishes. It is not for us to prefer our own judgement above God's.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choral responses were great. Just my cup of tea.

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

The altar cloth was a sort of lime-green which I wasn't too sure about. Maybe a liturgical jury would give it a pass.

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

After shaking the minister's hand, I chatted to a couple of the parishioners about their church's activities.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I enjoyed the properly brewed coffee (not in a paper cup) and a slice of fruit cake.

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

10 – I loved this service but the church itself is not in my geographical area. As someone who has serious doubts about the long-term viability of very liberal or, more particularly, "progressive" Christianity, I felt quite at home here.

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


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

The reverential atmosphere and the message that God's wisdom and ours do not always coincide!

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