St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney (Exterior)

St Andrew's Cathedral, Sydney, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Andrew's Cathedral
Location: Sydney, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 28 December 2014, 10:30am

The building

Begun in 1819 and consecrated in 1868, St Andrew's is the oldest cathedral in Australia. It is the work of the 19th century Australian architect Edmund Blacket, who also designed the University of Sydney and was officially appointed Colonial Architect to New South Wales. Architectural historian Joan Kerr wrote that the cathedral is "a perfect example of the colonial desire to reproduce England in Australia in the mid nineteenth century." The cathedral is small but of imposing proportions. Some of the original chancel furniture remains, including the choir stalls (which are no longer used for that purpose). The stained glass is by Hardman & Co. of Birmingham, England, and represents one of the earliest complete cycles of windows by that glass works. In 1941 the chancel was relocated from the geographic east end to the west end of the nave, ostensibly to lessen the effect of noise created by the tram on the street outside. A major restoration was undertaken in 1999-2000 in which, among other things, this error was corrected. Restoration also revealed a window, previously hidden, depicting the crucifixion of Jesus, St Andrew and St Peter. Ironically, the centre panel of the reredos, depicting Jesus' crucifixion, had earlier been removed as being "idolatrous." At the time of the restoration the original wooden altar was also replaced with a new one of simpler design, as termite damage had rendered the old altar unsuitable.

The church

It is the mother church of the Diocese of Sydney. They sponsor small groups, lunchtime Bible talks, youth groups, and groups for women, children and families. Their website states, "We welcome all people, from all walks of life and circumstances."

The neighborhood

St Andrew's is in the heart of Sydney, across the street from the Town Hall (and above the Town Hall railway station), near downtown shops and Darling Harbor.

The cast

The Revd Canon Christopher Allan, acting dean of Sydney, was the preacher. The service was led by the Revd Tom Halls, senior minister.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Church

How full was the building?

Full, with a wide spread of ages.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The greeters at the door were very friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?

No. The wooden pew did have a seat cushion, which helped, but the seat itself was rather shallow so that I felt I was on the verge of tipping out (and I have short legs!).

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Noisy with lots of chatter. The organ and a trumpet played, but no one seemed to be listening.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Please turn and say these words to your neighbour to help them feel welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A 12-page stapled service booklet.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ and a trumpet. The organ is opus 58, installed in 1998, of Orgues Létourneau Limitée of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, Canada. It replaces the 1866 instrument by William Hill & Son. The music before the service was not identified in the service booklet, and the organist was not identified. The music for the hymns was not printed (the lyrics were), but the hymns were all "standards" ("O Come All Ye Faithful", "God Whose Almighty Word", "Amazing Grace", etc.) that everyone knew and sang with gusto.

Did anything distract you?

The cell phone of a woman in front of me rang during the service – twice! Both times she departed to take the call and then returned to her pew. I was also distracted by three boys playing games on their cell phones during the sermon, but they redeemed themselves by singing "Amazing Grace" heartily at the end of the service.

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

It was very relaxed. The priests wore suits and ties, not vestments. The Revd Halls provided comments that served as segues between parts of the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

32 minutes.

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

5 – The acting dean's preaching style was conversational. I particularly enjoyed this turn of phrase: "If you get a curly question..."

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He encouraged the congregation to think about their spiritual status. Are we content with the status quo, like the Jewish leaders in John 9 (where the Pharisees question Jesus' ability to heal)? If so, we won't recognise the miracle in front of us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I was intrigued, when I first looked through my service booklet, to see an outline of the sermon with a good inch and a half of white space between the major points. Scholar that I am, I was happy to see many around me taking notes.

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

Sitting through a long sermon on an uncomfortable pew. Also, I wondered why music didn't seem as important here – at least during this service – as at other cathedrals I've visited. But three days after Christmas must have been everyone's day off, since the cathedral website provides details about a choir of boys and men, an orchestra, a brass band and contemporary bands.

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

I didn't have to hang around. A woman in the pew behind me said hello and encouraged me to have refreshments. But as I drank my tea, no one spoke to me. Just as I was starting to think ill of the parishioners for not welcoming a stranger, a woman struck up a conversation and chatted with me for a good ten minutes. She told me she was returning to St Andrew's for a visit after moving away (shout out to Judith!).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Strong, hot tea in paper cups. An assortment of home-made and store-bought treats: nut breads, cookies, small tarts.

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

3 – It's always hard to say, after only one visit, if I would make a church my regular spiritual community, but this exposure to the evangelical end of the Anglican spectrum confirmed, for me, my comfort in the middle. St Andrew's does seem to offer a variety of services, ranging from the very traditional (using the 1662 Book of Common Prayer) to the contemporary. But I do not have a literal faith in the Bible's account of events and I wonder if I would feel truly at home.

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

Yes, of course. I felt connected to the people I worshipped with.

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

Even though that sermon felt too long, it's given me a lot to think about. The acting dean maintained that it's better to witness badly than not to witness at all. I wonder if, in my concern for my comfort with a particular style of witnessing, I am trying to maintain my status quo and not recognise the miracle in front of me.

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