St John's Cathedral, Brisbane

St John's Cathedral, Brisbane, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's Cathedral
Location: Brisbane, Australia
Date of visit: Saturday, 20 December 2014, 9:30am

The building

The Cathedral of St John the Evangelist is in the gothic revival style, and was built of local sandstone in three major stages over 97 years. The diocese bought the quarry to ensure enough stone. It was designed in 1888 by John Loughborough Pearson (best known for Truro Cathedral). It is still not quite finished, with statues of contemporary saints set to be installed above the west door. The interior reflects the concepts of simplicity and utility found in the great Cistercian abbey churches of 12th and 13th century Europe, with lofty ceilings and tall, delicately proportioned columns. The high altar is free-standing, without a reredos. There are three side chapels: the Lady chapel, the Chapel of the Holy Spirit, and the Chapel of the Holy Sacrament.

The church

They sponsor a number of outreaches, with a particular project selected each month. As of this writing, their current outreach is to Adults Surviving Child Abuse (ASCA), an organisation that works to improve the lives of adults who have experienced childhood trauma and abuse. Morning and evening prayer are said on most weekdays, with choral evensong sung on Sundays. There are three celebrations of holy communion on Sundays, plus two on weekdays and one on Saturdays.

The neighborhood

The cathedral is in Brisbane's central business district, surrounded by skyscrapers, and a 10-15 minute walk from the busy Queen Street shopping area.

The cast

The celebrant was not identified in the service booklet, but I believe he was the Very Revd Dr Peter Catt, dean of the cathedral. The preacher was the Revd Canon Dr Nigel Leaves.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

Mostly full. The cathedral can seat 1,000.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The greeter who handed me a service booklet wished me a good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews have been replaced with chairs in order to facilitate multiple uses of the nave; my chair was comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was lots of chatting going on: members of the congregation conversing, the clergy greeting people.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A 20-page stapled booklet contained all the words and hymn lyrics for the service.

What musical instruments were played?

Only the six division pipe organ, played by Andrej Kouznetsov. The traditional choir of men and boys, directed by Graeme Morton, sang beautifully. The organ is an opus of Norman and Beard, of Norwich, England, and was rebuilt in 1971 by the firm's Australian subsidiary, Hill, Norman & Beard Pty Ltd. It is currently maintained by WJ Simon Pierce Organ Builders, of Hemmant, Queensland.

Did anything distract you?

Two elderly ladies immediately in front of me were quite chatty but settled down once the service started. Two babies who were going to be baptised were squawking, but happily.

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

It was a contemporary service filled with meaningful ritual, but no one fussed about the little poodle on a leash also in attendance.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

7 – Canon Nigel Leaves presented a well prepared sermon suited to the season.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Our obsession with time. In this day and age of 24/7 news coverage, we ought to ask ourselves: What is worship time? The God we worship/believe in should be reflected in the lives we lead. Mary's response to the Annunciation reflected the God she worshipped. In the precious and holy time of the last week of Advent, one thing remains constant: Emmanuel, God is with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The three baptisms (two infants and one adult) were joyful community celebrations. More than half the congregation processed back to the baptismal font at the entrance of the cathedral, clucked in amusement at one baby who reached out to splash in the font, laughed along with the adult woman who whose hair got pretty well drenched during her baptism.

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

The celebrant's microphone cutting out often during the baptisms was perhaps the first step into the first circle of hell.

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

No one talked to me. Those I expected to be "on the lookout" for visitors – clergy, greeters – walked by, often averting their eyes.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea (good) and coffee (weak) in ceramic cups. Home-made cakes and cookies.

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

6 – Hard to say after only one visit. A welcoming pamphlet lists groups one can join; most of these seem to be social or pertaining to some role in service of the cathedral (e.g. bellringers, music, flower guild, readers, cathedral guides). It mentions study and reflective programs, and a Chartres-style labyrinth, and I would be interested in those.

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

Yes, I felt good about being part of the Anglican Communion.

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

That as as a witness to three baptisms I am part of the faith community welcoming them, even though I was just a visitor to St John's.

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