St John's, Cooks Hill, New South Wales, Australia

St John's, Cooks Hill, New South Wales, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: Womanspeak
Church: St John's
Location: Cooks Hill, New South Wales, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 February 2010, 10:45am

The building

Built in 1857, St John's is the oldest church building in Newcastle. Built of cream rendered sandstone and sandstock brick, it is matched in proportion by a renovated adjacent hall and kitchen complex. The grounds are simple and picturesque and include a paved terrace and child-safe fencing. Inside, there are original exposed beams, stained glass, a side chapel, pipe organ and magnificent white flowers – all traditionally Anglican.

The church

From an aging church, it has been rebuilt into a healthy all-age congregation with a wide range of worship styles and growth opportunities. St John's is an extremely popular wedding venue.

The neighborhood

Cooks Hill is an inner city suburb of Newcastle, just a few blocks from the beach. It is a trendy art, boutique and restaurant district. St John's attracts worshippers from inner city apartments, surrounding leafy terraces and further afield from suburbia.

The cast

The Revd Stuart Perry, rector, was the celebrant and preacher. He was assisted by Victoria Hunter, ministry assistant, who led the "Kids' Church." Mr Mark Pullen played the guitar and sang. A lady named Kate gave one of the readings (I'll have more to say about her directly).

What was the name of the service?

Contemporary Eucharist and Worship

How full was the building?

About 40 worshippers, one third full, and unlike most Anglican churches they sat toward the front! Children's activities were held up the back for pre-schoolers and others.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The smiling ministry assistant handed me the weekly sheet, told me I was early and invited me to be seated. The guitarist stopped his practice and came over and welcomed me after a song. The priest stood at the end of aisle welcoming all who entered and came to my seat to welcome me. A couple purposefully joined me and introduced themselves. Numerous brief introductions and welcomes were offered during the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?

Traditional wooden pews that were too narrow. Obsolete wooden kneeler. No padding anywhere except that which I unfortunately carry with me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The singer/guitarist was rehearsing. Priest and assistant were welcoming worshippers and conducting them to their seats. The priest then sat at prayer in the pews with his congregation before standing and inviting us to worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to worship this summer Sunday. While it may be raining outside, the sun is shining on us inside." Two worship songs followed, with the priest standing in the pews with his congregation.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. Everything was on the screen plus readings were printed on the pew sheet to take home.

What musical instruments were played?

Acoustic electric guitar.

Did anything distract you?

Domestic oscillating fans were wired on an angle to pillars quite precariously. They droned noisily but did offer a cooling breeze.

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

Accessible, fresh and friendly. The liturgy was rewritten and simplified but contained all necessary aspects which were seamlessly explained. The praise songs were used to enhance the creation of a sacred space and time. One lady was barefooted and had a hand raised, but most just smiled and gently swayed. Two young girls walked down the aisle, stopping at each row to invite the children to "Kids' Church" and personally leading them by the hand to the back of the church.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

9 – Warm, authoritative and inclusive. His examination of call was enhanced by excellent PowerPoint slides, graphic and verbal. Given the subject matter, he could easily have rambled on about his own call to the ministry, but he focussed his attention on us instead.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

While in the lectionary readings Isaiah, Peter and Paul were called, so were the extras in their stories. We are all called to hear, learn, share and be prepared to be astounded by the call of Christ in our lives.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The lady named Kate's surprising presentation of the Isaiah reading from memory, with beautiful expressive actions drawing us into the drama.

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

Communion was distributed in two lines. After receiving the bread, we had to backtrack to get on the end of the second line to receive the cup. Very awkward, unlike the rest of the service. Needs re-thinking.

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

Not possible to be lost, as my pew companions plus a gentleman behind me all chatted with me. We were last out of the church on the way to morning tea.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Instant coffee and tea from bags, served in foam cups. Store-bought chocolate cake and biscuits. No chairs or tables, so a bit of balancing was required. But it was all served in the beautifully restored hall, with children playing fairies outside in the rain under the sun shades.

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

10 – They go to great lengths to include a range of all ages in all their services. Yes, it's contemporary, but still very traditionally Anglican somehow.

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

Yes. A wonderful combination of joyfulness, feeding in word and bread and wine and prayerful reflection.

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

The way the two girls warmly and patiently invited, row by row, the little ones to join them for Kids' Church. It was a true witness to their call to share in the gospel together.

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