St John's, Highton, OZ

St John's, Highton, Victoria, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's
Location: Highton, Victoria, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 May 2013, 8:00am

The building

The external facade blends in with the original cream cladded stone building, built in 1867 but rebuilt in 1926 after Highton's only ever recorded tornado almost completely destroyed it. It was expanded in 1990. Internally it is large and inviting, with stained glass windows and wooden veneer roof, and is carpeted throughout. They are hoping to begin renovations soon to enlarge the worship area slightly and create other modern facilities.

The church

They are an active community with three services a Sunday: traditional 8.00am, modernised 10.00am, and a contemporary at 5.00pm. They have many programs throughout the week: introduction groups, play groups, marriage courses, families and childrens outreach programs, prayer meetings, youth group, social outings, Bible studies, and doorknocking.

The neighborhood

Highton is a residential suburb of Geelong. When the church began, the region was one of vineyards, orchards and farmland, and the church was a country parish. But residential development took hold in earnest after World War II, and today the area boasts tree-lined streets and parks with great views of the city, river and bay.

The cast

The Revd Will Orpwood, vicar.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Communion Service (traditional Anglican style).

How full was the building?

A little less than half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was running late and yet was still greeted with a warm handshake at the door. I also received a prayer book and weekly news sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes: cushioned pews. A good thing, seeing that we sat for ages. At one stage the vicar asked if we wanted to stand and stretch before the sermon. I wanted to yell "Yes!" but I would have been the only one, seeing that the elderly congregation seemed to enjoy sitting.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Sorry, I got there as he spoke his opening words.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Our hearts are full of sadness as we come to worship today." A parishioner of long standing had passed away on Friday.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Australian Anglican Prayer Book and The Holy Bible, New International Version.

What musical instruments were played?

Electric keyboard and guitar.

Did anything distract you?

Apart from my legs aching a little, I found myself staring at the stained glass windows and at embroidered wall decorations, which I finally realised were kneeling pillows (maybe for when your kids drive you up the wall?).

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

They sung mainly from the hymn book, but with two more modern choruses that were a little more lively; unfortunately they didnt seem to liven up the congregation. Some oddities: the long reading was shared by two readers, but it didn’t really make sense to split the readings in mid-sentence. We were requested to bow our head in prayer, but then we had to raise them to see the text on PowerPoint. But these are just nitpicking; it was a great service. A local missionary spent around 15 minutes telling us about his family's work in Rwanda.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

18 minutes.

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

7 – The vicar shared truths that were scriptural, Christ-centred, and really relevant for God's people today. Unfortunately it did feel rushed, as if he wanted to share more but didn't have the time to. Yet it was good that he looked around at the congregation to gauge whether he should keep going or if people's eyes had glazed over.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The completion of the Temple was a sign and seal that God is dwelling amongst his people. The Temple holds together God's intimacy and transcendence. God's faithfulness breeds expectation, and we can trust that he will deliver on his promises. The Temple is fulfilled in Christ: in him all the fullness of God is contained. In Christ the highest God is accessible to us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Being with God's people listening attentively to his word.

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

Being restrained to my seat for a long period.

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

I was in a hurry and tried to leave quickly, which didn't happen as the line was moving very slowly out of the church and people were so friendly in coming up to me to make me welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

They did have morning tea, but I couldn't stay.

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

9 – But probably not the 8.00am service. Im just not an early morning person.

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

The sermon most certainly did.

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

The meaning of the Temple as fulfilled in Christ.

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