Mystery Worshipper: Zadok
Church: St Paul's
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 May 2010, 11:00am
Now in its third manifestation, St Paul's is the oldest church in Auckland, having been a light in the city since 1841. The first St Paul's was built in Emily Place, just off Princes Street, where a plaque still marks the site of the beginning of God's church in the city of Auckland. The church's third and final building was built in brick Gothic style, though it's missing the tower and steeple that were part of the architect William Skinner's original design, due to the economic depression of the day. However, I think some of the interior is ready if the church ever wishes to proceed with this rather belated addition. It has a lovely stained glass window at the far end, and many artifacts gifted by the Revd George Selwyn (who played a part in early Auckland history, including the local Selwyn College named after him).
Much of the congregation drifted off during the 1980s and 1990s, but since 2004 the modern St Paul's has experienced a second revival after a team from St Mary's from Bryanston Square in London took over. It now ministers to a wide range of ages and stages in life, and the congregational mix reflects this. It is growing in numbers and it has an outward look to its community.
An eclectic mix of business, public transport,high-rise accommodation (including student accommodation for the nearby Auckland University) and retail.
The Revd Mathew Newton, priest assistant, led the welcome. Andy Campbell, assistant leader, led the worship. A visiting preacher, the Revd Tim Keel, was the speaker. Mr Keel is pastor of Jacob's Well Church in Kansas City, Missouri, USA, and a leader of the emergent church movement, which seeks to reframe the meaning of church in the modern age.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
Mostly full but not packed. I'm guessing the capacity was about 200, minus the children.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was warmly greeted at the door and given a service sheet. Also, as parking is at a premium on the surrounding streets, I was offered a discount ticket for the nearby car park, which was nice.
Was your pew comfortable?
No traditional wooden pews. Individual padded seats (the stackable variety). What surprised me was that the seating wasn't set up facing the traditional front of the church, where the stained glass window, traditional wooden pulpit, and sanctuary give a sense of distance, but instead it was more inclusive and faced from side wall to side wall.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quietly humming but not loud.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome to St Paul's."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
No Bibles were supplied; those who wanted one just brought their own (I assume). The words of the songs were projected onto a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
Acoustic, electric and bass guitars, drums, three vocalists.
Did anything distract you?
When I first seated myself down, I felt like I was being glared at, including by several children on their way to crèche (haven't they seen a red-headed, large-sized woman before?). Rather off-putting! Thankfully that only lasted a few minutes.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I was surprised to find no traditional music being played or sung out of song books. One song was called "Hosanna". It was heartfelt, not happy clappy but nice, with modern instruments to accompany it.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
37 minutes, including the closing prayer.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I liked how Mr Keel used metaphors and analogies to describe his concepts. But I would have benefited from hearing his previous week's talk, which was part one of a series. I felt a bit out of the loop.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How to do community, part two. He said that windmills generate power by catching the wind, and have a prayer-like posture as though they were standing with their arms up and open (i.e., the blades). Electricity is like the current it produces, just like grace is the power current we produce in similar prayer-like postures, with the wind being the power of God the Holy Spirit. Just like the electricity that gets passed through to grid stations and power lines, so grace is passed through a network, often on behalf of others.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The church building and interior were amazing. And the service had a refreshing, modern feel to it.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Some rude children who hadn't been taught that staring is bad manners.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Someone pointed me down to the crypt for coffee and refreshments.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Proper percolated coffee. However, by the time I got to it, all that was left was "bottom of the pot" – more coffee grounds than coffee – which was a shame. And there was a very long set of stairs to get down to the bottom level of the crypt and back up again. I was then shooed out after loitering around for too long afterward, looking at all the historic plaques on the walls.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – While the building is lovely, I didn't feel entirely at home or fully welcomed. I did, however, like the theological sermon, and how the church is reaching out in the community, which is great.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it certainly did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The building, and being shooed out afterward.