Mystery Worshipper: Dame Edna
Church: St Peter's
Location: Eastern Hill, Melbourne, Australia
Date of visit: Tuesday, 29 June 2010, 6:15pm
Dating from the mid 1840s, St Peter's is one of the handful of buildings in Melbourne pre-dating the gold rush of the 1850s. The interior has an atmosphere of prayer, with several shrines, stations of the cross, etc. The sanctuary still has an eastward-facing altar on which sit six enormous candlesticks.
St Peter's is a historic church with a long Anglo-Catholic tradition. The congregation are gathered from all over Melbourne, but basically WASP. In recent years the vicar has talked about being more welcoming, but it is not a diverse congregation.
Melbourne was proclaimed a city in 1847 from the steps of St Peter's. The church sits on a hill on the top of the city centre and has a commanding position right opposite the very grand St Patrick's Roman Catholic cathedral. Parliament House is immediately behind it.
The Rt Revd Garry John Weatherill, Bishop of Willochra, was the preacher. The celebrant was the Revd John Davis, vicar.
What was the name of the service?High Mass
How full was the building?
Fifty per cent full – about 120 people. It was a terrible night with rain, so that may have kept people away.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sidesman greeted me politely and gave me the service book.
Was your pew comfortable?
Quite OK for an old wooden pew.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverent and prayerful. However, some people chatted to others.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us proceed in peace."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A service book contained all the people's parts, the hymns, and some other music.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The choir were in the western gallery. The cantor came down from the choir to sing the psalm and alleluia verse and then returned.
Did anything distract you?
About 15 people from the Anglican Karen community, a refugee group from Burma, sat near me. They looked marvellous in their tribal dress – but they sat all through the service. This surprised me, as the vicar said they shared the tradition of St Peter's.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff-upper-lip with the usual Anglo-Catholic trimmings. We started with a solemn procession, complete with four beautiful old banners and the bishop in cope and mitre. A station was made at the shrine of St Peter, which was in a chapel at the back and hidden from our view. There was the usual complement of servers, all well drilled, but the clergy seemed disconnected, robotic even. The deacon kept gazing at the ceiling all through the service, and even the vicar glanced about in an absent-minded way. (He had just recently announced his resignation.)
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – The bishop's voice was hesitant and he seemed ill-at-ease in the pulpit. Consequently his sermon lacked conviction. He began with greetings from his diocese and then tried his hand at some humourous remarks that failed to get a laugh.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop's text was the gospel lesson in which St Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah. He took Jesus' question "Who do you say that I am?" and turned it around to "Who does Jesus say that we are?" but I'm afraid I could not understand what he was getting at. He used the word "inclusive" several times. But he lost me early on, and after that he just kept going!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The cantor sang beautifully.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But the mass setting was Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Mass for Four Choirs, which seemed beyond St Peter's choristers they didn't sound good. They also sang two settings of Tu Es Petrus, which seemed a bit excessive. The intercessions were long and seemed to be another sermon – with the word "inclusive" getting a reprise.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I did not stay, as I had a dinner engagement.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It was a formal dinner that you had to buy a ticket for. This surprised me, as other Anglo-Catholic churches in Melbourne put on good suppers that are free.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – There are friendlier Anglo-Catholic churches in Melbourne that I prefer attending, and in my opinion the music is better at two of them.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I always love going to a high mass – you know you've been worshipping God.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The cantor's singing of the psalm. She had an angelic voice that I can still remember.