Mystery Worshipper: Antony Mary
Church: St Peter's
Location: Eastern Hill, Melbourne, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 May 2008, 12:00am
This English Gothic church was erected in 1847. It sits on a major intersection from which its tower and flag pole are visible for some distance around. The interior is classic Anglo-Catholic, the walls being adorned with an assortment of mediocre artwork plus 14 large stations of the cross. Some modern icons above the chancel look out of place. There is a small Lady chapel, with a shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham, and also (oddly) what appears to be a chapel for the order of St Lazarus. The choir sings from a gallery at the back. In the north transept there is a wonderful stained glass window depicting the New Guinea Martyrs, a group of clergy, nuns, and lay persons savagely murdered by the Japanese during World War II.
Melbourne's leading Anglo-Catholic church, St Peter's draws its congregation from all around; the only parishioners who appear to live in the parish are the staff. Attendance, however, seems to have declined over the years. On the day of my visit, most of the congregation appeared to be elderly ladies.
St Peter's is at the end of Melbourne city centre, surrounded by offices, parks, and a hotel. It is adjacent to the state Parliament and opposite St Patrick's Roman Catholic cathedral. Pleasant surroundings, but no local community.
The Revd Dr John Davis, vicar, was the celebrant, and the Revd Chaplain Soma, assistant curate, preached. Other clergy sat in choir but their names were not given.
What was the name of the service?High Mass
How full was the building?
Less than one-half full – about 85 persons, mostly elderly. The only young people were in the choir, and they were on scholarships, I believe.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher at the door handed me the books and wished me a good morning.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people prayed quietly, except for a woman behind me, who kept striking up conversations with other worshippers as they went past.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Mass began with the Vidi aquam: "I saw water coming forth from the temple, on the right side, alleluia."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service booklet and hymnal. The readings were printed in the booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The woman behind me kept up her chatter even after the service had started.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Bored Anglo-Catholic. A very traditional high mass straight from the Australian Prayer Book, without any deviations, it seemed. The ritual seemed confined to the sanctuary and was so formal as to be a distraction. Everything seemed distant – I would have liked some informal interaction from the celebrant, even just to welcome visitors. The congregation sang the hymns well, but two of them were related neither to Easter nor the Ascension. On balance, I was expecting better music from a church with the reputation of St Peter's.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – Father Soma is African and spoke with an accent that was difficult to understand at times.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
His text was John 17 (Jesus prays to the Father at the moment of his ascension). But he seemed to imply that Jesus was addressing his disciples, and I'm afraid he lost me after that!
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The responsorial psalm was sung beautifully by a cantor, one of the choir members.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The chattering woman behind me and the inappropriate selection of hymns.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Three people spoke to me.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no announcement during the service about coffee afterward. In fact there were no notices at all. I presume we were meant to read the bulletin, but that wasn't enough to entice me.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – The last time I was at St Peter's, the attendance was much better, with a good representation of young adults in the congregation, and the music was more satisfying. It saddened me to see how the church has fallen, especially when you consider that they have a paid music director.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not particularly. I think St Peter's is symbolic of the decline in the Anglican Church in Australia in general.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
That out of four hymns only two were about Easter and none about the Ascension.