Mystery Worshipper: Cantate Domino
Church: All Saints
Location: Dunedin, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 February 2011, 8:30am
All Saints is Dunedin's oldest church building (a distinction that some local Presbyterian churches contest) and is a very cute brick Gothic structure. It has the atmosphere of a simple English parish church. Inside are standard pews, memorials to the fallen of the Great War, and much attractive stained glass, including windows depicting native birds. Everything from the organ to the lectern and the carpets were slightly shabby but very charming.
It is a busy parish, with a baby and toddler playgroup, a women's group, and sundry other parish groups. Overall the parish is Anglo-Catholic in tradition, but welcomes women priests.
Dunedin is the second largest city on South Island and sits in the area of an extinct volcano. There are some splendid views of the harbour and hills. The area where the church is located is mostly residential, but immediately behind All Saints is Selwyn College of the University of Otago and other picturesque university buildings. Selwyn, named in honour of the first and only bishop of New Zealand, started life as an Anglican theological college but is now a general residential college. The area bursts into life during the university terms and there are many pubs, bars, coffee shops and clubs in the area.
The Revd Esther Clarke-Prebble presided and preached.
What was the name of the service?Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer).
How full was the building?
Six people, including your Mystery Worshipper. The small congregation sat in the choir stalls.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A member of the congregation smiled and handed me the order of service.
Was your pew comfortable?
One of the choir stalls in the sanctuary. It had a cushion and was fairly comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Extremely lively, as the priest's little son was present in the transept and was making a lot of noise! This continued throughout the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed order of service from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The little boy was loud and in a very bad mood! At one point the priest broke off her sermon to explain that if anyone was wondering who had brought the disruptive child to church, she was the culprit!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very restrained and in keeping with the restrained beauty of the Prayer Book. The priest genuflected to the consecrated elements, but otherwise the service continued with little sense of ritual.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher herself acknowledged that the readings from the lectionary were quite disparate and hard to pull together. She nonetheless attempted to do so. I thought she would have been better to pick just one theme and try to develop it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Revd Esther Clarke-Prebble related Waitangi Day (a major national holiday commemorating the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand's founding document) and the centenary of the Anglican Women's organisation.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Small congregations with a Prayer Book service are always touching. It is very moving to think that congregations for centuries now have been gathering all over the globe and communicating to each other with this language.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The priest struck me as a lovely person and she made reference to her commitment to cultural plurality, which is commendable and especially important in New Zealand. But was it really necessary to refuse to read out the gender-specific words in the Prayer Book? You wouldnt muck around with Shakespeare, so why do it to a text of similar beauty, age and cultural significance?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I engaged in friendly conversation with the priest and some members of the congregation.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – It was overall a lovely service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The opportunity for quiet contemplation always to be found in a BCP said service.