Mystery Worshipper: Father Uptheback
Church: Broome Anglican Church
Location: Broome, Western Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 December 2015, 9:00am
Dating from 1908, it is a very simple building with verandah, clad in corrugated colourbond and raised slightly on stumps, like many buildings in Broome, to guard against termites. The orange-yellow colour reflects the predominant colours of the desert in which Broome stands as an oasis. It has been repaired and added to after various attacks by the tropical climate, cyclones, and the ubiquitous termites. Various modernisations have included the merciful addition of air-conditioning. It is surrounded by palm trees, poinciana and splendid tropical frangipanis, which were all in flower with a splendid display of red and white. There is a splendid stained-glass window in the sanctuary depicting Archangel Gabriel, sporting magnificent red and yellow wings, announcing to the Blessed Virgin that God is asking her to be the mother of the Incarnate Word.
This is the only Anglican Church in this community and was the pro-cathedral until the seat of the diocese was moved south to Geraldton. It is supported by the Bush Church Aid Society (BCA) and is now firmly in the Conservative Evangelical tradition. Their website describes the congregation as "an enthusiastic, multi-cultural fellowship of all ages." I must say that they have the youngest congregation I have seen for many years. They have two services (which they call "meetings") each Sunday: a contemporary service in the morning with Sunday school and (on the second Sunday of the month) the Lord's Supper, and an evening service that they call "people's church, an indigenous fellowship."
Broome is about two hours flying time from Perth, the Western Australia capital city, and is bordered by the sea to the west and desert to the east, south and north. It began life as a pearling community and still has a reputation for producing high-quality cultured pearls. Tourism is now also a major industry, and the town is also a service centre for the North-West Shelf oil industry. There are modern suburbs, whose attractive houses are built in the ubiquitous corrugated iron style. There are also modern public buildings, including the council offices, library, courthouse and regional prison. There is a substantial population of indigenous Australians who are represented across most segments of the community. Broome also holds the sad record of being a significant centre for the drug "ice" (crystal meth).
The Revd Dale Appleby, locum tenens (who prefers to be called simply Dale), was the leader and preacher. Stacey read the lessons, Steve led the prayers, Amber and Helen conducted Sunday school, Simon was on welcoming duty, and Rocky manned the sound desk. There was also a music group.
What was the name of the service?Contemporary Worship with The Lord’s Supper.
How full was the building?
The building can hold about 100 people, maybe 125 if they were up close and personal. It was comfortably full with about 85 people.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
This being the tropics, most people were standing in the shade on the verandah and pretty well everyone said hello. Rural Australia is that kind of place. Simon the Welcomer handed us a bulletin as we went in.
Was your pew comfortable?
It wasn’t uncomfortable. All the service except the singing was sitting, and since my back wasn't hurting at the end of the service, I guess it was OK.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Relaxed and informal. The music group were setting up and checking the sound system. People were greeting each other and having conversations between pews. Dale the Leader was walking around. Children were playing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It was a bit hard to know where the pre-service ended and where the service proper commenced. There was a video presentation aimed at teenagers, a “Beat Box” gospel of the Nativity with a rapper, which seemed to be the start, but it was all very laid back.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. It was all presented on a screen.
What musical instruments were played?
A couple of guitars and drums. The music was well rehearsed and well played.
Did anything distract you?
It was a totally different style of Anglican worship from the one I am used to (see below).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Contemporary relaxed and informal but definitely not sloppy! Decent and in order – very Anglican! What I would call the altar had a cross and candlesticks (but no candles) and was set for a churchmanship of earlier years. The sanctuary was not used except for the distribution of communion. The elements were on a small table at the chancel steps. Dale wore no liturgical attire, although he was decently habited in slacks and a plain white open-necked shirt.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Dale had done his work well. He communicated his ideas lucidly without any beating around, and his language was appropriate for an intelligent congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was the first of an Advent series “The King is here”, this one with the title “What about the ancestors?” He drew attention to three women who were perhaps “no better than they ought to be” or who were, to the Jewish way of thinking, outcasts: Rahab, the harlot of Jericho (who gave shelter to the spies); Ruth the Moabite woman (and what was she doing “uncovering the feet” of Boaz?); and Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite (did she have a choice when David sent for her?). All these women were instrumental ultimately in the coming of Christ. Rahab opened the way for Joshua and the tribes to conquer Canaan. Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David and therefore an ancestor of Jesus the Son of Mary. Bathsheba was the mother of Solomon (and was she the inspiration for the book of Ruth?). God doesn’t use only the “worthy” or the “important” but has a place for everyone in the grand plan. The ultimate obedience and trust is to be seen in the first woman of the New Testament, Mary, who said “yes” to God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being amongst a group of genuinely friendly people whose faith is lively and important to them.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Choruses that over-emphasize sin and blood and how totally unworthy I am and accepted only through unmerited grace are not really my thing. They all have a place, but I believe that JS Bach writes most of the music in heaven and that congregational singing should be guided by the English Hymnal and its relatives.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn’t hang around, but if I had I am sure that I would have been made to feel very welcome. However, I have not been used to 40 degree Celsius heat and dripping humidity since I left the tropics over 40 years ago, and I was longing for the coolness of my air-conditioned hotel.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
It smelled good, but had I hung around I think I would have preferred a glass of water or, better still, a cold beer!
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – If I lived in Broome I would certainly maintain the Anglican connection, but to receive the sacrament of the eucharist only once a month does not sit well with me. I would have to find a supplementary tradition.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It is good to know that I am part of a community of faith no matter how different some of our traditions may be even within the Anglican fold.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Was Bathsheba really the inspiration behind the Book of Ruth? What an interesting thought!