St John Cathedral Brisbane

Cathedral of St John the Evangelist, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: Cantate Domino
Church: Cathedral of St John the Evangelist
Location: Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 March 2011, 9:30am

The building

St John's is a grand Gothic building in the Brisbane central business district. Following a design by John Pearson (the architect of Truro Cathedral), its construction lasted from 1906 to 2010, and it has been built in stages from the east end onwards. For many decades from the 1960s, the cathedral languished with an ugly temporary western facade. In 2010 the cathedral was finally completed when the western towers and spires and the last bays of the nave were erected. The cathedral is a magnificent structure now that it is complete. Architecturally, it is noteworthy for having the only completely stone vaulted ceiling in the southern hemisphere, and for its double aisles and very elegant French-style apse.

The church

This is the diocesan cathedral for Brisbane and also the metropolitan cathedral for the other dioceses in Queensland and the Northern Territory. The cathedral runs a Sunday school and is a major musical venue in Brisbane.

The neighborhood

While the cathedral now has spires to point to heaven, these are emphatically dwarfed by the skyscrapers in the Brisbane central business district. Major banks and corporations are nearby, as is the Brisbane city hall. There are also some residential areas, notably the extremely expensive high rise apartments on the Brisbane River. But on Sunday morning the area is almost eerily silent.

The cast

The Very Revd Peter Catt, Dean of Brisbane; the Revd Gillian Moses, assistant priest; the Revd Deacon Ann Solari. They were assisted by Graeme Morton, director of music, and a gathering of liturgical assistants, two crucifers, candle bearers, and the choir of boys and men.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived early to listen to the bells. I found my own order of service.

Was your pew comfortable?

A very uncomfortable pew. Thankfully, the cathedral has plans to sell all the pews and buy chairs so as to create a more flexible worship space.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I spent most of it outside enjoying the change ringing audible from the central tower. The beauty of the bells fulfilling their traditional role of calling worshippers created a delightfully anticipatory atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"O God, the Father of Heaven, have mercy."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A printed order of service with liturgy, readings and hymns. The service was taken from A Prayer Book for Australia and the hymns from the ecumenical hymnal Together in Song.

What musical instruments were played?

The mighty organ, which projects into the chancel and north transept. It is a Norman and Beard instrument from 1909, but has since been augmented and restored on several occasions. It is now a versatile and majestic instrument of over 4000 pipes.

Did anything distract you?

The building itself. I havent have had the chance to visit often since the cathedral was completed and consecrated. There is much beauty inside the building to distract the eye, including very startling modern stained glass windows, but also the proportions and grace of the overall structure.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Dignified cathedral worship. It began with a stately litany and procession of choir and clerical party. Being it was Lent, the dean and other clergy were vested in purple. The gospel was brought amongst the people, but the worship wasn't overwhelmingly high.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The Revd Gillian Moses spoke well and also offered a few well-placed jokes.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The preacher called her sermon "Falling Awake." She challenged us to think about Lent in new ways, and to think about taking up the challenge of Lent rather than the traditional idea of giving something up.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir of boys and men sang exquisitely. Being able to hear a choir of this type in Australia is a rare privilege, and I cherished the experience even more so, as the choir at this Mystery Worshipper's home church is execrable!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

One thing detracted from my pleasure in the music, and that was the two women altos who were singing with the men. I was very upset to see the purity of the choir adulterated in this way. Also the dean's participation in the service was somewhat peculiar. At salient parts of the service, such as the exchange of peace and the great thanksgiving, his face wore strangely wry expressions, and his articulation of words and gestures were curiously half-hearted, as though he couldn't quite be bothered to take it all seriously.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

One of the guides kindly offered me a tour of the building, which I didn't have time to partake of.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I went to a coffee shop afterwards.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

9 – It was a lovely service, and the music alone would be enough to draw me back often.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Overall the splendour of the building.

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