Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, Australia

Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: Capt Bligh
Church: Christ Church St Laurence
Location: Sydney, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 June 2010, 10:30am

The building

A beautiful Gothic church erected in 1840. It is the work of the famous Australian architect Edmund Blacket, who designed more than 50 churches as well as the University of Sydney, his Tudor Gothic masterpiece. The interior is stunning, with a fine east window surrounded by a fresco by Virgilio LoSchiavo, whose work also adorns the Brisbane Cathedral. Extensively damaged by a fire in 1905, the church was restored with several structural changes made to the original plan.

The church

It is very "high church" in what is perhaps the lowest diocese in the Anglican Communion! It now stands for modern liberal Anglicanism in a rigidly conservative diocese. They sponsor St Laurence House for homeless youth and the Cana Homeless Men's Shelter.

The neighborhood

Inner-city Sydney. The Chinese suburb is nearby. It is immediately opposite the central railway station.

The cast

The Revd Adrian Stephens, rector, was the celebrant, with the Revd Ron Silarsah, senior assistant priest, preaching. Peter Jewkes was the organist.

What was the name of the service?

High Mass

How full was the building?

Half full – about 130. Definitely an elderly congregation – I was one of the youngest people there, and I am over 60!

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was given the bulletin and a mass book, but no spoken welcome.

Was your pew comfortable?

Typical wooden uncomfortableness.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very noisy, with people chattering and wandering around greeting others. This surprised me, as in the past the atmosphere was always quiet and prayerful. By contrast, in the sanctuary all was proper and slightly pompous!

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Blessed be God."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Bulletin, mass book and hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

A very fine Hill & Son pipe organ that originally graced the private residence of one Mr RA Andrews. It was obtained to replace the original organ that was destroyed in the 1905 fire. The instrument was overhauled several times during the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Did anything distract you?

The choir were to the left of the sanctuary and we were always conscious of what they were about to do. The music director stood out, and one sensed that he was in charge of everything. Surprisingly it was an all-female choir – this was the one Sunday that the men had off. The women chanting alone sounded awful!

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

Pompously Anglo-Catholic – but with long Anglican processions in and out. The distinct impression given was that the altar party were beyond us mere mortals.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

4 – Father Silarsah has a French accent and it was very hard to understand him.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He began by remembering his ordination as a deacon 45 years ago. He then switched to the achievements of age and tied it in with the Gospel reading, which was Jesus' calling of the 72 followers. We must accept what God puts in our path.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

When the choir sang the Ave Verum Corpus at communion time.

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

Four people arrived in time for communion and sat in the pew behind me. They then proceeded to chat during the communion anthem! They did not go up for communion.

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

I went to the morning tea in the hall. I was greeted by several people – but the rector went off to a meeting. I eventually sat at a table and engaged in conversation with a woman new to the parish.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Ordinary tea and cheap biscuits. There were none of the nice goodies one expects at a church like this.

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

5 – If I lived in Sydney, I'd look for another Anglo-Catholic church with a more diverse and younger congregation.

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

No more than usual!

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

That I was one of the youngest members of the congregation.

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