Mystery Worshipper: St Francis
Church: Gosnells Baptist
Location: Perth, Western Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 25 April 2010, 10:00am
The building is modern with a large foyer, auditorium and adjoining hall.
The church has Boys and Girls Brigade companies, a craft group, playgroup and seniors activities. It also runs Highways Café, which provides meals at no cost every Monday evening to needy people in the local community.
Gosnells is a suburb of Perth, situated in the foothills at the base of the Darling Scarp some 20km south-east of the city. The suburb has for some years been a little neglected, but over the last decade the state government has spent a lot of money regenerating and improving the facilities of Gosnells.
The service was led by Laurie Clarke, communion was led by Kelvin Fairclough, and the preacher was the senior pastor, Ralph Terry.
What was the name of the service?Morning Service.
How full was the building?
The auditorium holds a total of about 200 people and it was very comfortable with about 150 people attending.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A very friendly man at the front door shook my hand and gave me a copy of the bulletin as I entered the church.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating was in the form of plastic, stackable chairs. Unfortunately, each chair was attached closely to its neighbour, giving new meaning to "intimate fellowship"!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a slight murmur of noise as people spoke to friends and family. No music was playing.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, welcome along to Gosnells Baptist. If you're a visitor we welcome you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There were no service sheets or Bible provided, as the words to all the songs and Bible verses were projected onto two large screens.
What musical instruments were played?
The music was provided by a band comprised of piano, violin, bass guitar, trumpet, clarinet and drums. Five vocalists sang into microphones. All the songs were played in the same style, which seemed to iron out all rhythm and syncopation and make the different songs rather indistinguishable.
Did anything distract you?
The service was held on 25 April, which in the antipodes is known as Anzac Day. This is a solemn day commemorating the moment in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops, for the first time in their brief history, went into battle by invading Turkey at Gallipoli. Tragically, the British generals commanding the Anzac troops sent them in to land at dawn in the wrong place. Instead of landing on a gently sloping beach, as was intended, they were landed at the foot of cliffs guarded by Turkish machine gunners, with the result that thousands were mown down. The service at Gosnells Baptist started by the congregation being asked to stand and sing the Australian National Anthem (a first for me in church), then watch a 15 minute PowerPoint praising relatives of church members who had served in various wars. I had a sinking feeling that I was in the Deep South of the United States as the patriotism surged around me.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was basically contemporary and the congregation sang strongly. But, as previously noted, the music was played in a generic style with little light and shade or syncopation.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 — The pastor's words were thoughtful, succinct and challenging.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
My heart sank when the pastor started his sermon with the words "Ninety-five years ago today the Anzac diggers landed at Gallipoli." I steeled myself for a jingoistic talk on war and soldiers. However, his next words were from Ephesians chapter 6: "Our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers." He then moved onto James chapter 4: "What causes fights and wars among you?" Pastor Terry then proceeded to encourage us to challenge ourselves about our feelings and actions.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon was excellent, and was easily the most memorable part of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a 15 minute communion time during the service, and it was troubling that all those who played an active part were male: those who prayed, the person who led, and all those who distributed the elements. Even though I'm a blokey Aussie, it troubled me that something that should be welcoming and affirming was deemed unsuitable for women to play any role in.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get the chance to hang around, as the moment the pastor said Amen after the final prayer, the young woman sitting next to me, Jane, turned and welcomed me in a very friendly way and we sat and talked for about 10 minutes. She was genuine and very welcoming.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Because I talked so long with Jane, I didn't get to taste the coffee or tea that was on offer.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – While there were some parts of the service that brought me closer to God, I really missed having a worship time as a central part of the service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The friendliness of people and the challenging sermon did make me glad to be at the service and to be a Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The absence of a worship time was baffling and disappointing. In a 90 minute service, to not even have 10 minutes of worshipping God was a tragedy. The songs were all sung once only, and then we sat down. There was no lingering in God's presence and telling him we loved him.