Mystery Worshipper: Womanspeak
Church: St Alban's Cathedral
Location: Griffith, New South Wales, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 January 2010, 6:00pm
The cathedral was commissioned in 1947 and the plan was completed the next year, but construction did not get underway until 1954. The finished cathedral was dedicated in 1956. Built of brick, it represents a modern and traditional fusion in 20th century Gothic style overlaid with country practicality. The architect, for example, was instructed to avoid dust-catching ornamentation. One enters via the tower porch to view an interior that is austere and modernist, but features cloistered aisles and two side chapels and some beautiful stained glass. The leadlight windows are reminiscent of the work of Walter Burley Griffin, the architect who designed Australia's capital city, Canberra, as well as the city of Griffith.
Quoting from the diocese's website: "In addition to being the parish church for Griffith, the cathedral aims to be a focus for the life of this large diocese in regional New South Wales."
Griffith is a large and sprawling city that up until this year had no traffic lights! In the 1970s the city's reputation was tarnished by organised crime and drug trafficking. Those days are long gone, however, and today's Griffith is an important agricultural centre. It is a multicultural community rich in Italian, Islander, Sik and other diverse heritage.
The Right Revd Dr Douglas Stevens, Bishop of Riverina, presided and preached, collated and installed, commissioned and licensed (phew!). He was assisted by the Revd Deacon Louis Osborne, who read the gospel, and about half the clergy of the diocese, the cathedral chapter and canons, a master of ceremonies, two acolytes, and crucifer. There were also guest clergy from other denominations in attendance.
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion, with collation of an archdeacon, installation of a canon, commissioning of a lay education officer and licensing as archdeacon emeritus and canon emeritus.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full on a hot evening.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we parked our car, someone came up to us and mentioned that there were refreshments in the hall. But as we entered the cathedral, we saw that the three sidespersons were talking amongst themselves. I had to interrupt their conversation to ask one of them for a service booklet.
Was your pew comfortable?
Wooden but comfortable pew. Comfortable individual tapestry kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Expectant and friendly as worshipers met from the far corners of the rural diocese. A half an hour of bell ringing clashing with the organ didn't encourage prayerful preparation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
A bell rang and all stood as we sang the introit hymn "God is love, let heav'n adore him." The bishop then offered the grace.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a specially prepared 20-page booklet with all the service text, hymns and responses.
What musical instruments were played?
One of the few pipe organs in Western New South Wales, a 1963 Walker, was well played and supported a small coolly uniformed choir. They came down from the choir loft to lead "Brother, sister, let me serve you," accompanied on piano, after communion.
Did anything distract you?
The organist began to play before the service began while the great peal of bells was in full swing. This created such discord that both were spoilt for anyone who was not tone deaf.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal and dignified but with a familiar family feel. Everything was done beautifully but with modesty. The master of ceremonies led each of the readers and later inductees and their supporters forward. Acolytes and crucifer, book carrier and deacon appropriately honoured the Holy Book.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The bishop was quietly but expressively spoken, smiling and making contact with his far-flung gathered flock. However, I would have rated him a 9 had his sermon been half the length it was.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Against the odds, the bishop managed to tie Luke 4:21-30 (the people, angry at Jesus' prophesying, want to throw him off a cliff) in with the roles of the inductees of the day.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion, simply and reverently conducted by a prayerful bishop with his flock gathered from over 300 kilometres on such a hot Sunday evening.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Lack of welcome at the door. Many cathedral parishes are guilty of this. They are so used to tourists and visitors, they cling to those they already know. Understandable but ineffective outreach even within their own communities.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Supper was available before and after the service. We met up with friends from afar.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Country spread with home cooked goodies, cold drinks and juice in real glasses, tea/coffee in real cups and saucers.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – All of the cathedral staff seem delightful. I could even join the choir!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The prayerfulness of those in the sanctuary and the body of Christ gathered together.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The seamless conduct of the service, despite the large number of people involved in the bringing forward of those to be inducted by their parish communities.