Mystery Worshipper: Haarold
Church: St Andrew's
Location: Cronulla, New South Wales, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 April 2010, 9:30am
A positively unique building. The domed chancel, bearing a striking resemblance to the elephant enclosure at Taronga Park Zoo, has earned this building the name locally of the Elephant House! Opened in 1935, the church is in the Byzantine architectural style and, while different from traditionally designed churches, possesses an innate calmness that can only come from approaching 75 years of worship.
The church seems particularly strong in, and proud of, its foreign missionary work, with members currently working in Addis Ababa, southeast Asia, Tanzania, and a priest assistant who has worked in both Africa and Thailand. A brief perusal of the notice board and newsletter surprisingly didn't yield any information about Sunday school, weekday clubs and societies or the like, with the exception of the friendship group being in recess for April.
Cronulla is a very quiet seaside suburb of Sydney. Approximately 20km south of the main city center, it has a mixture of retirees, young beach dwellers, and urban professionals not wanting to live in the fast paced central business district. A peninsular location, the suburb is surrounded on three sides by water. It has possibly the best beach in the area, which runs all the way up to Captain Cook's original landing point at the south end of Botany Bay.
Strangely it was never announced, and the newsletter didn't state who the celebrant was! The rector is the Revd Rich Wenden and the priest assistant is the Revd Stephen Gabbott, so it could have been either!
What was the name of the service?Holy Communion
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The earlier service was still in progress when I arrived at 9.20 and didn't finish until five minutes before the 9.30 service was scheduled to start. This meant that most of the 9.30 congregation were hanging around outside waiting to go in! I had a chat with some of the regular congregation members, and as we entered I was handed a notice sheet as a steward said "Good morning." Once in my pew, I was greeted by my neighbour, who commented on the glorious April weather.
Was your pew comfortable?
Traditional wooden straight back pew, with very welcome cushion. Comfortable it most certainly was!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Given the short time between entering and the service starting, the atmosphere was a little rushed. The organist played a few numbers; however, given either the acoustic or the lack of organ power, the organ wasn't able to foster the kind of reflective thinking that helps at the beginning of a service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Christ has risen. Alleluia!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymns for Today's Church, An Australian Prayer Book, The Holy Bible, New International Version, and a notice sheet that also included two of the hymns.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano and (I think) a flute.
Did anything distract you?
During the communion, there was the option of either taking the sacrament from the communal chalice, or picking up a small glass, offering it to the wine bearer and getting a small individual portion of the sacrament. I've experienced the chalice in every Anglican church I've ever been to, and in non-conformist churches it's generally been the rack of glasses that are passed up and down pews. But never before have I had the option of choosing how to receive the wine. It was a little distracting, as the glasses were being dispensed from the right hand side of the aisle, right in the path of people leaving the communion rail. There were a number of near misses as worshipers dodged each other! Most people went for the glasses, so the poor chalice bearer looked so despondent at being ignored by most people! Also, midway through the service, a stunningly attractive woman entered through one of the front doors. Most male heads swung to her as she entered!
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Although the service followed the Australian Prayer Book second order for holy communion, it was not stiff or regimented. The priest was fairly young and pretty laid back. There was no sung service, which was a bit of a shame, it being Easter and all. I'm pleased to say that there was no exchange of the peace, which was wonderful compared to the usual awkwardness that seems to happen. That said, I think with this particular congregation, everyone was so inherently friendly that there wouldn't have been any problems.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The priest interjected a few slightly informal, pithy statements from time to time, such as: "Now here's the good bit", "That's great, ain't it?" and "Awesome, eh?" Also, he kept asking the congregation to get in touch with him if we found anything he said challenging. Given only regulars would know who he was (see above), and the content of the sermon wasn't overly challenging (see below), this seemed a little patronising. It wasn't a bad sermon per se; it's just that there wasn't anything in the subject matter that any but the youngest members of the congregation wouldn't have heard before.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Responses to the Resurrection. He covered two principal topics: First, what does Jesus' resurrection mean for us? It is the fulfillment of God's promises to us. God's Messiah has come. Death has been swallowed up in victory. The life we live forever will be glorious, Second, what does the Resurrection require of you? Repent and believe. Live and experience.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The overall atmosphere of the service was very relaxed despite coming from the set Prayer Book. It really was fantastic to witness so many people so completely at ease with their spirituality.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The last hymn, "At the Name of Jesus (Every Knee Shall Bow)." As soon as I flipped to it in the hymn book, I was looking forward to it. A veritable barnstormer of a hymn. The organist struck up into Camberwell (which I personally think is a brilliant tune for this hymn), and besides the organ being a little quiet, all was going well. I noted that we were to sing all eight of the verses. But at the end of the fifth verse, the organist suddenly stopped! We all looked around, and the priest leaned over and whispered to the organist (which everyone could hear as he still had his mic on): "Keep going, we're not finished yet! There's another three!"
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The service overran by 30 minutes and I had an appointment in town, so I had to forgo morning tea, as it was advertised.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I think I'd be pretty happy to worship here regularly. Yes, there are things that I think should be addressed (e.g. having an 8.30 and 9.30 service every Sunday morning, although I think as of next week it will be an 8.30 and a 10.15). The people here really are very friendly and warm, and I think that that is what makes a church a real community and inviting.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. A full church, great people. Isn't that what being a Christian is really about?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The choice of sacramental vehicle and the expression on the chalice bearer's face!