Mystery Worshipper: Shenton
Church: St Anthony's
Location: Glen Huntly, Melbourne, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 January 2014, 11:00am
St Anthony's is a large red brick church built in the Italianate style in the early 1920s, which was given a complete makeover and reconstruction in the 1960s. The former west front was replaced by a soaring one shaped like an inverted V, the red brick alternating with wide vertical white marble stripes. Inside there is modern timber panelling and a 1960s-style crucifix above the high altar. The reconstruction could have been a disaster, but somehow it all works, I think, and the result is impressive.
St Anthonys has a Sunday school and a childrens liturgy, and also runs playgroups during the week, mostly attended (I believe) by non-church families. The church also has an affiliated primary school. On Thursdays a team of volunteers runs an outreach programme called Tony's Café (named after St Anthony) which serves a three-course evening meal to homeless people in the area. This is supported by donations from parishioners and local businesses. The parish has recently bought a van to take donated food to people who cannot make it to the café, and to bring some people to the café. According to the website, they have recently been awarded some funding to extend this work to helping people find accommodation and equip them with some of the basic necessities.
Glen Huntly is middle-of-the-road Melbourne suburb, just south of the main Dandenong Road. As in most of Melbourne, the Anglo-Celtic population is now mixed with many Asian people, notably Chinese, Vietnamese and Indian. St Anthony's is quite close to Caulfield Racecourse, where the annual Caulfield Cup leads into the Melbourne Cup. Glen Eira Secondary College is nearby, and St Anthony's own parish school is next door to the church.
The celebrant was the Revd Msgr Gerard Diamond, long-time parish priest of St Anthony's. An unnamed woman read the scripture lesson and a man read the psalm.
What was the name of the service?Mass
How full was the building?
There were about 200 people there, in a church that could seat perhaps 350, so it was more than half full well attended.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one greeted me when I arrived about ten minutes early, so I helped myself to a pew sheet from a table at the door. There were a couple of people attending the door as the start time for mass approached.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, quite comfortable, inasmuch as pews ever are.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and reverential, though not entirely silent. Several lay people were moving about setting things up, and there was some quiet chat.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None. The words of hymns and so forth were projected onto a screen on the right hand side of the church.
What musical instruments were played?
Electronic organ only.
Did anything distract you?
The glass door by which most people came in banged three times every time it closed I must have heard this dozens of times, both before and during the service.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was fairly formal (but not stiff) Catholic worship in contemporary style. The music was not of the highest quality I would describe it as limply contemporary, with nothing to offend and not much to uplift.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
1 – Msgr Diamond came across as a priest of long experience and authority. However, his speaking style is a bit heavy-going – sparkle he does not. Possibly he is having a holiday from preaching in January. To be fair, Msgr Diamond has two big churches to look after – in 2003 St Anthonys was amalgamated with St Aloysius Caulfield, another large red brick church. I'm sure the basic reason was not financial, but the shortage of priests. He has several masses to celebrate each Sunday, though I think there is a retired priest assisting him.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The very brief homily was nothing more than a statement of what is commemorated on the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord: John baptising Jesus in the Jordan.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Not quite heaven, but this service was reverently conducted and seemly, with an involved congregation who even sang passably.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That banging door nearly drove me mad. Nothing else took me to "the other place."
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The congregation dispersed rapidly, and no one approached me. However, I spoke to a very nice woman on the church bookstall, who showed me the recently published centenary history of St Anthony's.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no evidence or announcement of tea and coffee.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – This was a good service, but it was all rather bland, with little by way of charisma or challenge. If I attended regularly, I think I would find the service dull. I missed the sermon, though a minute-long sermon is better than a long, dreary one.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The largish mixed-race congregation, with quite a few young people and children.