Mystery Worshipper: Pheeno
Church: St James Memorial
Location: Orbost, Victoria, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 December 2006, 9:30am
Completed in 1928 as a memorial to soldiers in World War I, this is a typical Anglican stone church sitting on a corner lot surrounded by a fence. There is a tower but they never got around to building the spire; instead, a tall flagpole tops it off. The interior is plain with a few stained glass windows commemorating the area's war dead. Two in particular, one depicting St Martin of Tours and the other the Ascension, captivated our attention.
St James is one of many churches all located along the same street. They make their parish hall available for hire by local groups.
Orbost is a small town on the river flats of the Snowy Mountains in the Gippsland region of Australia, where snow fields, rain forests, beaches and farmland make for a diversity not seen elsewhere. The rich river flats sustain agriculture, particularly vegetables, beef and dairy cattle, alongside the timber industry. No fewer than 27 sawmills are in operation here. If you stay in Orbost for a few hours you will quickly realise how important timber is to the region's economy, as huge timber trucks pass through the town centre on their way to the mills. Sadly, the region currently suffers from drought.
The Revd Jim Reeves.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About a third full – in good Anglican tradition most people sat up the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
It was most impressive to be greeted with a smile and a hello before we had got out of the car. As we walked up the street footpath, we were cheerily greeted from someone in the church grounds with a big smile and wave. Mind you, none of the congregation actually asked us our names or gave theirs to us. However, they were most pleasant in every other way.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were made of blackwood – a beautiful timber – and were actually reasonably comfortable. But as a memorial to World War I, they reminded us of trenches. They were big, wide and deep, with plenty of space between them. When we first sat down, we found ourselves peering over the tops. We got a friendly wave from someone in a "trench" further forward, somewhat like a flag in the distance. No problem for people who are long sighted, because the book rests were a good arm's length away.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
As we got to the front door, the Uniting Church across the road was in full and wonderful voice. Inside, we snuggled down into our trench accompanied by soft organ music. Other people entered quietly, but it was hard to tell what was going on due to the depth and height of the trench, sorry I mean pew.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to St James. My grandson has arrived, so we can begin."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Prayer Book, Australian Hymn Book, pew sheet with the readings on it.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The priest's grandson ran round about the place until someone finally retrieved him from the sanctuary. As he was being carried off, he gave the congregation a very cute little wave. But that was nothing compared to the singing of one particular individual (see the hellish bits below). No wonder there was a three pew gap around the person.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was a straightforward middle-of-the-road Anglican service. No one got overly exuberant, and the hymns were good but traditional.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – Not bad, but not remarkable either, until toward the end, when he issued us a great challenge.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Reeves spoke about Jesus and his relationship to his family and cultural context. We are challenged to be a part of Jesus' family and to live appropriately, and to look at our own family relationships.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
We lost ourselves gazing at the stained glass windows. A particularly touching moment occured during the second hymn, when the priest quietly went to the back of the church to fetch a large print hymn book for someone having trouble reading the standard book.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The horrendous singing from one individual. He was bellowing out an approximation of the tunes with gusto and obvious enjoyment. We only hope that some angel sorted the notes out before they reached heaven! The initial shock of it made us think that we should have gone to the Uniting Church for the singing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't have time to look lost. Several people had noticed our interest in the windows and were quick to give us a brief history of them. Following that, they told us where refreshments were to be found.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was dreadful, cheap and nasty, served in ordinary mugs. However, the food was really good – nothing like country home style cakes, sandwiches, and biscuits with chocolate. Most of the congregation sat around a table in the hall and chatted.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – Orbost is a long way from home, but if we could move the church closer we would. It was generally nice.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It was a comforting service. It didn't make us feel on fire, but didn't drag us down either.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The bellowed singing.