Mystery Worshipper: Sancta Obscura
Church: St Luke's
Location: Taylors Lakes, Victoria, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 August 2019, 9:30am
The congregation meets in demountable buildings on a green fields site. It's comfortably set up with areas for hospitality, administration, and worship. The only real adornment to the worship space is a coloured window with a wooden cross mounted in front.
It's a local church community that is seeking to unlock the potential of the Spirit in their area.
Taylors Lake is a western suburb of Melbourne at what used to be the end of a train line. There's a huge shopping centre nearby, and a highway whooshes through the area. This is a growing area of the city, and has seen significant increases in population over the last ten years.
The parish priest led and preached. Two people from the congregation did the readings (using the Revised Common Lectionary), and four other people from within the gathering led the intercessions. Testimonies were offered by several other people in the congregation, of which more anon ...
What was the name of the service?A Service of Prayer, Praise, and Thanksgiving.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full. The congregation ranged in age from children to spritely elderly folk. People of African, Indian, Asian, Middle Eastern, as well as Anglo-Celtic heritages were present, giving the gathering a very cosmopolitan atmosphere.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The priest greeted people as they arrived at the front door, and a sidesperson distributed Bibles at the entry to the worship space. It was a warm and efficient welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
Padded benches: O happy day!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a pleasant buzz as people arrived and started visiting with each other. I was with a friend who knew a few people, and so was introduced as the gathering unfolded.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
‘Good morning, and we're doing something a bit different today. Before we sing our first songs let's do our acknowledgement of country.’
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only Bibles were handed out, the older New International Version. No other books or papers were made available to the congregation, as what was required was shown on a well-curated PowerPoint display.
What musical instruments were played?
Lots of hand percussions were played along with the recorded tracks that were used to lead the singing. None of the songs were accompanied by a live musician.
Did anything distract you?
I'm always distracted when I come into a new place. I think the biggest distraction was the handling of the collection, of which I will say more shortly.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I'd describe the worship style as a lot of residual elements. The priest was robed and wore a stole, and used a liturgical form set out in A Prayer Book for Australia, which points to a catholic style (at least in terms of Melbourne Anglicanism). I'd say the congregation has a history of charismatic renewal, given that there was a fair bit of clapping along and raised hands during the singing. The service was led with PowerPoint, and the priest used an iPad, and there were lit candles on the altar. So it was sort of formal in an informal and mildly happy-clappy way.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
75 minutes, including the testimonies that followed the sermon.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 — The priest spoke about the occasion for the service, which was a deviation from their normal offering at this time on a Sunday. The floor was then thrown open for testimonies, which ranged from stories of migration to more basic celebrations of God giving blessings.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was about the process that had led to the state government agreeing to take a lease on part of the church land to build an ambulance station. The sermon celebrated this as an expression of the parish beginning to open the potential for the Kingdom in the area, to participate in healing by making it possible for an ambulance to be in the locality. The ambulance station makes the parish more financially viable in the medium term.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It was wonderful to hear stories of how people had found the power of God at work in their lives.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The collection. There was one thing worse than the mortifying realisation that I had no money on me. It was seeing how the collection was enshrined on a pedestal before the altar. The gentleman who took up the collection brought the bag to the altar step, the priest gave it a blessing, and it was placed on the pedestal with a great flourish. One almost expected a double-genuflection.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hadn't realised the service would go for just shy of an hour and half, and had another appointment to keep. I checked in with my friends and raced off.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea, coffee, and other treats were in evidence, although their provenance and the manner of serving are not known to me.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 — I appreciated the enthusiasm of the congregation, but I thought there was a little too much obeisance shown to money.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Being in a place that celebrates the many ways in which God gives blessings.