St Paul's Cathedral, Wellington, New Zealand

Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, Wellington, New Zealand


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Mystery Worshipper: Cherokee
Church: Wellington Cathedral of St Paul
Location: Wellington, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 October 2006, 10:30am

The building

A modern building, constructed of reinforced concrete due to danger from earthquakes, said to be the largest Christian building in New Zealand. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II laid the cornerstone in 1954, and the cathedral was completed in the 1990s, Her Majesty again laying a commemorative stone. Its style might be called Art Deco Gothic – sort of like a medieval cathedral that someone took a trowel to and squared off all the edges. The interior is bright but rather stark, with rounded surrealistic arches and both stained and engraved glass. A huge mosaic of Christ with outstretched arms graces the wall behind the high altar.

The church

In view of its location, it has both a regular congregation and also attracts visitors to the city. It is also the venue for official governmental religious occasions.

The neighborhood

It is across the road from the New Zealand Parliament buildings and in the midst of various government offices.

The cast

The Very Revd Frank Nelson, dean, assisted by the Venerable Judith Hardie, canon in residence.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?

There were about 100 people altogether, about a quarter of the total capacity.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

As soon as we entered the building, a sidesman welcomed us with a "Good morning" and asked if we were visiting or staying. We were given some leaflets and shown where to pick up our hymnbooks.

Was your pew comfortable?

There were chairs instead of pews and they were quite comfortable, slightly contoured for a cosy fit! Several had been donated by people or groups whose names were on a plate on each seat.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

At first, the choir were rehearsing, a real bonus for me (see later). After that, the atmosphere was very quiet and reverent. Conversations, if any, were whispered.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to our cathedral this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Common Prayer, Common Praise, The New Zealand Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. In keeping with the surrealistic style of the cathedral, some of the organ pipes were mounted horizontally and looked quite unusual.

Did anything distract you?

The mosaic of Christ was quite beautiful, and I kept looking at those horizontal organ pipes.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Very formal.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – A clear, straightforward exposition on how the humanity of Jesus serves as a model for us all.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Our language always betrays us and shows others what we are. In the same way, the Beatitudes reveal who Jesus was and are not just a set of abstract values, and we should want to learn from them. Jesus was a man for others who could rejoice or weep whenever others did the same. Jesus gives himself as a gift to us in the eucharist. We should look to ourselves – are we too inhibited or can we take the risk and follow Jesus.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir took a major part in the service, singing many of the responses, the psalm and a piece during communion. Their singing was quite sublime.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

That said, the choir did tend to dominate the proceedings as if it were giving a concert. The congregation's role seemed decidedly secondary. It would have been nice to have been able to take part in the responses and the psalm. I also thought the verger's summoning and escorting each reader to and from the lectern was a bit off-putting.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I had spotted a former colleague during the service, and so I went over to speak to him. However, when our conversation was over, no one else seemed interested in visiting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea and coffee were available. Both were hot and served in cups with saucers. I could not tell where they had come from, but as the cathedral is committed to Fair Trade I would expect that they were in compliance.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

2 – Although I am not a happy clappy person, I felt that the style of worship was too formal for my taste. I would like to have been able to participate more in the service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Not particularly, as I did not feel part of it at all.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The clear, beautiful singing of the choir.

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