St Stephen's, Bayswater, Victoria, Australia

St Stephen's, Bayswater, Victoria, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: QueenKate
Church: St Stephen's
Location: Bayswater, Victoria, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 21 September 2008, 9:30am

The building

The building is about 30 years old and has recently undergone some renovations inside. The worship space is roughly square, with the aisle running diagonally across it, and with the sanctuary in one corner. Entry is from the back of the worship space via a narthex that joins the church proper to a well-equipped hall. The buildings are all brightly lit and kept at a comfortable temperature.

The church

They worship in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, with both a said and sung mass on Sundays and a said mass on Wednesdays and feast days of saints. They conduct a healing service on the first Sunday of each month.

The neighborhood

Bayswater, a suburb of Melbourne, was founded by German immigrants in the 1860s and saw another wave of German settlers during and after World War II – the latter being members of the Tempelgesellschaft, a Christian sect sympathetic to the Nazis and declared enemy nationals by the British. Nearby is the Dandenong Ranges National Park, whose dense rainforest and fern canopy conserves remnants of the original vegetation that once covered the entire Melbourne area. The church is not on a main road, but in a residential area. There is a primary school immediately across the road.

The cast

The Revd David Mc Millan, vicar, was the celebrant. John Brown, vicar's warden, preached.

What was the name of the service?

Mass (Second Order of Holy Communion).

How full was the building?

About half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The steward said hello and handed me a service book, several pieces of paper, and a pen.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, it was comfortable despite being wooden with no cushion. Nor were there any rails for kneeling, but the floor was carpeted and the pew in front was a good height for resting my elbows on while I knelt and prayed.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was some setting up being done in the sanctuary, and the vicar's warden had a few things to organise. Despite this, there seemed to be an attempt at keeping it peaceful.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Hello and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A slim volume containing only the part of the Prayer Book required for the eucharist. Words of songs were displayed on a screen via a projector mounted in the ceiling. That was done tastefully and discretely.

What musical instruments were played?

Electronic organ. About eight people formed a choir who led the singing of the psalm and who sang during communion.

Did anything distract you?

The bright yellow, ill-fitting robes worn by the choir. While it seems appropriate in an Anglo-Catholic parish to have the choir wearing robes, it would have been more dignified if they had not.

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

The service was comfortably Anglo-Catholic, following the Prayer Book. The hymns were traditional. The saying of the Alleluia before the gospel reading and the singing of some Alleluia song after it was a bit pretentious and seemed out of place in September (i.e. not Eastertide). A bell was rung in the sanctuary during the great thanksgiving, indicating that they see themselves as more than moderately Catholic.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

6 – The vicar's warden spoke well enough for a layman, but his presentation was purely about the financial state of the parish, with almost no theology or reference to the readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about the financial assets of the parish, and challenged the people not to see themselves as a poor parish. They were asked to imagine how well-off the parish would be if everyone on the roll attended every Sunday, and if they all tithed. He outlined some upcoming projects, and encouraged people to give as much as they felt God enabled them, reminding them that all things have been created by God, and that we should "give to God what is God's."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The atmosphere during the eucharist. It was dignified, meditative, and quietly joyful. The choir sang "Seek ye first" (with harmonies), and it added to the beauty and prayerfulness of the sacrament. I really felt a sense of the presence of the Spirit and a sense of community within the congregation during the eucharist.

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

Toward the end of his talk, the vicar's warden singled out a member of the congregation by name, and asked if she were sleeping! It was most embarrassing. The congregation sang the Lord's Prayer, which I found quite exclusive. This is one aspect of the service that should unite all Christians, but I was unable to join in as I did not know the tune.

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

A member of the vestry came and spoke to me immediately after the service. I was invited to join them for a cuppa, during which time the vicar and two members of the congregation spoke to me. They asked which parish I come from, how many people attend there, and my role within my own parish.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Tea and instant coffee in cups and saucers were available at the servery window in the kitchen. Chocolate biscuits and apple tea cake were set out on a table for everyone to enjoy.

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

8 – My reservations about making this my regular church would be the lack of children in the service, though it must be noted that it is school holidays. In addition to this, the service felt somewhat inward-focussed. The singing of various parts of the service, in addition to the sung eucharistic setting, was a bit alienating, and I don't think the congregation even realised that this was the case. That aspect of it was very in-house. Having said that, the service followed the Prayer Book, the hymns were traditional, and, overall, it was user-friendly.

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

Yes. I enjoyed singing hymns that were well-known and well-sung, and taking part in a service of common worship that united me with the saints across time and space. The atmosphere was reverential and sure.

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

The singing during communion – it really was very well done, and created a beautiful atmosphere in which to receive the Sacrament.

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