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280: Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, Australia
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Christ Church St Laurence, Sydney, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Intrepid Thurifer.
The church: Christ Church St Laurence, George Street and Railway Square, Sydney, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: Nineteenth-century Victorian sandstone church with tower and peal of bells.
The neighbourhood: Inner city, adjacent to the railway terminal of Sydney.
The cast: The celebrant, the acting Rector Fr.Graeme Napier, plus a deacon, a female sub-deacon, MC and thurifer, boat boy, crucifer, two acolytes, an assortment of six eucharistic torch bearers of various ages and sizes, a couple more that we couldn't account for, and the preacher, Fr. Geoff Smith, from the Anglican Board of Mission.
What was the name of the service?
High Mass.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The usher said good morning to my friend and myself as she handed us the books.

Was your pew comfortable?
Less so than most pews. The seats were very narrow and the kneelers were flat vinyl pads with very little padding.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was the peal of bells, which was pleasant to listen to. The MC was very busy in the sanctuary and there was quite a lot of chatter from the men behind us.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The introit was sung by the choir, followed by the asperges. The "Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit..." was sung by the celebrant.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The New English Hymnal, a high mass service leaflet and a readings leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
A very fine pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
The gentlemen who arrived with a cup of coffee in a polystyrene cup and sipped it all the way through the mass. Also, the celebrant, deacon and sub-deacon wore birettas on entry to the church and on leaving after the mass, but they were not used during the mass. I found this incidental use of birrettas strange, given that the liturgy had been modernised and the mass was said facing the people.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was traditional anglo-catholic with some modern aspects to it. The mass was sung facing the people with a celebrant, deacon and sub-deacon. This is the first time I have seen this done.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
About a 7.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The infinite quality of God's love for us and how at times our love can be inward-focussed instead of outward, as God's is for us. We can change this through love for our enemy. The preacher then related the gospel to the work of Anglican Board of Mission in Papua New Guinea.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir was very well coordinated and in complete harmony. One of the best choral performances of Byrd's "Mass for Four Voices" I've heard.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The deacon's painfully slow and soft chanting of the Gospel, which at times was completely out of tune. And communion was so rushed that the chalice was presented before one had a chance to consume the host.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We followed others to the hall for refreshments. It was a little difficult to look lost as I had a friend with me, but we did stand around for at least 10 minutes before anyone approached us. All of a sudden, a very cordial man appeared from nowhere... we have a sneaking suspision that he may have been tipped off. Other than that, no one else spoke to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Weak, plunger coffee in a polystyrene cup, offered at 50 cents a cup. There was also wine and beer on offer at $2.50 up.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Since it's the most anglo-catholic of only three catholic parishes in the staunchly evangelical Diocese of Sydney, I would give it a 10, as it is the only parish I could worship in if I lived in this diocese. However, given the choices I have in my own diocese, and if this parish was located there, I would only give it a 5.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Any worship makes me glad to be a Christian. However, anglo-catholic ritual in a truly staunch evangelical diocese which has little tolerance of the catholicity of the Anglican Church, for me is a bit of a snub at this diocese. I admire this church's stand for the cause of anglo-catholics in this particular diocese.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The white gloves of the servers, which they put on and peeled off at various times during the mass.
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