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420: St George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia
Other reports | Comment on this report
St George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia
Mystery Worshipper: A Coot by Any Other Name.
The church: St George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: Victorian Gothic Revival style (so the history says) with a jarrah nave altar, a rood screen-covered chancel arch, through to a hanging lamp of presence, a tatted-to-the-max alabaster reredos and a white sandstone high altar. The choir is lit by rows of candles each of which, sneakily, has a small light at its base. Comprehensive architectural and historical information can be found on the webpage.
The church: Congregation mix was unremarkable when I attended, Anglo-Australian ethnicity except for one Chinese-Australian choirboy. The youngest congregant was aged 30ish, but 40s, 50s and 60+ were equally represented. In addition to the faithful life-long congregants, the cathedral is said to be the place of repose for wounded ducks and people who have quarrelled with their parish rectors or are unsatisfied by their local churchmanship. I expect most come from outside the parish boundaries.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is located in the heart of the central business district, on busy St George's Terrace. During services there is free parking in the Law Chambers car-park. Opposite is the Supreme Court and Supreme Court Gardens which can be rough occasionally.
The cast: The Dean – the Very Rev. Dr John Shepherd; the Precentor – Rev. Canon Nigel Mitchell; Canon Pastor – Rev. Canon Theresa Harvey. Address given by Mr Peter Stewart.
What was the name of the service?
Choral evensong on the Feast of St Frideswide.

How full was the building?
Very sparse! 40 congregants in a building that seats 900 and 31 of the cast sitting in the choir.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher handed me the combined service book and the hymnbook with a warm, dignified greeting.

Was your pew comfortable?
A bit of a creaky, single-bar-at-the-back job. Serviceable, but could be nightmarish in an extended festival.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Sacred. I arrived about five minutes early and the cathedral bell-ringers were still going at it. People quietly took their seats or knelt while the organist played a prelude. There was no chatter.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service booklet/pewsheet; and New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ (with four consoles!).

Did anything distract you?
I rather thought I might have to covertly cry during the sermon, which started off sounding like just another rant about refugees. The church blithely ignoring the need and inequity in its own backyard is getting to me at the moment.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Restrained, reverent and formal.

St George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I didn't have a watch, but I'd estimate 17 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – He read from notes, but his delivery was good and he made frequent eye-contact with the congregation. Had I not seen the notes I would not have known it was read. I can't be sure, but from references in the address the preacher appeared to be a guest from the Social Justice Commission of the Roman Catholic Church.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Compassion and the church: the church as an agent for compassion. It was one of a series of sermons on compassion and agents of compassion e.g. law, media, arts. Emmanuel suffered with us and was close to us. We can never know the compassionate God if we don't understand him as a man of deep compassion who lived among us. Love requires action, and compassion leads to works. Mr Stewart spoke of the works of mercy, and called on us to act on Matthew 25 not only through church agencies but on a personal level. He even suggested using church halls to provide emergency shelter for the homeless when the refuges are full.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It will seem a strange thing to find heavenly, but it was the reverent and stately manner of the dean's verger, where he bowed to each lector before leading them, staff aloft to the lectern, and bowed once again before they ascended it.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I can't really find anything to be aggressive about. The green, yellow and red strips of diaphanous material (chiffon?) bowing down from the roof, the length of the nave aisle, were pretty grisly. The verger and verger's assistant stripped off before the postlude ended. And one of the lay clerks rolled his eyes as he walked past me. Minor things.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The canon pastor, who knows me vaguely, was very friendly and came to chat. Part way through the service I'd decided to do this Mystery Worship report, so I got to ask some questions which helped with it.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The cathedral is one of the few well-appointed tat-boxes in the diocese of Perth. Tat and procedure are of a high standard, but the theology is somewhat liberal for my tastes. I went for the free music (Tavener and Purcell), and I'll probably drop in there whenever I get desperate for an experience of the sacred.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
A bit. It gave me some solace which is about all I could ask for at the moment.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
On the way to church, I walked through the Supreme Court Gardens and a 30-something aboriginal bloke and a white street-kid standing in a doorway greeted me. We chatted briefly and he asked if I'd like to share his joint and get some conversation, but being on my way to church I declined. I was touched by their friendliness, but unfortunately, they were gone on my way back. I wish the church was this friendly.

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