|595: St James, Sydney|
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Mystery Worshipper: Nunc Dimittis.
The church: St James, King Street, Sydney.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The building: St James was designed by Francis Greenway, originally as a courthouse, although never used as such. It is the only truly Georgian example of church architecture in Sydney, with a semi-circular apse, and a large gallery at the back. The church has a very open, expansive feel, with a large sanctuary area enclosing the choir stalls and organ, the pipes of which have been divided on either side. Beneath the church, the area intended as prison cells has become the crypt, with chapels, a columbarium, Sunday School room, and tea area.
The church: St James, being a city church, has a ministry to the law courts (the Supreme Court of NSW is directly opposite), and to Sydney Hospital, which is nearby. As a moderate middle-of-the-road High Anglican church, it has a Centre for Spirituality, the only one, to my knowledge, in Sydney. It also runs the Sister Freda Mission to the homeless.
The neighbourhood: As mentioned, the Supreme Court is directly opposite the church, with the former Mint to the east. To the south is Hyde Park; to the south-east, St Mary's Catholic Cathedral. St James owns quite a lot of property in the area, with a parish centre in Philip Street. The parish centre is on the first level of the building, the rest being let to various law firms and other businesses.
The cast: Celebrant and preacher: the rector, Rev Peter Kurti. Reader: Meredith Ryan. Intercessor: Averil Treloar. The senior associate priest, Rev John Stewart was deacon. And there was quite a crowd of servers.
What was the name of the service?
Choral eucharist (11.00am).
How full was the building?
80-100 in a building that could easily hold about 400 or more. Most people were fairly spread out.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was smiled at by the sidesperson who handed me the materials I would need.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard pew, and was ok. We didn't have to sit for long periods of time. I noticed at some stage that the pews are anchored to the floor with brass sliding pins, though there was no evidence they are ever moved. Red kneelers were provided.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was pretty noisy, due to the previous service's inclusion of a baptism. As I arrived, there were a number of small boys running around the church outside, obviously exploring.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, and welcome to St James on this chilly morning." The rector then proceeded to congratulate those of us who had come, due to the obstructions caused by the half-marathon being run today, and streets being closed. He also read the notices at this point.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A Prayer Book for Australia (which I didn't need, being very familiar with the service), The New English Hymnbook, and a pew leaflet containing everything else, including page references for the APBA in the event anyone needed them.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, and a fantabulous choir. (I believe they are professional, so just as well!) They had only one tenor, who did a stirling job.
Did anything distract you?
Where do I start? I was distracted by being distracted! Which meant I was being hypercritical... The service started with a processional hymn (St Patrick's Breastplate yay!), before the rector gave the notices. I felt the notices were something of an intrusion at this point. I was also being very critical of the vestments, which were of a very stiff cream brocade, and the device on them, which I didn't like at all kind of three crosses formed of what appeared to be stylised nails in gold thread, with embroidered sea shells. Also, the organist and choir director's cassock was way too short. On a more positive note, I couldn't get enough of an eyeful of the thurible a hexagonal affair and very ornate.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Modern or up-to-date well appointed Anglo-Catholic. By which I mean that they follow the practice of having the confession and absolution immediately after the kyrie. And the elevation/adoration of the sacrament happens at the very end of the canon, not at the consecration of each of the elements. There were several pauses throughout the service for reflection, which was nice, though different and slightly "strange."
Exactly how long was the sermon?
I didn't look at my watch at the start, and soon was caught up in what the preacher was saying. But I think about 14 minutes.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 I felt the preacher was slightly too fast, especially at the beginning. Either I got used to his style, or he settled into what he was saying, because it didn't seem so bad at the end.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Great Commission. How it is one of the few "proofs" of the doctrine of the Trinity in scripture. How "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" is a way of attempting to describe the relationships within the Holy Trinity, the nature of the one God. How we are to baptise first, and then preach/make disciples of all nations. This is often overlooked; learning and being a disciple is by virtue of the indwelling Spirit, and in part is an exhibiting of the fruits of the Spirit. Being a disciple involves obedience, and obedience depends on the relationship of love with God, in the Holy Spirit. Because Christ is sovereign, our mission can now begin.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The processional hymn ("I bind unto myself today") is one of my favourites, and in my opinion is used far too infrequently. And the spaces for meditation are something I would value very much once I got used to them being there. Often services are just raced through, with not enough pauses to consider and contemplate. Also, the anthem, "We wait for thy lovingkindness, O God," is one of my favourite favourites.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Oh dear. The service setting, Missa Aedis Christi by Mathias, I felt was more of a distraction than an aid to worship. In fact, I didn't like it at all. At St James they stand for the kyrie (I feel it is more appropriate to kneel), and on a day like to today, with a long procession, and several notices, we stood for a long time until the end of the gloria. The organ was often overwhelming of the choir, and even of the congregation. It was also rather instrusive. While I appreciated the organ preludes before the service, I felt the registration was a bit too much but then, that too might be just that the organ is too big for the church. I was not keen on the service being led from a lectern placed smack in the middle of the chancel steps, as I felt this distrupted the flow of everyone worshipping together... the "eastwards flow" phenomenon.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the postlude, the choristers started to re-enter the chancel to reclaim goods left behind, and several wandered over to me to say hi. (The church music world in Sydney is very very small.) I ended up exiting with them, rather than going out past the clergy. And so I didn't have morning tea, neither did I manage to shake the rector's hand, though I comforted myself that I would have the opportunity to do so when I came back for evensong after lunch...
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I don't know! Didn't end up getting any.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 It's a bit too distant for me, spiritually and location-wise. But if I had a choice between St James and the Cathedral St James any day!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Definitely so. The sermon was exactly what I needed to hear, and it was good to meditate again on the mystery of the Trinity.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The roof of the apse is lined in copper mosaic squares. I don't know whether it is intentional or not, but the arrangement of lights in the sanctuary is such that they reflect off the copper squares with varying intensities. They thus create an impression of two cherubim kneeling facing inwards, wings touching overhead, and worshipping the shekinah seated on the ark of the covenant or in this case, above the altar with its central cross. Very appropriate for Trinity Sunday, I thought.