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665: Wauchope Uniting, Wauchope, New South Wales, Australia
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Wauchope Uniting Church
Mystery Worshipper: Buon Natale.
The church: Wauchope Uniting, Wauchope, New South Wales, Australia.
Denomination: Uniting Church in Australia (formed by the union of Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches in 1977).
The building: An old red brick church with a sympathetic 1960s extension. I think the church may be from the 1920s, but I didn't think to check the foundation stone.
The neighbourhood: Wauchope is a small dairy farming town. It used to be a timber-cutting town until they ran out of trees. Many of the shops in the town are run by a co-operative; I imagine the town community has a long history of working together.
The cast: Rev. John Queripel.
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Day service.

How full was the building?
Mostly full, as you would expect for Christmas Day!

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was welcomed by a friendly handshake, a "Merry Christmas" and a smile by both someone outside the main entrance and from the lady handing out hymn books. People were very friendly while passing the peace.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews had nice long cushions along the seat which made them quite comfortable, but they were still straight-backed pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I loved the kitsch 1960s swing Christmas carols being played on the Wurlitzer style organ; it had me bopping along in my seat as people chatted merrily around me.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our first hymn is hymn 231: Christians, awake! Salute the happy morn."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Australian Hymn Book was used for all hymns, the Good News Bible (page numbers for readings were listed on the hymn board), Uniting in Worship (prayer book used for the responsive psalm).

What musical instruments were played?
The aforementioned organ, and the minister played some guitar when the organ wasn't used.

Did anything distract you?
First I wondered if the flowers were artificial, they seemed far too bright and colourful, but I realised they were actually extremely beautiful real flowers from someone's garden. At a few points during the service I wondered whether the cross in the sanctuary was crooked. Or maybe the ceiling was crooked. I do think it's the cross that's crooked, but only just.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Classic country-style hymn sandwich. Hymn, prayers of adoration and confession, hymn, readings, hymn, sermon, hymn, intercessions, hymn, benediction. Something like that. This is the sort of service I grew up on, so it was like being home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes including the Gospel reading.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – While the sermon was a bit more theatrical in style than my preference, the preacher made some good points. Unfortunately, I think he made a few too many good points, and could have easily cut the sermon in half for a Christmas Day service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was largely informed by the impending involvement of Australia in a war with Iraq. The parallel was between the promises of enforced peace by Herod's empire (Pax Romana) and the superpower currently promising peace to our world (Pax Americana). I liked the analogy of "This is the way we will bring peace, whether you like it or not!". This was contrasted with the peace of Christ. The message was that the greatest danger we have is not the over-commercialisation, but the over-sentimentalising of Christmas. That we need to remember that Christmas is about God joining us, and this has the power to change our world if we open ourselves to "become vehicles for God's transformative work".

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the end of the time of silent confession, the minister concluded it by singing "Lord have mercy" to a Russian Orthodox tune. It was really quite beautiful.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was utter confusion between the hymn verses. I'm not sure if the organist was waiting for the minister to launch into the next verse, while the congregation was waiting for the organist, or what, but it was a bit nerve-wracking!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't need to look lost. People were very friendly. A number of people welcomed me, introduced themselves, asked why I was in Wauchope, introduced me to their families and wished me a merry Christmas.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was no after-service coffee, probably because it was Christmas day.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely. The friendliness of the people, and the words of the sermon gave me a lot of hope for the future of the world, and a burst of energy to work harder for peace.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The concept of "peace whether you like it or not". I'm still thinking about that one.
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