|687: Cathedral of St Paul, Wellington, New Zealand|
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Mystery Worshipper: Arabella Purity Winterbottom.
The church: Cathedral of St Paul, Wellington, New Zealand.
The building: Apart from the gargoyles, the outside of the building looks like an unusually elegant factory. Inside it is an ice castle, with a white marble floor and white walls. However, the John Piper etched glass and the wonderful stained glass lift the general starkness of the interior. There is a most imposing four manual organ, with trumpets placed at right angles to the rest of the pipes, facing out at the congregation. Unfortunately, the building has the most atrocious acoustics, rendering all but the slowest speakers incomprehensible.
The church: The usual congregation is rather small and elderly apart from the choir. They have a new dean, who is American, so are in the process of transition to a new leadership style.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is right next door to the parliament buildings, and state funerals move from the grounds of parliament to the front of the cathedral. It is surrounded by government departments and the Catholic cathedral (with associated convent and school) is about two minutes walk up the hill.
The cast: The Very Rev. Dr Douglas Sparks, Dean of the Cathedral welcomed the congregation; the Music Director, Andrew Cantrill, conducted the massed musicians; and the clergy of 12 different religious and denominational groups (including Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu) shared in the prayers.
What was the name of the service?
Peace prayer vigil at the start of the war in Iraq.
How full was the building?
The cathedral seats around 800 and I would guess that there were at least 600 people there. It felt full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were a group of peace movement people handing out orders of service. Since almost everyone at the service knew at least one other person, there was a great deal of welcoming going on.
Was your pew comfortable?
The seating is exceptionally comfortable, being individual linked wooden chairs, with wide, low seats. There are no kneelers, but hassocks embroidered by groups from throughout the diocese are provided for those who wish to kneel. The marble floor is heated, so this isn't as penitential as it might otherwise be!
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Because of the nature of the event, the hour before the service was extremely noisy, with a group of musicians thrown together for the occasion rehearsing, clergy from various groups trying out the microphone and the congregation networking like mad.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and thank you for coming to pray with us tonight."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was in the service sheet including the readings, which were read in Hebrew and English.
What musical instruments were played?
There was an entire Suzuki trained group of small children playing violins and cellos, and the organ.
Did anything distract you?
I was singing in the choir and was distracted by trying to figure out where my choirmates were from. I knew only two others there, which surprised me. There was also an extremely cute little boy playing the violin sitting opposite me who was trying desperately to stay on his seat, which was much too high for him.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was very serious, but quite low key. The dean and the clergy were all dressed up, but the director of music was in cargo pants and a t-shirt. Nobody tried too hard to be anything more than sincere and it worked. The clergy processed in, but apart from that it was no-frills worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon, but there were 30 minutes of prayers which were as good as a sermon, led by the different religious leaders.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Most of the clergy tried to keep their prayers very simple and personal. Unfortunately, because of the acoustics it was exceptionally difficult to hear some of them. It was interesting to note that some of the Christian clergy felt the need to assert their faith rather more strongly than others.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The clergy had been invited to pray for three minutes each on the war in Iraq and their hopes for peace. I was particularly impressed with the Baptist minister and the Assyrian priest who spoke very directly and from the heart. The Baptist spoke about being a fallible human being, like George Bush and Saddam Hussein, and prayed that like him, they would be prepared to examine what believing in God or Allah really meant. The Assyrian, representing Wellington's large refugee Assyrian population, thanked God and us that the service was happening, since each member of his congregation had family in Iraq.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I loved the way that despite the extraordinary differences between the clergy present, the whole prayer time seemed like a coherent offering summing up all kinds of possibilities for our Wellington community. If everyone took the time to be part of something like this...
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The descant to the second hymn, which wouldn't have passed a high school music exam. It was truly horrible and impossible to sing. It may have sounded better than it felt.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Absolutely no one stood round looking lost! All kinds of networking was going on between the various peace groups.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Because this wasn't a regular service, there was no refreshment offered.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I'm not an Anglican, so it's unlikely I'll move from the Presbyterian church on the other side of parliament buildings.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It is always wonderful to be together with different faith groups to pray. I felt a real sense of connection with the people gathered for a serious and grim purpose.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Assyrian priest thanking us all for supporting him and his congregation, most of whom escaped from Iraq because of Saddam Hussein's persecution of Assyrian Christians.