|717: Blackburn Community Church of Christ, Blackburn, Victoria, Australia|
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Mystery Worshipper: Jezebel's Cat.
The church: Blackburn Community Church of Christ, Blackburn, Victoria, Australia.
Denomination: Churches of Christ.
The building: It began as a 1960s brick chapel, but seems to have had multiple makeovers and additions. There's more planned, including a café. From the street it's all pretty nondescript – shrubbery, a large wavy sign in black cement and car parking.
The neighbourhood: Blackburn is a suburb of Melbourne, about half an hour east of the city centre. It has lots of quarter-acre blocks with timber or brick-veneer homes, neither affluent nor poor.
The cast: Mr David Ratten led the service. He's the senior minister. He leads a team of specialist ministers (youth, seniors, pastoral care, etc).
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Morning, the 9.00am Service.
How full was the building?
The place was full – and it seats a few hundred. The minister interrupted his opening spiel to summon the hapless latecomers to the remaining eight chairs in the front row.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one said boo to me, or hello or good morning, nice to meet you, at any time before or during the service. As I entered the chapel, the person in front of me was greeted with "Happy Christmas" by a fellow standing somewhere near the door. But I don't think it was an official "Happy Christmas", as he looked away when I walked in.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was a metal frame construction with dark brown upholstery. It was comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The place was a-buzz, full of chatter and movement, even as the service commenced. There were lots of excited pre-schoolers with Christmas toys.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Mr Ratten said, "Good Morning and Merry Christmas. It's arrived, and as people are still coming in we're going to begin by singing a beautiful Christmas carol, O Come All Ye Faithful."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
This church appears to have no books. The Gospel reading (I think it was in the New International Version) was projected via power point presentation onto a large screen and all the words to the songs appeared there too. The only piece of paper in the pews was an envelope for the special offering which was to be donated to missionaries through the Churches of Christ Overseas Aid fund.
What musical instruments were played?
We sang our Christmas carols with the aid of a Korg keyboard and two pretty blondes wearing bright cheerful lipstick. The two young women sang a duet later in the service, accompanied by a baby grand piano. They were in tune and appeared to be enjoying themselves as they skirted the edge of "hamminess", raising their hand-held microphones to horizontal and closing their eyes in a special moment.
Did anything distract you?
I was momentarily distracted during the children's segment when the clown's nose fell off. But she was an exceptionally able clown who handled it with great aplomb, continuing to hand out lollies at "Jesus' Birthday Party" with one hand while holding her nose on with the other.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was vibrant and energetic. It really made you feel like singing. No clapping and not a hand raised in sight, but it felt alive. We sang two or three standard carols and then, on the somewhat obscure pretext that there were international visitors present, we sang a special Aussie version of "Deck the Halls", retitled, "Deck the Shed with Bits of Wattle". It goes: "Plant some kisses on the missus, Fa la la la la..., have a ripper Aussie Christmas, Fa la la la la..." You get the idea. Sensibly, the church chose to edit out the verse which says "May your fridge be full of coldies" (beer), as the denomination has traditional ties to the temperence movement. It may have been more sensible to have edited the entire song – the congregation didn't really get into it in the way they did with "Away in a Manger". Australians everywhere will probably cringe, but you can read the words here.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Four minutes, more of a talk than a sermon, and delivered from within the congregation rather than from the front.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 three points for brevity (which is a big plus on Christmas Day), one point for content and three for the presentation. The minister appears to favour a vox pop style of interaction with the congregation, using a hand-held microphone. It seemed quite impromptu and people responded well to him.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was an emotive Christmas Day rendering of the theory of atonement. It consisted of walking down to the parents of a five-week old baby called Caleb, and talking to them about how much they love their baby. He said that the young parents' love for their baby is a reflection of God's love for us, that from soon after the baby's birth the parents would be willing to die for their child, and that God sent his Son to die for us, as in John 3:16.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The clowns in the children's segment were terrific. They made their point easily and clearly (Christmas is not about shopping, it's about Jesus), and held the attention of adults and children despite the attraction of new Christmas toys – obviously a lot of shopping has been going on.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
They showed a homemade music video, the visuals being rather underwhelming, a bit blurry and repetitive. The video was produced by a member of the church – a quick inspection of members' houses to see who has pine floorboards (which featured heavily in the video) should discover the creator. It broke the flow of an otherwise focused and absorbing worship service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One man smiled nicely and a lady bumped into me accidentally (or did I bump into her? – I wasn't sure, so I did the apologising). The minister had an easy, friendly manner at the door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None offered today. Everyone dashed home to put on the roast dinner.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 The atonement theology is a concern, really, though it seems a happy, family kind of a place to be.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service and the church had an unselfconscious confidence about itself which didn't so much make you feel glad to be Christian as it made you feel normal to be Christian.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
In seven days time I will remember the minister playing with a toy helicopter, a small boy's Christmas present, to the laughter of the congregation. All very good-natured.