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  1402: Christ Church Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia

Christ Church Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia

Mystery Worshipper: Adeodatus.
The church: Christ Church Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The building: A traditional bluestone Victorian church built soon after 1850. It has a commanding view of the city skyline.
The church: A once dying parish, growing again under enthusiastic evangelical leadership. I understand there are now already 200 people with a connection to the parish. There are several discussion/pastoral groups operating, with two more being established in adjoining suburbs.
The neighbourhood: Hawthorn is a generally affluent suburb of Melbourne, featuring leafy streets, parks, tennis courts, upmarket shops and facilities. As this area is close to the city, property is much sought after and expensive.
The cast: The Rev. Mark Leach, vicar – a youngish (30s?) and enthusiastic priest. I think he said he was originally from South Africa.
The date & time: 11 February 2007, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Family Celebration.

How full was the building?
About a quarter full – a couple of dozen adults and ten or so children who left for Sunday school after about 15 minutes. I was told that from 50 to 60 in the congregation is more often the case.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A couple of friendly handshakes at the door.

Was your pew comfortable?
The usual standard wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty noisy with children running about, people chatting, and musicians practising or maybe setting the scene for what was to follow. Not what I'd call contemplative.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to church this morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books at all – an overhead screen was used for nearly everything. There was a small handout with the day's readings and other information.

What musical instruments were played?
Something that sounded like a keyboard, but it was tucked away out-of-sight in the transept so I couldn't be sure. Also, guitar and tympani, plus two female singers at a microphone.

Did anything distract you?
I didn't mind the children being children – it's great to see any of them in church these days, and anyway after they disappeared it became much easier to concentrate. But I'm afraid my heart sinks when confronted with an overhead screen in church – so ugly! A screen suggests entertainment to me rather than worship, but maybe that's my age showing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I think "very casual indeed" sums it up – no robes, organ, creed, etc. There was a short communion toward the end – very abridged, in fact the fastest I've ever participated in. Was there a confession and absolution? I suppose so, but it all happened so quickly I can't be sure now. This service was obviously aiming to reach those who don't connect with the standard fare. I expect the earlier service of holy communion may have been of the more traditional Prayer Book variety.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
25 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – On the whole an excellent sermon, delivered without notes from the centre aisle. The vicar was engaging, sincere, and fluent. He roamed about a bit with a hand-held mike, but without the excessive peregrinations of an American TV evangelist. He began (as all preachers should) by listing his major points, which were of course put up on the screen. My only gripe is that I thought the material could have been covered just as effectively in 15 minutes – but then I wasn't the one who was preaching.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on Romans 5:12-21 (which was not one the lectionary readings for the day), where St Paul contrasts the obedience of Christ to the disobedience of Adam. He asked us to remember three things: (1) We don't realise how much trouble we are in, i.e. how far sin is entrenched in our deepest selves; (2) God, however, in Jesus, has given us a far greater gift than we could dream of; and (3) God invites us, by faith, to participate in a most wonderful adventure – one beyond our imagining. (I liked this bit – rather CS Lewis.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I appreciated the community prayers, which were well done and not too long – some intercessors seem to feel the need to cover every situation and part of the globe. I also enjoyed the sermon, which was well worth listening to.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I admit I'm a bit of an old fogey and a classical music addict, so I'd find the music hard to take on a regular basis. Yes, I know God wants our worship to be sincere, but what sort of music does he actually enjoy? Hmm. The most irritating part of the service, however, came with an announcement about the new pastoral groups. This soon became a full-blown discussion and the worship ground to a halt for a considerable time. This would have been more appropriately dealt with at the conclusion of the service or at morning tea.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had a luncheon engagement so I didn't hang around.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was morning tea offered but I can't tell you what it was like.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – No doubt I'd be at the earlier service.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon – the idea of the Christian faith as a great adventure.
 
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