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||1510: St Margaret's, Mooroolbark, Victoria, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Jezebel's Cat.
The church: St
Margaret's, Mooroolbark, Victoria, Australia.
Church in Australia.
The building: Attached to an older cream brick chapel now used as
a Sunday school room, the present day chapel is a mid-80s brick building.
It has some small chunky abstract leadlight windows scattered randomly around
the exterior walls.
The church: St Margaret's shares their minister with Croydon North
Uniting. The church celebrates the fact that their buildings are used by
a wide variety of community groups. They've even put a sign about it at
the car park entrance listing all the groups. They also run musical afternoons,
regular church dinners, and music and movement classes for preschoolers.
Other social and spiritual ministries and outreaches are listed on their
website. They seem very much into helping the needy.
The neighbourhood: Mooroolbark is an outer eastern suburb of Melbourne
built largely in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. It has about 20,000 people, a busy
shopping strip and a railway station. Most people are of Anglo-European
background and commute to work. For about 100 years prior to suburban development,
Mooroolbark was a farming area. For tens of thousands of years prior to
that, it was part of the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people.
The cast: The Revd Jennie Gordon, minister. I couldn't hear the name
of the lay woman who lead the service.
The date & time: Sunday, 21 October 2007, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 60 people, almost all of them over 60 years of age. The Australian
Bureau of Statistics 2006 census states that over 5 per cent of the residents
of Mooroolbark identify their denomination as Uniting Church – so that
would be about 1,000 potential church members. Either the people of Mooroolbark
misunderstood the question or 940 were absent.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I wandered in looking a little lost and out of place and was greeted warmly
by a lady I assume was a church elder. She was friendly and informative.
But as we stood and talked, other people sidled around us avoiding eye contact.
Was your pew comfortable?
Puce coloured carpeted benches – quite comfortable as long as you didn't
have to look at them.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was rather quiet and orderly. A string band played modern hymns. Then
just before the service began, a choral recording of "There is a balm in
Gilead" was heard over the sound system. This served as a signal for people
to take their seats.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Let's stand to sing the introit together."
What books did the congregation use during the
None. Everything we needed was printed on a folded green sheet of A4, including
readings from the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and
a prayer. The songs were projected overhead.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, violin, cello, guitar. Percussion was ably supplied by the violinist's
very small grandchild with his collection of rattles. The musicians managed
to play their music seriously and with some reverence but without being
too precious about it. Including and indulging the child seemed to matter
Did anything distract you?
Hmm, buzzing microphones
they're a plague upon us. The children's talk
was interrupted constantly by wild buzzing. The minister jumped up from
her seat a couple of times to adjust them, which was distracting enough
but paled by comparison to the microphones themselves.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Traditional service with progressive content – so we sang and stood and
sat at the usual times but the words of the songs were chosen for their
contemporary reflections on the Christian life rather than on traditional
grounds. The minister wore a clerical gown (not all in the Uniting Church
do) but with a stole brightly embroidered with images of children.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 Content was creatively explored but not drawn together into one
coherent argument (though maybe not having a singular perspective was part
of the point). There was one idea in particular that grabbed my attention,
which I'll mention at the end as being something I'll remember in seven
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Pastor Jennie linked some disparate elements – the clash between aboriginal
spirituality and colonial Christian missions, the morning's readings and
the Uniting Church's Frontier
Services, which supplies practical and spiritual help to remote Australian
communities. Referring to the book The
Lamb enters the Dreaming: Nathanael Pepper and the Ruptured World,
by Robert Kenny, she related how early efforts at evangelism must have looked
to aboriginal people the white man drove them from their land (The earth
is the Lord's?) and introduced them to disease, then comforted them with
stories of a suffering saviour. A complex tale. She tied it all together
at the end by saying that in Mooroolbark we are a long way from the wilderness
of Australia's centre but that we are all one in Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in
The singing (I surprise myself!). Mercifully free of song leaders, the congregation
sang well-chosen modern hymns with thoughtful lyrics.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I hate to say this because I'm all for children participating in worship,
but the children's segment was pretty bad. I also don't like to criticise
the efforts of visibly nervous lay people: I know that letting go of your
inhibitions enough to engage a group of small children in public is pretty
challenging stuff. But from the kids' perspectives it must have been quite
incomprehensible. The message went right over their heads literally –
as it was delivered from standing height to children seated on the floor.
And then there was the whole buzzing microphone thing.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people smiled cautiously and there was a definite whiff of "Why
are you here?" Two ladies approached and engaged in conversation. One
of them summed things up well by telling me that it was mainly older people
here and that my generation (I was easily 20 years younger than she) was
poorly represented, though not at the Baptists up the road from all accounts.
Perhaps she wondered why I hadn't gone there instead. Fair enough. Maybe
I will next time.
How would you describe the after-service
The congregation made a post-service dash for the adjacent hall, where there
was fairly traded tea and coffee in smoked glass mugs – 1980s style to
match the architecture. Yellow cordial for the kids. Excellent selection
of chocolate biscuits (presumably from unfairly traded cocoa but who likes
to be picky about social justice when it tastes good), nut loaf, savoury
biscuits, and cheese snacks. Generous amounts were available and it wasn't
just cheap no-name brands, it was a good quality feed. And there were seats
for the older oldies. No sponge cake but I'm giving it four stars all the
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 It's not completely out of the question. The service spoke to the
intellect as well as to the emotions, and it was short besides! They have
a young minister who is able to speak compassionately and with broad intelligence
about being Christian in our ancient land the ability to retell the Christian
story without recourse to dogma or cliche is a rare gift. But there were
few children, teenagers or young parents. At the risk of sounding like a
sales-person, this church would ideally suit over-50s with inquiring minds
who like being on the roster a lot.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. But it's gladness tinged with sadness. I really liked the way the people
there are engaging creatively with faith and culture. However, with the
age balance so out of whack it's hard to feel hopeful about the future.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I was quite taken by a point made in the sermon and derived from Robert
Kenny's book: The white man came to the Australian wilderness with lambs
to farm and eat and a religious message about the Good Shepherd and the
Lamb of God. The aborigines responded to the dual threat of invasion and
evangelism by slaughtering the white man's sheep and leaving the valuable
meat uneaten. History explains it as an act of theft or guerilla war, but
it was here reinterpreted as a ritual getting rid of invaders and their
Lamb of God religion. I never thought of it like that before.
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