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|1571: St George's Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia
Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia.
Church of Australia, Diocese
St George's is a 19th century brick cathedral, designed by the
colonial architect Edmund Blacket, who also designed the Anglican
cathedrals in Goulburn, Sydney and Hobart but who never actually
visited Perth. Its battlemented bell tower was put up in 1902
as a memorial to Queen Victoria. The cathedral is brick inside
and out but the columns in the nave are a dark marble. The stained
glass and furnishings are all very Victorian, but the hammer
beam roofs are gloriously intricate and made from beautiful
dark timbers. There are a couple of lovely surprises in the
north transept: a 15th century statue of St George and steps
leading down to an underground chapel. The cathedral has recently
undergone a very thorough restoration and absolutely sparkles.
The cathedral has daily services using both the Book of
Common Prayer and the Australian Prayer Book.
It maintains the tradition of evensong with a choir of men and
Perth, in Western Australia, is the country's fourth largest
city. It enjoys hot, dry winters and cool but pleasant summers,
the temperature having fallen below the freezing point only
once on record. St George's is in the centre of Perth. The town
hall in nearby and the governor's residence (another brick Victorian
creation) is across the road. The cathedral seems to be rather
stranded on a busy road and is now surrounded by office buildings
with limited open space from which to view it. The city library
is next door.
Almost everyone was there except the Archbishop of Sydney! Presiding
over the consecration and the eucharist was the Most Revd Dr
Roger Herft, Archbishop of Perth. The sermon was delivered by
the Most Revd Dr Phillip Aspinall, Primate of Australia and
Archbishop of Brisbane. Also in attendance were the Most Revd
Dr Philip Freier, Archbishop of Melbourne; the Most Revd Jeffrey
William Driver, Archbishop of Adelaide; the Very Rev Dr John
Shepherd, Dean of Perth; the Revd Canon Tony Murray-Feist, precentor;
and all of the cathedral's clerical and lay canons. In the three
processions were many diocesan bishops and visiting bishops
and clergy, including area deans and archdeacons, ordinands,
deacons and parish clergy, episcopal chaplains, retired archdeacons,
bishops, and archbishops (including the Most Revd Dr Peter Carnley,
who as archbishop of Perth officiated at the first ordination
of women priests, including Kay Goldsworthy); the Rt Revd Victoria
Matthew, Bishop of Christchurch (a woman, please note); the
chancellor and deputy chancellor of the diocese in full court
dress; various acolytes, vergers, thurifers and crucifers; as
well as the clerical and lay presenters for the new bishop.
Also there were the elders of the Noongar people, whose "welcome
to country" ritual began the service; members of other Christian
faiths including a Benedictine abbot, the representative of
the Uniting Church,
and a Buddhist monk. The choir of men and boys was directed
by Joseph Nolan, the master of the choristers. The organ was
played by Mr Stewart Smith.
The date & time:
22 May 2008, 7.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
The Consecration of Kay Maree Goldsworthy, Priest, as Bishop
in the Church of God.
How full was the building?
The cathedral nearly exploded, I would say. All pews were full.
I arrived 45 minutes early and even then I had to stand up the
back. Some estimates indicated 800 people; I would put it nearer
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was met at the west door by a girl from an Anglican school
who gave me the order of service. To get to the door, I passed
through the smoke from an aboriginal smoking ritual, of which
more below. Some lucky souls had tickets and were conducted
to reserved pews. I didn't get to stray far from the west door.
Was your pew comfortable?
A pew? I wish! I stood up at the west door, but by the end of
the service I was squatting on the floor, which was actually
worse than standing. It was all very uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was hard to hear oneself think in there! The cathedral veritably
throbbed with activity as ushers and vergers tried to accommodate
the late arrivals, camera crews and journalists readied themselves,
and the congregation roared with conversation. And still people
poured through the doors.
What were the exact opening
words of the service?
They were spoken by the elders of the Noongar people in their
own language. The service began with an aboriginal smoking ceremony,
an ancient custom involving the burning of various native plants
to produce smoke, believed to have cleansing properties and
the power to ward off bad spirits. Elders of the Noongar people
entered the cathedral to the sound of didgeridoos (indigenous
wooden pipes). Gradually the noise of the didgeridoos blended
with the sound of the organ and the clergy processions entered
through the wreaths of smoke which billowed into the cathedral
from outside and which blended with the incense. It was highly
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
A printed order of service contained the liturgy (adapted from
the Book of Common Prayer service for the consecration
of bishops) with hymn texts (without melody line) and the setting
for the ordinary of the mass, which was sung to the Celebration
Mass by Phillip Matthias for cantor, choir and congregation.
The order of service contained full lists of which clergy comprised
which procession (very helpful for a Mystery Worshipper!) and
a preface explaining the significance of the episcopacy and
the apostolic succession.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ. St George's actually has three pipe organs, all
traditional instruments. One is a small continuo organ, but
there is a large organ in the west gallery and a choir organ
in a loft in the chancel. These last two are separate instruments,
but electronic override means that they can be played as one
instrument, as indeed happened at this service. The organ accompanied
congregational hymn singing, plainsong chanting, and the choir's
anthems by Parry, Handel and Palestrina.
Did anything distract you?
Mainly where I had to stand and crouch. The large ornate pillar
which held up the organ loft was in my line of vision, until
I became ruthless and pushed my way in front of some people.
By the end of the service my feet were very tired, so I tried
sitting on the floor. But this was amazingly unpleasant – the
floor was cold and hard and I lost all circulation in my legs.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
As high as one can get without going into orbit. The highest
ritual, of course, surrounded the actual moment of consecration.
As the archbishop, choir and congregation chanted the Veni
Sancte Spiritus, the new bishop prostrated herself on the
floor, and as the archbishop prayed over her, two deacons held
a gold embossed Bible above her head as a symbol of the primacy
of the scriptures under which she would teach. There were many
genuflections all round as aboriginal ceremony merged with Anglican
ritual. However, it took the new bishop a few moments to find
a comfortable position on the floor. All in all, the impression
was of church traditions being thrown open to a new age in the
midst of very traditional and quite opulent ritual.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 Archbishop Aspinall steered a scholarly course through
a highly politically charged subject. He spoke in a very measured voice, but laid peculiar stress on certain words. For instance, he managed to pronounce "Thursday" as a three syllable word. While most of the sermon was on the significance of consecrating a woman to the episcopate, I thought he spent a little too long explaining why the service took place on a Thursday rather than the Sunday called for in the Book of Common Prayer.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Naturally his sermon was about the meaning of the consecration
of a woman bishop, which he noted was the "breaking of the stained
glass ceiling." He opined that many people would see importance
in Bishop Goldsworthy's appointment. However, it more deeply
signifies women being brought fully into the ministry. The consecration
of a bishop transcends earthly concerns over gender equality.
Which part of the service was like being in
Where do I start? Mostly, this was history in the making and
the moment where the mitre was placed on Bishop Goldsworthy's
head wasn't so much heavenly as electrifying. In a different
sense, the address by the chancellor when the Archbishop of
Perth called for the authority for consecration to be read was
quite captivating. The chancellor, a QC, explained in great
detail the legal and constitutional basis for the consecration,
especially the amendment to the Constitution of the Anglican
Church of Australia which allowed the consecration to proceed.
Normally it would have been laboriously tedious, but behind
the legal dryness was a clear sense of quiet revolution, as
the chancellor explained the legal means by which a woman could
become a bishop. It was all very momentous.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Mostly there was the anxiety that in the event of a bomb scare
we would all have been crushed to death in trying to evacuate
the cathedral. This is no exaggeration. The service some years
ago when the first women priests in Australia were to be ordained
was brought to a halt by a maniac threatening to blow up St
Paul's Cathedral in Melbourne. I seriously anticipated that
there would be some attempt to halt or generally disrupt the
service. I saw in the papers the next day how relieved cathedral
authorities were that no threats had been made. On a more mundane
level, a man behind me sang all the congregational responses
and hymns very enthusiastically but had an astonishing voice:
it was not only disastrously out of tune, it also seemed to
detach itself from the wider body of sound and float right into
my ear. It spoilt my enjoyment of and participation in the sung
parts of the service.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was swept out of the cathedral on a tide of people. With movement
like this, any attempt to stand around looking lost would have
resulted in my being crushed.
How would you describe the after-service
By the time the service finished, it was well and truly past
9.00pm, and I had to walk back to my hotel through some very
dark and rather intimidating streets. So I left and didn't stay
for the drinks in the governor's residence!
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 It is really very hard to say. The service was overwhelmingly
atmospheric and the whole event was quite heady, a combination
of worshipping in a cathedral pulsating with people while history
was being made. But very few services are like this. I doubt
the consecration of a male bishop would have quite the same
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Rather it made me excited to be an Anglican.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All of it really. The occasion was inexpressibly momentous as
Australia's Anglicans gained their first woman bishop. Most
of all I will remember the palpable excitement, not a sensation
one encounters very often in church.
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