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1623: Christ Church, Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia
Christ Church, Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: MMcKillop.
The church: Christ Church, Brunswick, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia, Diocese of Melbourne.
The building: Christ Church is one of Melbourne's oldest churches, dedicated in 1857. Unusual for an Anglican church, it is a delightful Italian Renaissance building with a Romanesque campanile that was added in 1875. Inside, however, it is pure Anglican, with eastward facing altar, four candles and plain cross. There is a Lady chapel altar with riddel posts.
The church: One of Melbourne's traditional Anglo-Catholic churches, its great boast was that mass was celebrated according to the Sarum tradition, including the offertory procession from the Lady chapel altar. In the 1980s Christ Church was one of Melbourne's leading parishes, gathering people from all over because of its traditional liturgy and excellent choir. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer is still used on Sundays. They celebrate low mass each weekday, with some masses following the form of A Prayerbook for Australia. They also celebrate two masses and evensong each Sunday. They conduct several missions and outreaches to troubled youth, the homeless and the needy.
The neighbourhood: Brunswick is an inner-city Melbourne suburb once known for its quarries and brickworks. It experienced large waves of immigration after World War II, coupled with socio-economic woes as the brickwork industry declined. Gentrification has brought with it an influx of singles and young couples, but they do not seem interested in church. Anglicans are in the minority and even the Roman Catholics are struggling.
The cast: The Revd Robert Newton, vicar, was the celebrant and preacher. There was no deacon – just a young man dressed as a subdeacon.
The date & time: 19th Sunday after Trinity, 28 September 2008, 9.30am.

What was the name of the service?
High Mass.

How full was the building?
I counted 40, including the choir. The church holds about 150.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A sideswoman greeted me, but I had to take the appropriate books myself. No one else spoke to me, but one person smiled at me and muttered something while walking up the aisle.

Was your pew comfortable?
A standard wooden pew, with reasonable hassocks.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was able to pray, and others were also praying. But as parishioners came in, they spoke to their friends in the pews. As we approached service time, the noise of greeting parishioners at the back increased!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The celebrant recited the Lord's Prayer followed by the collect for purity.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Bulletin containing the readings, Parish Service Book, New English Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ.

Did anything distract you?
During the sermon and at other times someone was having a conversation at the back – I think with himself!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a very traditional BCP eucharist, reserved Anglican, with no enthusiasm or smiling. It felt as if the congregation were bystanders to what was happening in the sanctuary. Everything was done by rote – even the hymn singing was morbid, with hardly anyone joining in. The choir made a pathetic attempt at Byrd's Four-part Mass – it was as if they had not rehearsed it! The notices were given before the sermon and were uninteresting to a visitor. I much prefer them at the end, when the priest can be casual, informal and welcoming.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – The vicar's choice of words seemed rather archaic. He concluded his sermon with a funny story he called "rather risqué." It was indeed funny, but I couldn't see what it had to do with the rest of the sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He paraphrased the readings for the day, concentrating on the parable of the two sons in the vineyard. He then moved on to opine on what is wrong with the world today. I am not sure what he was trying to say, and was grateful for the story at the end to bring me back to earth.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beauty of the building was inspiring and helped lift my thoughts and prayers to heaven.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The chattering at the back during the sermon and afterwards. I was tempted to turn around and glare, but I didn't. Also the poor attempt at making music.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The vicar welcomed me at the door, but did not ask who I was or where I was from. Outside, I introduced myself to an elderly lady who told me she was 90 years old and introduced me to some other people. She took me to the hall for morning tea. But mostly the congregation talked amongst themselves.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Reasonable tea and coffee in real mugs. A plate of biscuits was all that was offered on the table.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – There was nothing to make me want to return! The liturgy was sloppy and a poor imitation of a traditional high mass. The hymns were painfully slow and badly chosen. The choir did not inspire. I felt like an unwelcome intruder and there was no discernible parish life to attract me. "How the mighty have fallen!"

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I felt sad that the congregation had declined so much since I was last there. This seems typical in the Anglican Church of Australia, apart from some notable parishes. I will seek out a more lively parish in Melbourne.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The joy and friendliness of the 90 year old lady!
 
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