Mystery Worshipper: Zadok
Church: Auckland Baptist Tabernacle
Location: Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 30 May 2010, 7:00pm
Huge. Neo-classic, based on the Metropolitan Baptist Tabernacle in London. Built in 1884 and opened in 1885, it is a significant work of architecture and an important landmark. The Corinthian columns on the porch suggest the Pantheon in Rome. The interior is light and spacious but the furnishings need an upgrade – the carpet is a worn 1970s yellow mustard and the seats are skinny red old movie theatre style seats.
They have several ministries for young people, especially through the hostel they run next door. They have a separate congregation, with its own pastor and services in Mandarin, for people from mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan. They also sponsor an international fellowship group called Global, which meets for worship, Bible study and friendship.
The church is on Queen Street, the main thoroughfare in Auckland's central business district. By the turn of the 21st century it had gone somewhat to seed, but has been revitalised by major redevelopment. Just around the corner is Karangahape Road, once known for its shopping but later for its, erm, nightlife of a different sort. It's making a comeback also as an eclectic venue of shops, cafés and art galleries, plus restaurants and the fringe music scene. The church is surrounded by high rise apartments, businesses, education facilities and clubs.
The Revd John Catmur, one of the pastors, led the service and played keys during worship. The Revd Peter Hart, another of the pastors, delivered the sermon.
What was the name of the service?Crossroad Service (a combined monthly evening service aimed at young adults).
How full was the building?
The church can hold about 1500 seated. There were maybe about 100 there.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
After I seated myself, a gentleman came over and introduced himself as John and shook my hand. I learned later that he was Pastor John Catmur.
Was your pew comfortable?
To be honest, I found it a tad awkward. The seating probably dates back to the same time as the yellow carpet. They are the fold-down individual type seats that you would find in a theatre. However, they are getting old and shabby. And they were definitely skinny – not at all comfortable for someone my plus size.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was friendly enough but pretty subdued. Half the congregation trickled in after the 7.00pm start.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Well, welcome to Auckland Baptist Tabernacle."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
In terms of the songs, the words were displayed via projector.
What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard; acoustic, lead and bass guitar; drums. There were also three singers.
Did anything distract you?
Well, apart from my awkwardness in the seating, I found the contrast between the wonderful historic building and its tatty furnishings to be distracting.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Not stiff upper lip, but not hand waving clapping either. Modern, but conservative and genuine.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – A topical subject. I liked that Pastor Hart used and punctuated his points with graphics on a PowerPoint presentation. I had the impression he could have talked longer but realised he had already gone on for a half hour.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was titled "Life Balance." He said that life was like a spoked wheel that Christ should be the centre of. The spokes are four different aspects of life: physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. If one of those spokes or sectors of the wheel should get bent or out of proportion, then the wheel (life) would get of kilter.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The genuine worship. Also, the huge high-ceilinged historic building was, well, just neat!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Did I mention the yuck yellow carpet and uncomfortable seating yet?
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Being it was an historic building, I drifted over to some of the plaques on the walls to read them. It didn't take long for the couple who were sitting in front of me during the service to encourage me to attend the supper afterward.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Good. It was served in one of the of the rooms at the back that was equipped with a kitchenette. Freshly brewed coffee and tea were on offer. Seating was in clusters to encourage fellowship. The lighting was dim to set the mood. I spotted someone I used to go to Baptist youth group with years ago, and it was good to renew our acquaintance.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I know the church is the people, not the building, but I would feel more comfortable amidst furnishings that were better cared for.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The worship and fellowship afterward did. The sermon, whilst relevant to personal development, reminded oneself to keep Christ at the centre of things and to keep things in proportion. And it was nice to be back in a Baptist church again.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Catching up with my old friend.