The cathedral stands in the suburb of Parnell at the top of one of the many hills in Auckland (most of which are dormant volcanoes!) and is visible from much of the city. Like many other cathedrals, Holy Trinity was built in several stages. Of the main building, the chancel end (built in the 1950s) is red brick on the outside but Gothic stone on the inside. The chancel has remarkably little decoration or stained glass, and reminded me of one of the plain churches painted by 16th century Dutch painters. All the decoration went into the nave (built in the 1990s), which is built in a very contrasting modern style, essentially as a giant A-frame. The glory of the building is a magnificent west end of stained glass some 30 metres high. It comprises three windows, depicting respectively the arrival of Maori settlers in the 1300s, the arrival of European settlers in the 1800s, and the awakening of Mary Magdalene and other women to the resurrection of Jesus. The sides, below the sloping wood-panelled ceiling, feature no fewer than 18 modern stained glass windows, with Old Testament themes on the west and New Testament themes on the east, with the latter in particular including much Maori symbolism. The wooden pro-cathedral (St Marys, built in the 1860s) stands closely adjacent, having been moved in the 1970s from its original location by lifting it off its foundations and transporting it on a large low-loader lorry!
Holy Trinity is the centre for Auckland of Tikanga Pakeha (i.e. the "European" part of the Anglican church). Its worship services are thus in English, with only occasional words of Maori. The congregation reflects this division, though it did include a significant number of New Zealanders of Chinese ancestry.
Parnell is now a rich, leafy, inner suburb of Auckland, which is the biggest city in New Zealand. The Anglican Church received large grants of land here in early colonial times, which it still owns, both around Parnell and around Mission Bay.
The Rt Revd Ross Bay, Bishop of Auckland, gave the closing blessing. Among those leading the service were the Very Revd Jo Kelly-Moore, dean, and the Venerable Howard Leigh, precentor. An assortment of laypersons and priests did the various readings. Music was led by Philip Smith, cathedral organist, and Timothy Moon, director of music.
What was the name of the service?Advent Procession with Carols
How full was the building?
With about 300 in the congregation, the nave was about one-third full. No one sat in the choir or transepts.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A smiling small girl handed us a service sheet at the door.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on adequately comfortable chairs, arranged in rows.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Initially quiet , and then the organist played five pieces: one by Brahms and four by Bach (including "Wachet Auf", which my musical wife told me even I should recognise, as it had been played at our wedding!
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Drop down ye heavens from above", sung by a solo soprano as part of the introit.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A complete order of service had been specially printed and was handed out at the door.
What musical instruments were played?
A magnificent organ backed some, though not all, of the choral anthems. The organ, built by Harrison and Harrison of Durham, England, is reported to have no fewer than 4309 pipes I didnt count! I did, however, count the choir: it had 28 singers, mostly young adults.
Did anything distract you?
In the early stages, I was trying to look at the magnificent windows, but as darkness fell, this became impossible. There was a Christmas tree in one corner of the nave, which was perhaps a bit incongruous. During the introit, I kept looking for a solo singer in the organ loft, but came to the conclusion that although the sound came from that direction (in front of us), it was only a loudspeaker up there, with one of the choir (behind us at the time) wired for sound. Although there was plenty of movement in the service, that was by design, so it is unfair to call it a distraction.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Classical English cathedral style, though with adult women rather than boy trebles singing the high notes. The service sheet accurately described the service as part of the long Anglican tradition of vivid Advent services. It also pointed out the symbolism of the procession moving from liturgical west to east, toward the brightness of sunrise. Reflecting this symbolism, the electric lighting increased in brightness and changed colour as the service progressed. (It was mainly dim purple at the start!) It also pointed to the antiphons (prayers recited at each stage of the procession) as part of the monastic tradition, a tradition also reflected by having three of the anthems sung in the original Latin (though the service sheet had an English translation as well). The various priests, the dean in particular, wore what seemed to my inexpert eye to be full regalia, richly embroidered.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang well throughout, but their unaccompanied rendition of the complex harmonies of the Byrd anthem Laetentur Coeli was particularly heavenly. It was sung in Latin, but the translation given on the service sheet was "Let the heavens be glad and let the earth rejoice."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The symbolism of the procession to the east end was undermined for me by the fact that the east end of this cathedral is very plain (less heavenly?) compared to the nave. It was also a very long way away from any of the congregation, making the closing stages of the service seem a bit distant and detached. The time of the service was dictated by sunset, which is late in December in New Zealand. Though this did enable the lights to be used effectively, it had the unfortunate effect of being past the bedtime of many children, so they were not able to enjoy its glories the more so as tens of thousands of children had been out to see Santa Claus at the annual procession through the central Auckland shopping district that afternoon. Only one or two of those present at the service were below voting age (in my mind because the previous day was a general election in New Zealand).
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Given the hour, everyone seemed to be going straight home.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, though there is no shortage of cafes in the nearby shops for those who wanted a pre-bedtime fix.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It is hard to judge this question on the basis of a special service like this.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Certainly. The message of the coming of Jesus came through clearly.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?