Iona Presbyterian, Auckland, NZ (Exterior)

Iona Presbyterian, Blockhouse Bay, Auckland, New Zealand


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Iona Presbyterian
Location: Blockhouse Bay, Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 May 2014, 10:00am

The building

Red brick, probably built in the late 50s or early 60s. A fairly simple building with a large stained glass widow. The inside is rather plain, with a cross on the front wall and some banners. Two additional windows are colourful but nondescript.

The church

Their website states that they are an opening, welcoming church for people from a variety of backgrounds. They sponsor a number of groups for study, friendship and recreation, with names such as Think-About-It (discussion group for topics of current interest), Youthtastics, Coffee 'n Chat, etc. that meet throughout the week. They also offer English conversation classes.

The neighborhood

Blockhouse Bay has some rich history, including the fact that there was a blockhouse built as an army post circa 1863 during the Waikato civil land wars between the English settlers and the indigenous Maori. It has long been gone. The area today has a thriving cafe culture and would be described as definitely middle to upper class sociologically.

The cast

The Revd Rob Pettersen, minister; Jennie Wallace, reader; Elizabeth Visser, organist.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

I estimated the building could seat 150 or so comfortably, and I counted approximately 60 in attendance. I'd say that about two-thirds of the congregation were over 70. There were only six children present. I recall there being better attendance on a previous visit some five years back.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

There were two sidespersons, who welcomed me and gave me a service sheet.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were padded and quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived just as the service was starting, so I missed the pre-service atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"As you walk with us, as we journey together, Lord, your Word fills our hearts."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Hymns for Today's Church and a pew Bible, but since I didn't have one quite near to me, I did not see what translation it was.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano. Their website states: "Our services are traditional and are accompanied by the organ with competant [sic] organists." Pity their proofreaders aren't.

Did anything distract you?

The only thing that distracted me was that the fellow next to me seemed to have some trouble finding the hymns and following the service sheet. This was nothing bad but, as I say, it was the only distraction.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Well, traditional. But if traditional means flat, then I am saddened to say that this service felt flat to me. The singing was mediocre, and the first hymn, "How firm a foundation," was a bastardised revamped version in this particular hymn book. The only song I enjoyed somewhat was "Jesus loves me, this I know" at the end of the children's talk.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 – The Revd Rob Pettersen hardly had an engaging style. I saw a few folk nodding off and chuckled as I wondered if it was age or the sermon that was causing this.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon itself was thoroughly sound as far as being biblical goes. The text was Luke 24:13-35 (the risen Christ appears to his disciples on the road to Emmaus). There are three things about the Resurrection that give us cause for hope: (1) Jesus is alive; (2) God is always with us in the Holy Spirit; and (3) Christ's victory has swallowed up death.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

To be honest, I can't say that anything about this service lifted me to the heavens. It was as mediocre a service as I have almost ever attended. I am comfortable in traditional settings as well as contemporary ones, but not here. It felt to me that this church literally just goes through the motions.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

This service was like a tyre that had gone flat. You can drive on it if you must, but you won't get the ride that a tyre in good repair will give you. The second hymn, unknown to the congregation it seemed, sounded laborious.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

I scarpered immediately after the benediction, as I actually did not want the embarrassment of being untruthful if I were asked what I thought of the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was indeed after-service coffee on offer but, as stated, I did not hang around.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

2 – Quite frankly, I detected no life, no vigour, here. With the demographic I observed, I wonder how much longer this "traditional" church will survive. I have no doubt that these folk are good and wonderful Christians, but there needs to be an infusion of vigour into this church and its services of worship, traditional or otherwise. There needs to be vitality displayed among any community of faith.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

I have never said this before, but honestly, no, it did not make me feel glad that I was a Christian.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

The flatness of the whole experience.

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