It's a classic Georgian building. The oldest church in Sydney, it was built entirely by convict labour and completed in 1824. Internally the layout is traditional: wooden pews in rows lead up to a raised choir, flanked on either side by organ pipes, and then at the east end the altar is under a half-dome covered in gold mosaic tiles. It's quite light inside thanks to some lovely stained glass, including stunning floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides of the side chapel of the Holy Spirit. The church also has a delightful crypt where children's worship takes place during the family eucharist. It has a ring of eight bells, which surprisingly have only been in use since 2003.
St James is an island of inclusive high Anglicanism in the sea of conservative evangelicalism that is the Sydney diocese. As with many city-centre churches, its congregation comes from all over the city, and this effect is probably amplified by the relative rarity of this brand of churchmanship in the area.
St James is in the heart of Sydney, next to a lovely park, close to the botanic gardens and old government buildings, and a short stroll from the Catholic cathedral. The name of Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821 and a major force in the social, economic and architectural development of the colony, is all over the neigbourhood.
The Revd Peter Kurti, rector, introduced the service and then read the deacon's part. The Revd John Beer, honorary associate priest, was celebrant and preacher. Representatives of the Royal Commonwealth Society served as readers.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist.
How full was the building?
About a third to half full, maybe 100 in the congregation, and another 35-40 in the choir, altar party and other supporting roles. There's a family service at 9.00, so this was an older crowd.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly smile and "Hello, welcome" as I was handed the hymnbook and service booklets.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was fine, although I noticed at least one parishioner using his kneeler for a bit of extra padding.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was pretty quiet, although being high summer all the doors were open and there was some traffic noise.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to St James King Street."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New English Hymnal (melody edition – English churches that don't think any of the punters can read music, please note), a folded A4 sheet with the order of the choral eucharist, and a 12 page A5 booklet combining the variable items for the day and the week's newsletter.
What musical instruments were played?
A fine organ and some equally fine voices.
Did anything distract you?
The occasional siren going past the open doors was a reminder of the everyday world outside. And the six elderly representatives of the Royal Commonwealth Society occupying the front couple of pews were quite watchable at times.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High Anglican with lots of smells, though a bit light on the bells. And not as camp as high Anglican can sometimes be – there's another downtown Sydney church that provides that element. But the presence of 11 robed men and women in the altar party, not counting the choir, tells its own story.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Credit to him for the fact that I was surprised that my stopwatch said 15 minutes – it felt shorter – but I thought his style lacked animation and variation in tone. Some of the things he said would have benefited from the injection of a little emotion.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was topped and tailed with references to the commonwealth, recognising the presence of bigwigs from the Royal Commonwealth Society marking the anniversary of Her Majesty the Queen's accession. There was a bit of a dig at the controlling tendency of the diocese. But the core was that we Christians are by our very nature members of community, and that in a time of economic turmoil that vision of a supportive community has something important to offer to the wider world. This is particularly true when the secular world seems to value only individual gratification at the expense of the common good. And so, as the diocese launches its Contact 2009 evangelisation drive, we were reminded that the most effective way to spread the gospel is to live the gospel.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was superb. The mass setting was Darke in F, which I've sung many times in my home parish, but it's never sounded like this.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Not a lot really, although the Royal Commonwealth Society bigwigs representing the establishment in church (OK, be charitable, at prayer) were a little cringeworthy at times.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have time to look lost. As I got to the back of the church, a charming lady relieved me of my hymnal and asked if I would be staying for drinks. How could I refuse?
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was probably coffee there somewhere, but in a heat wave in Sydney who wants coffee? The white wine (Australian – local, so we'll deem it to be fair trade) was cold and good, and the nibbles – cheese, salami, crackers, dips – were delightful.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – The worship was uplifting, the music was wonderful, and the people were very welcoming. But based on this sermon and some examples on the website, I think that's the one area in which I'd wish for more.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes it did, and also glad to be part of the inclusive tradition.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How good Darke in F can sound – we're singing it at home in seven days' time, so there's a challenge.