St John's, Sutherland, Sydney, Australia

St John's, Sutherland, Sydney, Australia


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Mystery Worshipper: Even Adam
Church: St John's
Location: Sutherland, Sydney, Australia
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 November 2006, 9:45am

The building

More like a hall than a church. Not the usual stained glass and organ. Nothing fancy. Unchurched people should feel right at home.

The church

It was kinda cool to watch from the outside as Christians shared fellowship with each other, and were obviously very comfortable among those of their own circle.

The neighborhood

Sutherland is 20 kms / 12 miles south of Sydney. An upper middle class area, with many apartment blocks having been constructed in the last 10 years.

The cast

The Revd Rod Harding.

What was the name of the service?

We attended a Family Worship service, which included an infant baptismal service. The regular children's ministry, Promiseland, is run at the same time.

How full was the building?

About 90 per cent full, with around 150 people. A good age range from 30 to ancient. A youth service is conducted in the evening. Some were there for the baptism.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

We received a very warm welcome from Carolyn Burns and Janet Knight. They asked if we were there for the baptism (no) and would we like a name tag (yes). Two lovely ladies!

Was your pew comfortable?

No. These were old-style wooden pews that reminded you after 30 minutes that your backbone is not what it once was.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Plenty of friendly chat in the foyer as friends greeted each other. They all moved into the hall in time for worship to commence.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome to our service. Let's stand and sing."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Australian Prayer Book was used for the baptism. Choruses were all on the screen. Bibles (New International Version) were available in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

Piano, guitar, bass, drums, and (for a while) wooden blocks. The band and singers were well rehearsed and the sound quality was excellent.

Did anything distract you?

No drawn out distractions, except perhaps the lady of senior years who nodded off during the sermon, then awoke with a start, then nodded off, then...

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

Modern choruses, conservatively sung. The songs were well known and the singing was enjoyable.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

31 minutes.

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

6 – The speaker was a lady (Priscilla) probably in her sixties, with a great gift for making Old Testament stories come alive.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

We felt that there were two sermons in one, and neither was on the topic ("Love your enemies") named on the board outside the church. The first sermon told the story of David, Abner and Joab (2 Samuel 2) and reminded us that God loves us in spite of our flaws. The second, unrelated part made some solid though not always connected points: God does not condone polygamy; the Old Testament shows the positive and negative sides of human nature; God works in his people; teach your children well. The message may have been hard for the unchurched present to absorb, and, apart from a reference to David's lineage, did not mention Jesus. But we must be fair here: Priscilla was given a particularly hard portion of scripture as a springboard.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

A wonderful question and answer session with two young people, Cathy and Nathan, who are preparing for mission work. Their strong faith and open hearts for God was an inspiration, and probably the most important part of the service for the unchurched.

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

Too much crammed into one service. Rod leading the baptism, David speaking on mission work in Uganda, the testimonies of Cathy and Nathan, songs, Priscilla's sermon, readings, prayers, Fay announcing the social justice group, Lyn announcing women in fellowship, and explaining the prayer box. Phew! Glad we weren't busting.

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

This was so sad, and has never happened to us before. We stood looking lost in the hall for five minutes, and then stood looking lost at morning tea, and not one person said hello. Oh dear. We didn't feel welcome.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Standard tea, instant coffee, white cup, and morning coffee biscuit.

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

5 – The pastor took time at the start of the service welcoming those who had come for the baptism. He did a very good job, and seems to be a loving man.

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

It is certainly nice to see people (like Rod, Priscilla, Nathan, Cathy, David, Janet and Carolyn) who have such a strong faith in God. We also felt this was a gentle church where people cared for each other.

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

The visitor from the Blue Mountains, David, had a wonderful collection of toys used in ministry in Uganda. These toys were made from simple items like mousetraps and clothes pegs.

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