Mystery Worshipper: Man in AllBlack
Church: St Jude's
Location: Avondale, Auckland, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 September 2006, 10:00am
It is a classic, white, weatherboard, colonial-era church, 130 years old. Inside, the high roof and light colours create an atmosphere of spaciousness, although in fact the space is quite small, almost a miniature.
This is the local Anglican parish church for the area and clearly takes its local community links seriously. On the Sunday I visited, the church hall was hosting a flower show and a musical performance was scheduled to take place. All of this was part of the local town festival.
Avondale is a residential suburb, about 15 minutes southwest of Auckland city centre. In recent years it has become ethnically quite mixed, with immigration from Pacific islands and the Asian continent. When St Jude's was built, the district was merely a gleam in a property developer's eye, and a mixture of forest and marsh, but now the church is dwarfed by suburban Auckland houses sprawling across spacious properties.
The Rev. Robert D. Hornburg, vicar, assisted by assorted sidespeople, chalice bearers and readers.
What was the name of the service?Liturgy and Kids Church
How full was the building?
The building could seat about 90 people uncomfortably and was two-thirds full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a brief hello and a service sheet. I was obviously spotted as a visitor, as I was handed a response card shortly after.
Was your pew comfortable?
The horrors of economy class airline travel were visited upon me. When I sat down, my feet were wedged beneath the kneeler, the presence of which was rather unnecessary as space was so tight that I was unable to kneel properly. When I knelt, my backside remained half on the pew, and I had to keep my feet splayed apart to avoid kicking my bag into the row behind. I noticed a small "business class" section at the front, but clearly the church has a problem with space. At communion I had to reorganise my bag to allow myself and the person next to me to liberate ourselves from the pew, which again reminded me most uncomfortably of international air travel.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quite lively, made more so by the presence of a fair number of children.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning everyone," followed by some general words of greeting before moving into the liturgy.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
New Zealand Prayer Book, Hymns Ancient and Modern, and a news sheet.
What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ.
Did anything distract you?
The children were pleasantly raucous, although the child next to me spent most of the service migrating between my pew and the pew in front. The sound system was not turned up loud enough, and thus what I did hear of the readings (one of which was, ironically enough, a passage from the Epistle of St James where the apostle complains that people talk too much) was in snatches.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dress-down Anglican. There was a mixture of traditional and modern hymns, and the liturgy was informal – for example, we recited the Apostles' Creed.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The vicar delivered his sermon with such self-assurance and quiet enthusiasm that he seemed constantly to be edging more and more forward down the central aisle. Every time I checked, though, he was in precisely the same place. During his sermon, he asked questions of the congregation, who responded with questions of their own, which he handled with practiced ease.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
About being church and doing mission.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Saying the creed. There is an alternative "affirmation" that many congregations who favour informal liturgies use. But I prefer to say the creed. The thought of worshipping alongside Christians worldwide and alongside those who have gone before is very comforting.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Lord's Prayer was sung to a tune I had never heard before. I thought it made the congregation sound like a group of insistent children in search of some illicit goodies from the Lord's biscuit tin.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The vicar had clearly pegged me as a newcomer, and greeted me at the door on the way out. But aside from his greeting, I was left entirely to my own devices. So I trailed up to the church hall where a flower sale was beginning to take place.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Refreshments could be purchased for a flat five dollar fee. As I am a glutton, I decided to spend that rather substantial sum on what was, after all, an essential part of my research. I was pleasantly surprised to see that five dollars got me a slice of cake, a biscuit, two mushroom savouries and a whole pot of tea.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I am "between churches" at present, and I would be inclined to give this one serious consideration. It appeared to be a very harmonious place, and seemed to strike a good balance between traditional and modern liturgical practice, but not too remote for the average person off the street.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, and the tea service afterwards made me glad to be alive.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The uncomfortable knowledge imparted by the vicar's hawkish look that he would be likely to know exactly who wrote this report should he happen to read it.