Mystery Worshipper: Alban
Church: Chapel of Christ on the Lake
Location: St Arnaud, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 May 2009, 10:30am
A small unassuming building, nestled in native bush. From the outside it doesn't really look like much, and from the inside it looks somewhat dated. But the view! The view is marvellous.
The Chapel of Christ on the Lake (aka Lake Rotoiti Christian Fellowship) is a country church, not burdened by formality or liturgy, but just a fellowship of believers. Their newsheet tells me: "Lake Rotoiti Chapel is a non denominational church which meets each week, led by locals, with visiting speakers from around the region."
St Arnaud, which some residents refer to by its older name, Rotoiti, is a picturesque village in the Nelson Lakes region of the South Island of New Zealand. The area is famous for its rugged alpine peaks, forests and glacial lakes. The church conducts a special ministry to visitors, who can sometimes outnumber the parishioners.
"Peter" led worship with "Joan" accompanying on keys (they don't worry too much about surnames). Allan Smellie was the preacher.
What was the name of the service?Sunday Service.
How full was the building?
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A church member passed out hymnbooks with a friendly greeting. After I sat down, I recognised the fellow sitting in front of me as the officiant at a wedding I had attended the day before. After the service got underway, visitors were invited to stand and say where they came from.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews are relatively comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Friendly, jovial. It felt like everyone knew everyone else, and it was a big family.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Righty-oh! Like to welcome everyone here on this cold, brisk, terrible day."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New International Version; the Scripture in Song series of books (Songs of Praise, Songs of the Nations and Songs of the Kingdom); and Mission Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
A Technics keyboard.
Did anything distract you?
The view was the biggest distraction. Through the window behind the altar could be seen the beauty of Lake Rotoiti and the glorious mountain range beyond, dusted with a lightly drifting snow. The window was fogged up by the breathing of the congregation by the end.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was good, plain worship. Some of the words were in songbooks, some on an overhead projector (some of the transparencies handwritten). The music was all accompanied by a single keyboard playing handy accompaniment styles as electric keyboards can. It was far from perfect or polished, but the voices of the people were loud, clear and vigorous.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Alan Smellie started his children's talk by inviting us to laugh at his name. He seemed to take his time covering the ground of his sermon (my companion thinks he dozed off once or twice) but he got there in the end.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke on Ephesians 5:18-20 (be filled with the Spirit and sing to the Lord). This being Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was the topic. His main point was that being filled with the Spirit is not an event, but an ongoing process of surrender.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The children of the congregation were each invited to read a couple of verses of scripture from Samuel, and they did this well, with a little clarification of difficult concepts by the worship leader after some of the readings. In the row in front of us sat Ethan, a young man with a winning smile and manner. I suspect Ethan may be slightly disabled, but he joined in with gusto, and when, after a hymn, he told the congregation, "That was really nice, wasn't it?" it fit. He also commented at the end, nice and loud, "What a good service this was." Ethan was a real part of the place there, a family member, as were all.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
This was a tiny church, not much larger than my lounge at home. The heating was provided by bar heaters on the walls. It was as if the place were screaming, "I was built in the 60s and still have all my original fixtures!"
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was approached by someone who recognised me from the previous day's wedding. We had an interesting conversation about the wedding and how the catering raises money for the chapel and the respite cottages next door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Bog standard instant coffee, as fitted the place. Hot, drinkable. There were chocolate chip biscuits handed around, too.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – This is a beautiful place. If it were practical to live there, I would certainly consider it. The earthy fellowship here complements the rustic beauty of St Arnaud.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
A service which began with the words "Righty-oh." That, and Ethan's declarations about the niceness of the service and worship.