Mystery Worshipper: Tullagher
Church: St Brigid's
Location: Loburn, North Canterbury, New Zealand
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 November 2006, 2:00pm
St Brigid's is a tiny church (15 pews each seating 4, with about 25 extra chairs brought in). It was built in 1875 not as a parish church but as a chapel of ease, in an area where many Irish immigrants settled. In more recent times, with improved transport and rivers bridged, the parish church in Rangiora was only a few minutes away, and St Brigid's was virtually abandoned from the 1960s until the late 1990s, when the locals revived it and have maintained it since. It is a simple wooden building (now stuccoed over) in Gothic style, situated in a very rural area and surrounded by a graveyard, unusual for Catholic churches in this part of the world. The church is situated at the bottom of a slope, surrounded by farmland.
Mass is celebrated at St Brigid's only once or twice a year, one occasion always being the Sunday nearest to All Souls Day. The church therefore has no regular community. Instead, members of the local parish, especially those with family ties to Loburn, attend on those days and are joined by descendants of those buried in the churchard. A number travel considerable distances to be there. St Brigid's is part of the Rangiora parish of St Mary & St Francis de Sales.
Loburn, near Christchurch, is more a community of small farms and lifestyle properties than a town or village as such.
The Very Revd Barry Jones, Co-adjutor Bishop of Christchurch, concelebrated with the Revd Dan Doyle, pastor; the Revd Leo O'Connor, former pastor; and the Revd Bernard Goulding, who will be caring for the parish while Father Doyle is working in Antarctica.
What was the name of the service?Mass for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time.
How full was the building?
More than bulging, but it is a tiny building. About 75 were able to be seated. Some were standing and some were outside. After the gospel, the bishop invited children to sit in the sanctuary with the priests, to create some room in the pews. It was amazing how a sanctuary that seemed full with four priests in it suddenly expanded to accommodate comfortably about a dozen children and their toys.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were about 15 minutes early. The bishop (who has family ties to St Brigid's – his parents are buried in the churchyard) was outside the door when we arrived and was greeting everyone with a handshake and a welcome.
Was your pew comfortable?
As comfortable as a mid-Victorian wooden pew can be. There were no kneelers, but as someone who believes in kneeling for the consecration, I knelt on the floor and found the pews just the right height to kneel against.Some pews were showing their age and there were some alarming creaks as people sat.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very friendly – lots of chatter and people greeting each other. Two or three people seemed to be organising affairs. One came to the front of the church and reminded those who would be receiving communion to place a host in a bowl at the back of the church, as the Blessed Sacrament is not reserved in this church. He took the bowl and container of hosts down the aisle again before the offertory in case any had forgotten.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"A very warm welcome to everyone here today," spoken by a lady who was one of the organisers.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A hymn sheet specially prepared for the occasion. As well as the hymns, it contained the legend of St Brigid, written in simple style to be understood by younger people.
What musical instruments were played?
A tiny Yamaha electronic keyboard perched on an ironing board in the very small space between the front pew and the sanctuary steps. We discovered later there was a harmonium (possibly the church's original instrument) in the sacristy but it would have taken a big effort to bring it out, and it may not have been in working order.
Did anything distract you?
Nothing negative – the children in the sanctuary were a delight and extremely well behaved, the older ones among them being quite prayerful. But you couldn't help but watch them. One boy was recruited by Father Dan to ring the sanctuary bell at the consecration and he did it very well. One genuine distraction was the interesting patterns woodworm had made in the floorboards over 130 years.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Definitely neither stiff nor happy clappy – just a relaxed family atmosphere, with priests and people participating fully. The congregational singing was excellent, with "How Great Thou Art" threatening to lift the roof.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Bishop Jones spoke quietly, all that was necessary in such a small building.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The bishop's subject was charity – holiness is the perfection of charity.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing, the friendly welcoming atmosphere, and the impromptu, prominent participation of the children.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, there had to be something. As we were leaving, we were confronted at the back of the church by a statue of St Brigid holding her crozier, only it wasn't a crozier, it was a long-handled candle snuffer. Apparently her crozier had been lost at some time in the past. So until a miniature crozier can be found, she is shepherding her flock with a candle snuffer.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No chance to stand around looking lonely. The entire congregation moved outside where, after prayers and a reading, the bishop and priests processed around the churchyard blessing the graves. People then moved to the other side of the church where a refreshment tent had been set up.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Tea and coffee in plastic cups, but there's nothing wrong with that. Homemade cakes and biscuits in a tent set up on the lawn. If you moved away from the tent, people carrying trays of goodies still found you. The pikelets (small drop scones) with raspberry jam on them were excellent.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – But it can't be my regular church as it is used infrequently.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The children. And the pikelets.