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441: St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Sydney, Australia
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St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Sydney, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Sydney Spice Girl.
The church: St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Australia.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: An eclectic combination of Victorian parish church with a basilica-style sanctuary, boasting Greek-style columns, a white marble sanctuary, and more statues than you see in most anglo-catholic parishes.
The church: The church is administered by the Franciscans, and caters towards servicing the more colourful residents of East Oxford Street.
The neighbourhood: The "would be" breakaway evangelical heretics of the Sydney Anglican Diocese – St Matthias Centennial Park – are a couple of doors up the road. I overheard a worshipper telling a group of clergy that the clergy at St Matthias does not really have much to do with St Francis' community.
The cast: Principal celebrant – Fr. Peter McGrath, OFM, PP.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass, Feast of St Francis of Assisi, Deacon.

How full was the building?
There were approximately 80 people in the congregation, and around 60 people in the sanctuary and choir. There was enough space between the members of the congregation so that fog lamps, used as proximity indicators, would have been quite effective after the initial incensing of the altar.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was given a warm greeting and a copy of the order of service. Evidently there had been a mix up with the introit and I was chased down the aisle with another woman who was flapping a sheet of paper in the air an addendum to the program.

Was your pew comfortable?
Sheesh, there is a Chiropractor across the road that is obviously making good money from this congregation.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I really dislike watching a servers' rehearsal 10 minutes prior to the service. One would hope that you would get your act together early – in particular for a major festival. I saw three attempts at the Gospel procession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to Saint Francis on this great festival day."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Printed order of service.

What musical instruments were played?
Another disappointment – an electronic device (organ) shrilled from a hidden side chapel. The Director of Music probably felt too embarrased to have it on display to the public. A lovely, but small historic organ sits in the chancel. I gazed at it and imagined that some of the sounds were from its pipes. I blinked and came back into reality after a few notes from the shrill box down the front.

Did anything distract you?
I am not a regular attendee at this church, however, I would assume that if you might have been, and are in the clergy or the altar guild, that you would wear shoes that did not squeak every time you moved. Being such a traditional service, I would expect sanctuary slippers for all.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I had not experienced a traditional Catholic service so full of anglo-catholic colour and movement in some time. I am led to believe that the parish would be in great favour with our current Archbishop of Sydney, a lover of ritual and formality. There was a sense that the servers were still learning the ropes, with some hasty instructions given to the crucifer prior to the service commencing.

St Francis of Assisi, Paddington, Sydney, Australia

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Down to earth, commonsense Catholic teaching.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Listen to what God is telling you, follow the example of St Francis, go out into the world and embrace all undesirables, for that is where you touch the real person of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When I saw the thurifer stoking up the thurible before the eucharistic prayer I felt that there was something special on the way – I shuddered with a sense of the divine when the choir produced a harmonically splendid first chord in the Sanctus (Messe Solennelle by Langlais). I truly believed that I was at the gate of heaven on earth.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I hated the carpet in this church. People survived for thousands of years without putting a potential nylon mould farm in a church building. I imagine that my Purgatory would consist of a shag-pile gospel chapel in Hades.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The parish priest cornered me and insisted that I go into the newly refurbished parish hall for refreshments. He mentioned wine, beer and sandwiches – how could I refuse...?

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Hic! Perhaps if you are serving so much "grog" then you should put on a few more sandwiches. I floated out of the after-service refreshments to the closest taxi rank.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I am astonished that the ritual and fine music of this parish have survived post-Vatican II innovations and they have dispensed with the guitar strings of the innovative religious. The members of the congregation I spoke with love this style of service – and if I lived in the area this would be my spiritual home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I went out rejoicing and smelling like I had been in heaven.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A rather odd innovation – during the first reading, there appeared two acolytes who escorted the reader to the ambo and stood either side during the reading. I wondered whether these were parish police, ensuring clarity and accuracy of the word!

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