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469: Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand
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Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand
Mystery Worshipper: Christmas Lily.
The church: Christ Church Cathedral, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Denomination: Anglican Church of New Zealand.
The building: A large, imposing neo-Gothic stone cathedral, set in the midst of a square in the very centre of the town of Christchurch. The spire is visible for quite a distance around, atop the wonderful tower that has apparently survived eathquakes and fires. Next to the cathedral is a large war memorial and some lovely lawns, and also a modern sculpture.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is surrounded by shops, banks and a bustling city centre. The church grounds are especially attractive, but the cathedral square itself is barren and grey, with not much grass. I don't think Christmas Lily would have felt safe there at night!
The cast: Celebrant: The dean, the Very Rev. John Bluck. Preacher: the Bishop of Christchurch, the Rt. Rev. Dr David Coles. Lay Assistant: Miss Anna Chartres.
What was the name of the service?
Festival Choral Eucharist (it was Christmas Day).

How full was the building?
Mostly full. The side aisles had seating but they were not overly full, while the nave was fully subscribed.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smart-looking woman in a lovely light green hat handed me my sheets at the door with a smile and a good morning. She looked very friendly, and I loved her hat.

Was your pew comfortable?
There were comfortable wooden chairs with padded red covers.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was much going on before the service – it was almost as interesting as the service itself. The place was a buzz of conversation, Christmas kisses and hugs between people, bits of sly gossip being exchanged (especially about the members of the choir, and by women who looked like choirboy's mothers), new outfits were admired by all, children fussed over, priests floating around (one floating very late and close to the advertised service time). Overall, it was bustle not overly helpful to prayer, but probably good for community.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to this Choral Eucharist. Welcome to your cathedral."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Carol sheet. Pew sheet/newsletter thing with service times in it. Running order sheet with the reponsses and texts, which was a bit too detailed.

What musical instruments were played?
A very fine organ was played suitably loudly! I would have liked to hear what the very obvious fanfare trumpets sticking out of the organ sounded like... but no luck.

Did anything distract you?
I will not forget the lay assistant's proclamation, "The Peace of Christ RULE in our hearts," with extreme emphasis on the "rule". The offertory was taken up to the altar right at the end of the hymn, which then meant that the dean was pouring wine into the chalice during the sanctus. I was then horrified to see three young servers mixing the chalices from a consecrated flagon after the fraction! I also could not understand the practice of saying the versicles in English, then Maori, with everyone answering in English. There did not seem to be any Maori in the building and it seemed like overkill.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Anglican: things were done not too badly, but all treated a little casually. I felt people moved around the way one might do in one's own sitting room.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Bishop spoke well and was most interesting. He talked about the effect of terrorism, and his recent trip to the Holy Land. A funny story was told about a man in London spending Christmas in a bunker. A lovely image was created that the message of the angels is more relevant now than ever before.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beautiful, well-written prayers. They were so thoughtfully composed and delivered. Also, the magnificent organ playing of the assistant organist, Michael Stewart.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were huge hugs and kisses going on during the peace. The most shocking thing was to see two obvious non-Christians not knowing what to do at communion. They were given the host and walked away with it, taking a nibble from one corner! I sincerely hope that they were stopped at the door and the blessed sacrament was retrieved and consumed!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was Christmas Day, so I and everyone else dashed home to check on the turkey.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Not bad music, pleasant people around, but the service was a little slapdash and almost made up as it went along.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Moderately happy. I do like to hear of other qualities of God apart from the fact that he loves us.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The flotilla of eight candles descending for the Gospel procession. I've never seen so many in one place before!
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