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531: St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
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St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore
Mystery Worshipper: Alguhas.
The church: St Andrew's Cathedral, Singapore.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: A typical English parish church with spire magnified to twice its size, painted white and transposed to Asia. The interior also has the English parish church look with the difference that all the stonework is painted white or dark blue. Where it differs from from the average English church is the presence of four closed circuit televisions hanging up in the side aisles, where you can watch what the celebrant is up to.
The church: I have never encountered a church that seemed to be trying to do so much at once. Not only are there no fewer than 10 Sunday services held at St Andrews, but also an additional seven services at other "extension centres" around the city. Every possible taste is catered for – from Book of Common Prayer communion, mattins, evensong and evangelical youth services, with options for worshipping in English, Mandarin or Filipino. The cathedral is also involved in youth work, unemployment counselling, fitness training, child day care, poverty relief in Cambodia, music, teaching, financial planning and celebrating the joys of marriage.
The neighbourhood: St Andrews sits rather incongruously in its own grounds in the middle of Singapore's city centre, surrounded by shops and overlooked by the ridiculously tall Westin Stamford hotel. The exit to an MRT subway station stands in one corner of the churchyard.
The cast: The dean, Dr John Tay.
What was the name of the service?
8.00am Holy Communion.

How full was the building?
About as full as it could be. When I arrived five minutes before the service, worshippers were still queing at the altar rail for the 7 o'clock communion, and us new arrivals had to stand in the aisles until there was room to sit down.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but if anyone had welcomed everyone personally, they'd have been there all day.

Was your pew comfortable?
One of the nicest pews I've ever encountered, complete with armrests. I wish I could have taken it back to my church, but it wouldn't fit in my hand luggage on the plane.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There wasn't an obvious gap between the services. The 7.00am communion people in the nave went out and the 8.00am communion people waiting in the aisles took their seats. By the time we'd all sat down, the next service had already started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
As the dean hadn't got his microphone turned on, "Hmrpgh ghmm ghmm" was the closest I got to translating it. For all I know, it could have been a blessing, an introductionary prayer or secret instructions to the servers. However, he turned himself on a few sentences later and the first intelligible sentence of the service was "Turn to page 26."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Diocesian Service Book and Hymns Ancient & Modern.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ.

Did anything distract you?
42 rotary fans suspended from the ceiling of the nave. They made no difference whatsoever to the temperature, but were quite mesmeric to watch.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglican with an Asian accent. The Diocesian Prayer Book was very similar to Rite A from the ASB and all the hymns were well known favorites such as "Rock of Ages" and "Praise to the Holiest in the Height". There was a nice touch just after the Peace when the dean invited all those who were attending for the first time to put our hands up. Tentatively raising mine, I (and other handraisers) were rewarded with applause from the rest of the congregation. A steward then approached me with a bundle of leaflets welcoming me to St Andrew's. After counting no fewer than 15 of these outlining all the many other church activities on offer to occupy every second on my spare time, I almost greeted with relief the knowledge that the following day I would be thousands of miles away on my way home.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Taking as its inspiration the Gospel reading on the woman of Samaria, the congregation was invited to draw two conclusions: 1. God is more important than food and drink; and 2. God is more important than being tired. As the consequence of this we must all use our sinful past for God, who is more important than the Singaporian twin obessions of eating and shopping, to lead people to a personal knowledge of Jesus (yes – I got a bit lost at this point too).

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Being in a full church with a wide range of ages and activities that looks like it actually knows where it is going.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being in a full church which was more hot and humid than those of us from more northern climes are comfortable in.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A very nice Singaporean called Charles invited me to stay after the service – not just for coffee – but for breakfast.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The church breakfast was an epic feat of catering held in an open marquee outside the church (we couldn't stay inside as the congregation for the third service of the day – the 9.30am service in Mandarin – were queuing to come in as we went out). Breakfast is possibly too grand a word for it, as the refreshment consisted of tea or coffee in plastic cups together with some sandwiches, but it certainly made an interesting change.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7. Everyone was very welcoming but the congregation was so large so it was difficult to feel personally involved.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It gives some hope whenever I think about the depressed state of the church in Britain.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
An awful joke about the Woman of Samaria. Question: How do we know that the woman of Samaria was a large lady? Answer: Because she was a woman of "some-area". The response from the entire congregation was a stunned silence.
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