|734: St Peter's, Wellington, New Zealand|
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Mystery Worshipper: Ger.
The church: St Peter's, Willis Street, Wellington, New Zealand.
Denomination: The Church of the Province of New Zealand, otherwise known as the Anglican Church.
The neighbourhood: The church is opposite the terminal exit of the main motorway into Wellington and adjacent to the city's red light district. I was also told that Wellington's two Jewish communities (orthodox shul and liberal temple) and the principal Presbyterian church are all sited in the parish.
The cast: Rev. Hugh Bowron, vicar and celebrant; the Rt Rev. Richard Randerson, dean and assistant bishop of Auckland – preacher; two liturgical assistants; Dianne Halliday – director of music; choir of 20 adults and nine children; and an organ registrant.
What was the name of the service?
St Peter's patronal festival (29 June 2003).
How full was the building?
88 all up including the vicar, preacher etc. There are pews for about 400, so the church was less than a quarter full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Two greeters at the west door were handing out the service booklet and bulletin, and were cheery enough.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard uncomfortable pew designed to keep one awake during the boring bits. The book holder on the back of the pew in front was a bit frustrating, as it wouldn't hold the service sheet since there was a slot in the bottom. The pews had numbers on them; perhaps left over from the days of pew rents?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There wasn't much interaction before the service between those present. The organist played some French gigue (Gigout perhaps) as a prelude, but there was certainly no hum of conversation or buzz of anticipation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our service begins with the hymn, 'Ye that know the Lord is gracious'."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially produced service booklet for St Peter's patronal festival. The booklet included all that the congregation needed to participate in the service. A nice touch was that the music for the hymns, the congregational responses during the prayer of consecration, and so on, were all included.
What musical instruments were played?
Only an organ.
Did anything distract you?
The red in the vestments did not match the red in the church hangings and furnishing, so the effect was vibrant in the wrong sort of way. The organ registrant kept popping up at odd moments to do whatever registrants are expected to do – a sort of real live playing aid where the organ is lacking modern technology and page turner, or so I am told. I did my best and pretended the registrant didn't exist, rather like the stage hands in a Japanese "Noh" play. My partner was distracted by the contrast of the bright red and white flower arrangements on the retibule of the high altar with the tired flower arrangement in a pot on a rickety wooden pedestal in front of the pulpit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, definitely not evangelical and not the other way either – no bells, yells, smells or lace, though the aumbry may indicate leanings in that direction. Also, I thought I saw a congregant nod as the processional cross went by at Canterbury rather than Roman pace. Overall, middle of the road, I'd guess.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 A well prepared and delivered sermon that seemed to strike empathy with the congregation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The preacher drew attention to the synod of Whitby (AD 664) as a clash between Celtic and Roman (Augustinian) Christianity and following which Roman Christianity prevailed in Britain. He suggested that there needs to be a re-examination of the relevance of Celtic Christianity, since it could contribute to blending the Christian message into today's post-modern community. He also noted an increasing role for the laity in the church. The sermon was linked to the readings, particularly Acts 17:16-28 – "To an unknown God".
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
In short, the music. The extraordinary sight these days in an inner city parish, of an entrance procession with a robed choir of 20 adults and nine children singing their hearts out. Then once they were in the choir stalls, they demonstrated that they knew their stuff. They led the congregation in the sung responses during the preface and prayer of consecration – a setting which I half-recognised, but couldn't place and then found out it was a reworking of the ubiquitous Merbecke by the director of music. The choir didn't do so well in leading the hymns, though – I felt they required a little more enthusiasm overall.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The words. I do feel that Coverdale and Cranmer have a cadence about them that transcends the sometimes obscure – you can always ask later. I wish the compilers of the "New Zealand Prayer Book" had consulted some poets. The words may be absolutely theologically correct (and in accord with the great Anglican compromise) but they are largely devoid of poetry.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
You didn't get a chance to hang round afterwards. An invitation to "coffee, tea or fruit juice", together with quite explicit instructions about making your way to the Undercroft, was given before the recessional hymn.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
And a very friendly group they were, too. The coffee was proper coffee served in mugs – none of this instant stuff! I thought I detected some North American accents behind the counter, puzzlingly. Yes, as promised, tea and fruit juice were available. And the food was very tasty as well.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 I score this one 5, as I am not looking for a church, although my partner and I are suckers for choral services. We were told at coffee that the choir was slightly augmented (in numbers rather than balance) and the music was on the slightly higher side of normal, but not unusual at St Peter's. We were encouraged, nay invited, to attend evensong that evening with the anthem being SS Wesley's "Ascribe unto the Lord".
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
There was no doubt that this was a Christian community at worship.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
A robed choir of 20 adults and nine children forming almost one third of the congregation at the principal service on the patronal festival of an inner city parish. The music programme must be something.