|740: Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, NSW, Australia|
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Mystery Worshipper: Admirabile sacramentum.
The church: Christ Church Cathedral, Newcastle, NSW, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The church: This is the cathedral church of the Anglican diocese of Newcastle. It is the site of many civic as well as ecclesiastical functions.
The neighbourhood: Newcastle is renowned in Australia as an industrial city, and the busy harbour is clearly visible from the cathedral grounds. In fact, during the sermon, the horn of a ship or tugboat interrupted the preacher.
The cast: The Very Rev. Graeme Lawrence was the celebrant, and the Rev Canon Bruce Hoare preached.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Eucharist (A Prayer Book for Australia 1995), Fourth Sunday after Pentecost.
How full was the building?
It seemed a little on the empty side for a main service, though as the nave is large, there were probably more people present than I thought.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I received a hearty "good morning" from a sidesperson as she handed me a hymnbook and a pew sheet.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a fairly standard church pew, in which I don't recall feeling uncomfortable. A generously proportioned kneeler was supplied. To me, the temperature of the cathedral felt surprisingly comfortable, given that it was the middle of winter. I believe that underfloor heating is installed.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was quiet and prayerful, with the ringing bells drowning out what little noise there was. The orchestra entered the chancel before the proceedings began, which created a little sound.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Together in Song (new Australian hymnal), and a very clearly set out pew sheet which contained the order of service, translations, and the readings.
What musical instruments were played?
The setting of the ordinary was mostly Bruckner's Mass in E Minor. From what I could tell, there were trumpets, horns, oboes, clarinets and trombones as well as the magnificent pipe organ. The orchestral players were a little too far away for me to see any more detail. Together with the organ, the orchestra also accompanied the hymns.
Did anything distract you?
There was a crying toddler who was somewhat distracting. This didn't necessarily detract from the atmosphere but impaired my ability to hear what was being said at times.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The candles, vested clergy (including a fiddleback chasuble!), choir and servers, incense and expert thurifer, and the sanctuary bells were all indicators of the ritualistic character of the service, but it was by no means stiff-upper-lip. The eucharist was celebrated at the nave altar, in front of which the three sacred ministers sat for most of the service. Very few of the congregation took part in ceremonial gestures such as genuflection or bowing, but the action up front seemed to be something with which they were at home.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 He did have quite a few good ideas and perspectives on the text, but didn't allow himself much space to develop them fully and clearly.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
It was based on the day's Gospel reading about the unbelief of the people in Jesus' hometown (Mark 6:1-13). The preacher spoke on some universal themes drawn out of this reading, such as fulfilling the expectations of people closest to us. He also emphasised the need to ask ourselves about the bonds that prevented us from becoming complete people.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
On this winter's day, it was lovely to see the sun shining through the north windows. There was a most heavenly effect as the rays shone through the brilliant clouds of incense that wafted into the cavernous space above the altar, during the censing by the celebrant.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The brass of the orchestra was too loud for the size of the choir during some parts of the ordinary, which often obscured the words. I also got the feeling that the choir were under-prepared. Given the seamlessness of the rest of the liturgy, this was especially noticeable.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The celebrant issued an invitation to morning tea when I shook his hand. I spent some time looking at the books and other wares in the cathedral shop in the narthex. The few people with whom I chatted briefly were pleasant.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Some lovely ladies poured me a typically Anglican cup of tea – too strong by far – and a typically Anglican biscuit – dry. The tea was served in a plastic cup with a strange sort of plastic cup-holder thingy. I believe fruit juice and coffee were also on offer.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. Even though I was a stranger, there seemed to be a palpable sense of community, which would be more typical of a country church than of a cathedral.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The dean's eye contact, nod and smile at each row of the congregation as he passed through the nave during the recessional, added a warm human flavour to the dignity of the occasion.