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807: St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia
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St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Webvirger.
The church: St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The building: This Gothic transitional, early English cathedral, was designed by William Butterfield and consecrated in 1891. The spires were not completed until 1933. The interior is decorated with a combination of cream limestone, bluestone, imported marble, granite and alabaster flooring and richly patterned, imported tiles. The effect of the tiles, which are predominantly green, yellow, rust, brown and black, is irreverently known as "lavatorial gothic". The carvings, ornamentation and stained glass are beautiful.
The church: This is the cathedral of the diocese of Melbourne, built on land originally inhabited by the Wurundjerri people. Christian worship began on this site in March 1836 and the original parish church dedicated to St Paul was demolished to make way for the present cathedral. A restoration programme is now under way to repair many problems that have developed over a long period.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is situated on the corner of Swanston Street and Flinders Street, diagonally opposite the famous façade of Flinders Street Station, known to many from the film of Nevil Shute's tale of cataclysmic destruction in "On the Beach". This is the heart of the city with lots of pedestrian traffic and trams rumbling by at intervals on both streets. Opposite the cathedral is Young & Jackson's famous hotel where Chloe's famous nude portrait has graced the walls of the hotel since 1909.
The cast: The Very Rev. David Richardson, Dean of Melbourne: celebrant and preacher, The Rev. Bevil Lunson, The Rev. Canon Anne Wentzel, Mrs Leonie Hempton (visiting director of music) Mrs Shirley Gale (visiting organist), and the Choir of St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About half filled, but everyone had plenty of elbow room.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I entered, I noticed a group of people gathered at the back of the cathedral, and before I could think about where I might get a service sheet, an elderly lady darted out of the group, asked me if I was a visitor and whether I wanted to stay for the service, and presented me with my hymn book.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, but I did pick a pew with a pew cushion, which may have helped. The only problem was that this pew was rather closer to the one in front than was appropriate for those with an inbuilt desire to kneel for parts of the service. The kneelers provided little resistance, so you could feel the hardness of the tiled floor beneath.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
An atmosphere of relaxed anticipation. There was a lot of whispering going on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Sit down please." The Dean then gave out the notices.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service was contained in a printed Worship Guide, including the offertory hymn. A small, words-only copy of Hymns Ancient and Modern Revised was supplied for the other hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The buzzing of the amplification system, which was causing problems – apparently not for the first time! This did seem to improve about half way through the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle-of-the-road Anglican. Although the St Paul's Choir was on holidays, the visiting Choir of St Peter's Cathedral, Adelaide, maintained the usual cathedral musical standard. The dean's quiet, relaxed air was readily transmitted to the other clergy and congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Well, nobody's perfect! The dean commenced by announcing that his sermon was rated M – for the benefit of the younger members of the choir – as he would be using coarse language and adult themes. And he did! He seemed to have no problem holding the congregation's attention.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The dean took the text of the second reading: Romans 7:14-25, particularly looking at verses 16 and 18. We should call a spade a spade, even when talking about sin. While sin, euphemistically called "moral fragility", is a serious matter, it is also trivial, because God has got there before us with forgiveness even before we confess our sins and ask for forgiveness. Sin is an essential part of life, but God is the judge who acquits the guilty, and not the judge of the schoolroom or law court. Our God does not subject us to a network of burdening proscriptions. He is the one who says: "I created you and I love you."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
When the choir sang Stanford's Beati Quorum Via during the communion.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The irritating buzzing of the amplification system!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The cathedral shop opened up and nearby there was a cup of tea or coffee and a biscuit available at the back of the cathedral. The locals seemed to be very welcoming to visitors, and invited us to join in.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Pedestrian, probably because there were no kitchen facilities to hand and it had to be done picnic-style – but very welcome on a cold winter morning, nevertheless.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – If I lived in Melbourne it would be high on the list of desirable places to worship.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, indeed.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The magnificent sound of the choir in such a wonderfully resonant building.
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