|820: Christ Church, Whangarei, New Zealand|
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Mystery Worshipper: The Men in All Black.
The church: Christ Church, Whangarei, New Zealand.
The building: The church looks to be of 1970s pedigree and is a skeletal structure of large concrete stantions, a steep-sided roof and large windows at each end of the church. The overall effect is of a motorway flyover crossed with an oversized greenhouse. Architecture of this sort fails in inner-city areas, but succeeds in Whangarei's pleasant surroundings as ample views of the surrounding greenery are visible from the church's airy and light interior. Off to the left is a side-chapel containing a couple of old-fashioned stained glass windows which are set off very well by the minimalism of the rest of the church.
The church: By New Zealand standards, the congregation appeared quite large, and the church had the atmosphere of importance. Ordinations of a number of priests are also due to take place in this church at the time of writing. References to other associated parishes were made in the
The neighbourhood: Lots of other churches are clustered around this small part of Whangarei, but few in any other part of the town. Perhaps there is some sort of ley-line in the viscinity? Whangarei itself is the centre of the Northland farming community and a popular stopping-off place for tourists on their way to and from the stunning Bay of Islands. The town has a relaxed, rural feel about it and is a pleasant place for a visit.
The cast: Sidespeople: Sylvia and Allan Batchelor. Hosts: Sylvia Batchelor (again) and Sheila Swarbrick. Priest and vicar: Joyce Marcon.
What was the name of the service?
Service of Holy Communion and Baptism.
How full was the building?
At a guess the church could seat 600 people and was roughly half-full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed and handed service sheets, but that was all.
Was your pew comfortable?
Our pew could be described as "new revised standard" – that is, it was a pew, but more generous than the Victorian (King James) variety.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was quietly buzzing with anticipation.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The priest opened the service with "The first hymn will be found..." and she then went on to expound the Anglican Holy Mysteries of service book, sheets etc., before finally giving the number of the hymn.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A Prayer Book for New Zealand, a laminated card with the baptismal service printed upon it, and a pink order of worship containing the Bible references for the day's readings, the collect and the hymns. (All this in addition to the Parish News and the Community Parish News. However no Active Anglican was handed out.)
What musical instruments were played?
A mighty pipe organ located at the rear of the church. We did not notice it when we first entered, but when it began to play, we turned around and looked!
Did anything distract you?
The gifts on the altar were covered by a cloth with a large, embroidered ankh upon it. Perhaps the clergy are secretly into a spot of sun-worship on the side. Given the gorgeous weather in Whangarei that weekend, I wouldn't be surprised. I was quite relieved to see the normal chalice and plate revealed rather than some grisly Egyptian relic when the cloth was removed. During the baptisms, the second child was so keen to take the plunge that he struggled with the priest and seemed, just for a moment, ready to pitch forward into the font.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
"Revised Standard Version", rather like the pews. The mighty pipe organ was a reminder of why God, not the Devil, has all the best tunes (just not the popular ones), and the songs played were a good mixture of the best of the old and the new.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 All very straightforward and easy to understand, as the sermon was actually for the kids. Nevertheless, the preacher displayed clarity and use of props that others preaching for older congregants could take a cue from.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The children in the congregation were called up to the front and given stones. Joyce then told them (and everyone else) about how how a wall needed to be built and that the stones found they were able to do this if they all worked together. The oddest shaped stone which didn't seem to fit anywhere was used for the most important part of the wall. Clearly this went down well with the kids because at this point one of them decided to applaud the sermon by whacking two of the stones together. Leastways I hope it was applause rather than an example of an alternative method of getting things done to the one given by the vicar.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were a few moments. It was great to welcome no fewer than five kids into the church. Also, all but the most fogeyish sentiments would have been satisfied by the mighty organ and congregation thundering out "How Great Thou Art" using the traditional rather than the (inferior) modern words. Also, the other Anglican Holy Mystery – the requirement to drink after-service tea in a drafty church hall no matter what the weather – was not adhered to. Post-eucharist tea was drunk on the church front lawn in blazing sunshine.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
It's hard to think of any, although when the church's excellent accoustics began to reverberate with "If I were a Butterfly", a merest hint of sulphur drifted into my mind. Some songs just don't work when played on organs. That said, the quality of the organ and the organist almost pulled it off.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We were very quickly collared – by Joyce the priest (very impressive as she must have had a large number of visitors that morning) and also by a younger couple with whom we had a good chat. Having asked about the organ we were told that the church had recently had part of it refurbished and had now paid off two-thirds of the debt.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea was served with friendliness and with quite tasteful china cups and saucers, but the tea itself tasted like the standard ecclesiastical collection of bags and topped up water.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 the church seemed a good, thriving place with a bit of zest about it.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. While ructions hover and brood over the worldwide Anglican church, it was nice to be in a place getting on with worshipping God and being church, for a change.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The calm and happy face of the organist as he raised the roof of the church with his brand-new toy!