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882: West Hawthorn Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia
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West Hawthorn Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Adeodatus.
The church: West Hawthorn Uniting Church, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Uniting Church of Australia.
The building: A red brick pre-World War I church. It is a typical Methodist building of the period, with a raised central pulpit and side aisles.I could hardly describe it as beautiful in an architectural sense.
The church: According to the noticeboard, the building is also used by an ethnic group. I don't know if there is much or any interaction between the two congregations.
The neighbourhood: The church is situated on a main road in a fairly affluent area, quite close to the centre of the city.
The cast: The Rev. Robert Humphreys.
What was the name of the service?
It wasn't actually stated on the noticeboard or pew sheet, but I guess Morning Worship would cover it.

How full was the building?
About 45 present in a space which would probably take 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, a handshake and a smile from two people as I entered. Two other people asked me where I was from.

Was your pew comfortable?
I can't remember, so it couldn't have been uncomfortable. That's the sort of thing I do remember.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was quite a lot of chatter going on, so it was hardly reverential – but unfortunately that seems par for the course these days in most churches.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Spirit calls us together..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A copy of Together in Song ( the Uniting Church hymn book) and an order of service which included the printed music for a contemporary song.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?
Yes, the altar covering. From where I was sitting at the rear of the church it looked black. I hoped it was at least a very dark green, which might just pass as liturgically correct. To make matters worse, the cloth was decidedly askew. As I am of the sort who immediately has to straighten a crooked picture, I kept hoping someone would leap up and make matters right before the service began. No one did, however, and as a visitor, I restrained my natural impulse and remained sitting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Fairly traditional, although the "affirmation of faith" (usually known as the creed) was unusual. It involved one side of the congregation saying, "Yes to freedom", and the other side responding, "Yes, yes, yes". Then the latter group saying, "Yes to love", and the other side saying, "Yes, yes, yes"... and so on through the other fruits of the Spirit. I suspect this might have been written for the occasion. For the children, there was a recorded (African?) song about the Spirit and they were encouraged to clap along to the chorus. It was quite a jaunty song and the minister himself seemed almost ready to break into a full jig. I am not an admirer of liturgical dance, but on this occasion I wouldn't have minded.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – His delivery was relaxed, friendly and accessible.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon followed the lectionary readings, particularly Galatians chapter 5 and its call for Christians to live as free people under the guidance of the Spirit. We were reminded of how easy it is for us to slip back into a life governed by rules – the antithesis of Christian freedom, as Paul reminded the Galatians. If we are to be enslaved at all, it is not by rules, but by love for one another.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Oddly enough, the peace, which I usually find a bit awkward, especially in an unfamiliar church. It seemed to me that the congregation were genuinely glad to greet each other, almost exuburent.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That altar cloth.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay, so I don't know if there was any morning tea on offer. If so, it wasn't mentioned in the notices.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would be happy to belong here.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Definitely, yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warmth of the minister and congregation and the sense of community.
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