|915: St Thomas, Kuantan, Malaysia|
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Mystery Worshipper: Romeo&Juliet.
The church: St Thomas, Kuantan, Malaysia.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
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The building: Modern and almost futuristic in design, which is a pleasant break from traditional Gothic architecture. The fairly high placed cross on a separate concrete tower (see picture) is indeed a good witness for the church in a predominantly Muslim nation. I hope the cross is well lighted up at night. The interior is spacious with the pews on both sides at a comfortable angle for worshippers to follow what's going on up front.
The church: It sounds and looks like a very active church, with varied programs for spiritual, social and community developments. The church bulletin handed to us listed many ongoing activities for young and old. The presiding priest mentioned during the service that they played an active role in helping to replace the past neighbouring state government (which was considered extreme Muslim fundamentalist) with the newly elected moderate government, which is more multi-racial in makeup. It's inspiring to see a church making positive contributions to the community they're in.
The neighbourhood: Within 10 minute walks you can visit three Methodist churches (English-speaking, Chinese-speaking and Tamil-speaking the last two sharing the same building, I was told), plus an Anglican church on the same road. Across a street block is a mosque.
The cast: Fr. Eugene led the morning Mass.
What was the name of the service?
The church bulletin handed us referred to it as Mass.
How full was the building?
Mostly full, with additional folding chairs brought out as people continued to stroll in. In fact, about 15-20 folks were left standing throughout the service, including two Mystery Worshippers who arrived late.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A lot of smiles, but nobody welcomed and/or offered us a seat. My dear wife found a vacated seat, but soon gave it up to a senior citizen. After which she "felt led" to skip down the road to attend the Methodist church while I stayed on.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was comfortable, and I enjoyed it only when I stayed back for the next service, which was conducted in English, with an interpreter who gave the Chinese (Mandarin) translation. I was pleasantly surprised to hear the ethnic Indian priest lead in English and Chinese when reciting the usual Catholic blessings. Not understanding Chinese myself, I cannot vouch for his Chinese language authenticity, but could see the happy approval of his congregation a highly commendable effort on his part, and the Catholic Church.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We were late for the first service as we had to drive around in circles to get to the church (due to some road works and mandatory diversions put up by the city authorities), so I'm only able to comment on the second service (Mass) that I stayed back to attend (which was slightly more than a 30 minute wait for me). Some ladies came very early and spent time in prayer, seated in the pews, and most came "almost in time" for the Mass. A worshipful atmosphere was evident a Catholic hallmark which I found awe-inspiring, especially when many congregations now remind me of a marketplace or trade fair before and after the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
I couldn't get what the priest and/or the interpreter was saying (due to poor sound system at first, which was quickly rectified), but I could see from their body language that it was a traditional Catholic call to worship.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A video screen carried almost all the song lyrics in both English and Chinese. I was not handed any book, although I noticed some Bibles and hymnals were available.
What musical instruments were played?
Sounded like a keyboard to me.
Did anything distract you?
The glaring sunlight coming in through the side windows, especially as the church hall had subdued lighting. It was painfulto the eyes to try to see what was going on at the altar and around it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A balanced assortment of hymns, choruses and traditional Catholic chants, including the evergreen "Hail Mary". The music volume was pleasant to the ears, and the rhythm employed catered to the young and old.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
Around 20 minutes.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
During the preparation for the holy communion, when the choir and congregation sang as the people went forward to the altar to be served by the priests. It was awe inspiring.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
When the priest commented negatively about Protestants not showing enough "respect for Mary, the mother of Jesus," which I felt was uncalled for in a worship service. He also claimed from the pulpit that the Catholic Church had a hand in ousting the "ultra Islamic state government," which introduced politics into an otherwise very worshipful atmosphere on a Sunday morning.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood and walked back and forth for almost 15 minutes, but no one approached me, except for a kind looking gentleman who picked up my camera from the pew and told me that I had forgotten it. I thanked him, but did not try to explain why I left the camera on my seat. If he's representative of the congregation, members of this church are truly honest and practising Christians. In fact, I tried to strike up a conversation with another gentleman by asking him to re-confirm the name of the priest for that service. He did just that, smiled and walked away.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Wish they had served at least plain water as I sure was very thirsty, but nothing was given; and I had been there since around 8.45am till well past noon, as I attended two services.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 I used to attend a Catholic Church when I was a teenager, and still find the Catholic service inspiring, but this one in Kuantan should work on its public relations. I wonder how angels would feel if sent there on a secret mission by our Lord.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Both glad and sad.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The time of personal worship in a serene atmosphere.