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991: Wesley Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia
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Wesley Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Burke and Wills.
The church: Wesley Kent Town, Adelaide, South Australia.
Denomination: Uniting Church in Australia.
The building: On a large block, with old, established trees, this 140 year old church and other buildings have a look of solidity about them. Built of locally quarried blue stone in the traditional cruciform layout, the architectural style is neo-Gothic. Inside, there are some wonderful stained glass windows, and the most magnificent pipe organ, which dominates the front of the church.
The church: The Uniting Church in Australia is the name given to the amalgamation of the Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregational Churches, which occurred nationally in 1977. Kent Town Uniting Church, with this magnificent building, emphasizes the arts in its outreach programme. There are several resident choral groups, and this church is used for large celebratory services. I dimly remember going there one evening as a teenager, to a church youth rally.
The neighbourhood: The immediate area is now mainly light industrial and commercial, but when the church was planned and built, Kent Town was a very genteel suburb, very close to the city centre, and a highly desirable address for those of means. As a result of "progress", this century-old stone building stands out with dignity among modern concrete and brick boxes. The modern surroundings only serve to emphasize the church's traditional architecture. There are many echoes of the bygone era in the style of the building, with its iron railing fence.
The cast: The regular minister is away ill, so the locum minister led the service. His name is Rev. "Mac" Macdonald. David E Clarke is the Director of Music; he played the hymns, and led the choir, sometimes simultaneously!
What was the name of the service?
Family service, with christening.

How full was the building?
I estimate that there were about 100 people. There are three balconies, as well as two side seating parts, and these were not in use.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
The man handing out the hymn books welcomed us and made a joke. Once we were inside the church, people mostly seemed preoccupied with their own conversations.

Was your pew comfortable?
No. I'm sure the pews were as old as the church, if just as beautiful. I would have preferred to admire them, rather than have to sit on one! There were wooden bars dividing the pews, from front to back, at approximately the middle of each pew. We couldn't decide what these were for. There was one in each pew in the central row of pews. Burke found one of these useful as an armrest. One of the younger members of the congregation used the one near him as a play gym.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
No voluntaries, just chattering. I wanted to be in awe, looking at the architecture, pipe organ and stained glass windows, but kept being distracted by loud chattering. The excellent acoustics of the building contributed to the clattery noises of people coming and going.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to worship here at Kent Town, especially those worshipping with us for the first time."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The hymn book was Together in Song, and we were handed an order of service as we arrived. There weren't enough pew Bibles, so I didn't get one. Besides, the lesson wasn't read, after all.

What musical instruments were played?
Just the magnificent, century-old JE Dodd pipe organ. No other instrument was needed.

Did anything distract you?
Well, the magnificence of the surroundings did tend to draw the eye, but the main distractions were the people noisily coming and going for the first half of the service, and the small boy a couple of seats ahead of me. He definitely didn't want to sit at all, and had a disconcerting habit of staring right at me, in between crying, jumping, wriggling, etc. My regular church has no children, so I'm not used to it.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The service was fairly traditional, and the hymns were certainly well chosen for the organ. Somehow, I couldn't imagine the more modern choruses sounding great if played on this instrument.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The minister wasn't the incumbent, so he can be excused a little. I couldn't hear every word, but I think that was due to the kid in front of me, and an inadequate sound system for such a large space. He preached from the pulpit, which was essential, as he was hard to see at ground level.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The theme of the sermon was the raising of Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-45). The minister spared us the very long reading, and just explained what it was about, and related the connection between the story and Jesus being the resurrection. One sentence which stuck in my head was: "Jesus is Mr Resurrection himself". It struck me as out of place in this sermon. He finished with: "Death is not fatal. It may be a grave business, but it is not fatal."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The surroundings. The whole effect was awe-inspiring.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That small boy. And the organ, which was magnificent, but played rather too loudly in places, drowning out the congregation and the choir. At one point, in the middle of a hymn, everybody except the choir suddenly stopped singing. Oh, and me, of course! I can't hold a tune in a bucket, and now the entire congregation knows that, too! I didn't see any signal for this, nor was it mentioned in the order of service.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We just got more lost. At the beginning of the service, morning tea was mentioned, but then nobody headed off to a morning tea place that I could see. A lady said how nice it was to see us, but didn't mention the tea. Eventually, we just went home, feeling less than welcome, and decidedly out of place.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The service finished a bit near to lunch time, so it wasn't a great loss, but I would have liked to chat a bit with some of the people.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – I did feel a bit lost in such a big building, but mostly I just didn't get that feeling of "family". I got the impression that the people all had their own interests and concerns, and that these did not include actively seeking out "lost souls".

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
No, not especially, but the surroundings made me glad I'd gone there.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The gymnastics of the organist popping up to direct the choir, sitting back down to play a bit more, then popping up again, with bare arms waving about. He was seated fair and square in the middle at the front, with his back to the congregation, which only enhanced the effect.
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