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Heights Uniting, Burwood East, Victoria, Australia
Theo Lo Gaster.
Burwood Heights Uniting, Burwood East, Victoria, Australia.
An unusual A-frame building with a tower off to one side capped
by a tall steeple. The church is hidden among native trees on
a very busy suburban intersection. It's often referred to as
"that ugly church opposite K-Mart Plaza" by locals. I found
the inside remarkable for, of all things, the floorboards –
plain but highly polished and obviously well cared for.
The people there are mostly on the older end of things, but
like many Uniting Church parishes they seem to be heavily involved
in community work, nursing homes and outreach, etc. One of the
ladies I got talking to over tea and bickies mentioned that
they don't have much there for children. They do sponsor activities
such as movie going, exercise and bushwalking groups. Crossroads,
a Christian fellowship for people with disabilities, meets every
third Saturday of the month. There are two services each Sunday:
a traditional morning service and informal evening worship.
Burwood East is a suburb of Melbourne and is the site of the
first K-Mart store to open in Australia. The facility is still
the largest K-Mart in Australia. The church is located at a
busy spot opposite the major shopping centre that houses K-Mart.
There is a tramline right out the front. Despite this, the church
was relatively quiet and peaceful.
The Revd Bill Perry. It was announced that Mr Perry will be
visiting for a few months whilst the pastor is on sabbatical
in Sri Lanka.
The date & time:
18 April 2010, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
More than three-quarters full – I'd say about 150 people or
so. I was one of the young ones and I'm mid-40s. There was one
solitary child, which made the children's address nice but a
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was formally greeted at the door by Joyce, the welcomer for the day. Several other people spontaneously welcomed me and made sure I had a service order. Everyone was very friendly and pleased to see someone new.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes – with a nice pew-long cushion made for easy sitting. The
pews are traditional wooden ones with no kneelers (I don't think
this church is much into kneeling!).
How would you describe the pre-service
It was comfortable. Piped organ music, hymns mostly, was running
quietly in the background. Most people stayed and talked in
the foyer; their talk drifted into the church a bit, but not
annoyingly so. Some people sat and chatted quietly in the pews;
others sat and reflected. It was relaxing.
What were the exact opening words of the
The visiting minister, Mr Perry, began: "I have been working
overseas for many years..."
What books did the congregation use during the
Together in Song hymnal, but the words were all projected
onto an overhead screen. Having said that, I found the book
helpful, as I didn't know the hymns and needed to follow the
notes. The Bible reading was also projected, as were other helpful
slides to show which part of the service we were up to.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano, I think, although I could only hear the organ. Very traditional accompaniment.
Did anything distract you?
This is going to sound awful, but I believe the man in front
of me may have had Parkinson's disease, as his head moved constantly.
He kept drawing my eye. There was a lot of talking from the
minister, and apart from singing there was little by way of
verbal participation for the congregation. So it was easy to
drift off a bit.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
It was traditional, respectful, what I would imagine is typical
low church style. The minister seemed to want more engagement
from the congregation. He tried to pep-talk us into really singing
the final hymn with more gusto than had previously been in evidence.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 Mr Perry has a very quiet, wordy style; he's no holy
roller or street preacher. He has the air of an academic or
a contemplative. I think anyone younger than 50, or not yet
a Christian, would tune out pretty quickly, no matter how good
his sermon is. He is clearly an admirer of John Wesley, as will
be seen, and waxed lyrical about him.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Mission/evangelism, and seeing the opportunity to evangelise
in everyday life. He began with 10 minutes of praise for John
Wesley, including mention of Wesley's evangelising trips around
the UK, the house he lived in at Cornwall, the chair he sat
in – you get the drift. He then turned to a very interesting
lesson on Paul – where he lived, how he came to be a Pharisee,
how he got permission to travel to Damascus to persecute Christians,
and how he placed himself in exile in Arabia after his conversion
due to the shame it brought on his parents and the fact he would
be very unwelcome in Jerusalem. I liked having these pieces
put together. Finally, he went on to try to convince us to see
everyday life as a form of mission, challenging us to work out
what it was about this church that attracted us and use that
as a way of inviting others to come in. All a bit disconnected,
but well spoken nonetheless.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The singing was nice, the vibe was calm and respectful, and
people seemed to be genuinely devoted.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I come from a liturgical background, and the absence of liturgy
meant there were few opportunities other than singing for me
to engage in. I didn't feel a spiritual connection at all, and
I doubt someone not yet Christian who stumbled upon the service
would find that connection either. It was more of a fellowship
meeting for the already converted.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't get a chance to look lost. The man next to me in the
pew struck up a conversation and invited me to have a cuppa.
There was also a long wait to get out of the church. Everyone
stopped to shake the minister's hand, and he had quite a chinwag
with each. Being the only new person, I stuck out like a sore
thumb and was looked after well.
How would you describe the after-service
Tea, coffee and bickies. All well organised and pleasant: you
went to a servery and the rostered-on ladies helped you to whatever
you wanted. The tea was nice and hot, and there was plenty of
opportunity to chat.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 This church is lovely, but it's not for me. I found
it hard to connect spiritually, and there is not a lot going
on for my kids. While it was lovely to be welcomed so warmly,
I did feel one man went over the top, getting me an invitation
to a discussion group and standing over me while I signed the
visitor's book. This made me feel a bit intimidated, but I know
he meant well.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes and no. I can see why mainstream churches are dying and
we are fragmenting into subgroups. Unless you grow up in a tradition,
it can be hard to relate to why some things are done a certain
way. But I liked the lesson on Paul and felt that this church
is true to the gospel and Jesus. You can't say fairer than that!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The plain polished floorboards. Also Paul's history. Finally,
that we shouldn't be so eager to get new people in that we actually
frighten them away!
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