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2691: Birkenhead Community Church, Auckland, New Zealand
Birkenhead Community Church, Auckland, NZ (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Wldflr.
The church: Birkenhead Community Church, Auckland, New Zealand.
Denomination: Independent, with roots in the Christian Brethren Church of New Zealand, also known as Open Brethren.
The building: They meet at the Rawene Centre, formerly an electronics warehouse that the church acquired in 2001. The building is actually managed by the Willow Christian Trust, a registered trust set up by the church for that purpose. There are many facility rooms available for use by the church and other community groups.
The church: The congregation was formed in 1912 as an Open Brethren church and met at various locations over the years before acquiring the Rawene Centre. It was not clear to me at what point in time they began to consider themselves an independent congregation. They sponsor a variety of small groups for people of all ages, as well as a football team. One of their groups delivers bread, donated by a local bakery, to people in need. The membership numbers between 100 and 120 and are of mixed ethnic backgrounds, although mostly middle class European folk as far as I observed.
The neighbourhood: Birkenhead is a suburb to the northwest of the Auckland city centre. The area itself was settled in the 1860s and was described as "bleak and wild" until the establishment there in 1882 of New Zealand's only sugar factory, known today as the Chelsea Sugar Refinery or simply "the Works." Birkenhead today is a charming place, with beautiful picturesque parks and great views of Waitemata Harbour. The church is located a couple of hundred meters from the main Birkenhead shopping precinct.
The cast: I didn't catch the name of the service leader, but the speaker was George Carter, chairman of the Elders. The position of pastor is currently vacant. The song leader, a young woman, was also surnamed Carter.
The date & time: 11 May 2014, 10.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Mothers Day Service. (New Zealand celebrates Mothers Day on the same day as in the United States.)

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. I'd estimate the capacity as around 200.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed at the door and handed a news sheet. I sat by myself but was acknowledged with a welcoming nod by several folk.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were modern metal framed with padded seating. Very comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Nicely chatty, warm and welcoming, with cakes handed out to any and all mothers who were arriving. Mothers were also served coffee by a chap who wore an apron with café@rawene embroidered on it.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Happy Mothers Day and welcome."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books. All songs and relevant information were projected onto a screen.

What musical instruments were played?
Keyboard, guitar, drums.

Did anything distract you?
The huge loaf of bread on the communion table. Judging from its appearance, I am fairly sure it was leavened. (I'm a stickler for getting things right!)

Birkenhead Community Church, Auckland, NZ (Interior)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Well, they didn't swing from the chandeliers, but it was enthusiastic all the same. Middle-of-the-road happy, but I observed only one guy lightly clapping and raising his hands once or twice. One of the songs, "Revelation Song", I had not heard before and it was simply wonderful to sing. I was somewhat saddened that there were no traditional hymns sung, but that may not always be the case.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
I confess to not having timed it, as I was enthralled by the quiz they had for Mothers Day entitled "Mothers' Day Jeopardy." But I'd estimate it was between 15 and 20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The preacher had a calm and collected speaking voice, easy to hear and listen to.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He spoke about the differences between Mothers Day and Mothering Sunday. Being from a C of E tradition, my ears pricked up at this in that I wondered how an Open Brethren church would know about Mothering Sunday. There was also a video clip from the film The Passion of the Christ, specifically the scene where Jesus stumbles while carrying the cross as Mary looks on from a short distance, and Jesus remembers his mother rushing to comfort him when he stumbled as a child. I saw one or two wet eyes in the room as we related these things to our own caring mothers. The comment was made that unfortunately not everyone can recall positive experiences, either as mothers or of their mothers. I really appreciated what was shared.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The song entitled "Revelation Song" and the short but excellent talk about mothers.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Being from an Anglican tradition, I was somewhat dismayed at the lack of focus on the communion. The huge loaf of leavened bread irked me, but other than that it was pretty much a heavenly time.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few more folks welcomed me and offered me a piece of cake.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Plenty of cake and coffee on a help-yourself basis from a large tea trolley at the back of the auditorium. I guzzled a coffee whilst reading the large notice board and then discreetly left the building.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Indeed, if I lived in the area, I would definitely consider making this church my home.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely!

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That oversized loaf of Sunday bread.
 
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