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478: St Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand
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St Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand
Mystery Worshipper: Ora Pro Nobis.
The church: St Michael & All Angels, Christchurch, New Zealand.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: A white painted wooden church set in spacious grounds in the centre of Christchurch near the Avon River. It has a wonderful vicarage next to it, and a church school on the other side. The inside is magnificent: beautiful wood and stained glass.
The church: The information sheets about the church told us that it was the pro-cathedral before the current cathedral was built.
The neighbourhood: On the other side of a large intersection outside the church is the night club and restaurant strip of the city. It is quite amusing emerging from the church to the sounds of techno music and drunken chatter.
The cast: The vicar, Fr. Peter Williams (celebrant); The assistant priest, Rev. Jill Lander (deacon); The people's warden, Gloria Moyle (sub-deacon). There were also four assistant priests, Fr. Philip Baker, Fr. Bernard Richards, Fr. Gavin Yates, Fr. Bob Peek and Fr. Ron Smith. There was a small choir and servers.
What was the name of the service?
Midnight Mass of Christmas (Solemn Mass and Procession, concelebrated).

How full was the building?
Mostly full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A woman handed me the sheets and books I needed and I slipped into the church. She was very busy, so I imagine that was why she did not speak. There was a line waiting to come in!

Was your pew comfortable?
Passable. There were lovely wooden boxed pews with dividers between the seats. They were numbered or "free", and I presume they were a reminder of the days of pew rents.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, but busy. The servers and choir were bustling around getting the church ready. There was a very good sign in the porch: "Please speak to God before mass and each other afterwards." What good advice.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
There were two parts to the service: a carol singalong, and then the actual mass. The singalong began: "Welcome to you all on this evening of the nativity."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A carol sheet, and a mass booklet that also had the pew sheet with notices in it.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. The small choir did very well with the communion motet, which was beautifully sung.

Did anything distract you?
The choir joined in the procession – I have never seen this before! Also, the thurifer was doing 360 degree circles with the thurible during the gloria and sanctus. I thought the thurible was going to take off heavenwards. The poor candle lighter could not get one of the high altar candles to light, no matter how hard he tried. The servers were fiddling a bit with the banners in the sanctuary, slightly distracting.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Dignified and correct in the Anglo-Catholic tradition without being stiff-upper-lip. It had a great feel about it, and it was very good to see so many children involved in the sanctuary, and many in the church too.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – What clear diction the vicar has! He took a very friendly but educated and well thought out approach from the pulpit. I enjoyed what he had to say very much, and thought there was a message for us all to take away.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
How we live in fear after the terrorist attacks of 11th September, both in New Zealand and around the world. There was a nice parallel made with the fear the shepherds must have experienced when the angels appeared to them. He then told us that the Christ child takes away that fear.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The solemn blessing was beautifully done by Fr. Peter. The procession of the baby to the crib and the reading from St Luke was very appropriate and joyous. There was a magnificent statue of Our Lady, who had been veiled and crowned for Christmas. Also, the shrine to Our Lady of Walsingham near the back of the church featured a beautifully carved statue with a backdrop of sky and stars.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was very frustrated by the fact that all the hymns/carols were played by the organist far too fast. Added to this was the man in the pew behind me singing with great gusto (bless him) but always just slightly under the note.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
It was Midnight Mass, so I did not stay after the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Christmas Eve... time to go home and have a mince pie and glass of sherry.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I really liked the way things were done here, and there was an obvious sense of community in the place. There was a fantastic parish atmosphere that was not overpowering. Things were done properly and nicely, people were relaxed and friendly to each other.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It did, very much so. I left happy and proud of my faith with the Christmas message in my heart. How lucky we are to have parishes like this is the world. The vicar is obviously doing a sterling job.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sense of community in the parish, it really was quite palpable.
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