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673: Mustard Bush Faith Community, Brisbane, Australia
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Mustard Bush Faith Community, Trinity College Chapel, Uniting Church Centre, Auchenflower, Brisbane, Australia.
Mystery Worshipper: Nunc Dimittis.
The church: Mustard Bush Faith Community, Trinity College Chapel, Uniting Church Centre, Brisbane, Australia.
Denomination: Uniting Church of Australia (UCA).
The building: Mustard Bush takes place in the main building of the UCA's headquarters in Auchenflower. The chapel is a former seminar room which has been converted by placing a rude cross on the west wall, and adding a lectern and a small table-altar. For their meetings on Tuesday evenings, the community drags chairs in to form a semi-circle. They also drape coloured sheets of fabric in various places throughout the rest of the room, placing icons with candles in front of them on the sheets. Just outside the circle a bowl of water and a fern sprig are placed on a pillar. In the centre of the circle is a low coffee-table-sized table draped with a seasonally liturgical coloured cloth. The Gospel, thurible, and elements for communion are placed on this altar.
The church: Mustard Bush was drawn together by shared concerns about worship, community and justice. It seeks to explore more ancient forms of worship, combined with the positive aspects of (some) Protestant worship. Mustard Bush serves as a support group for UCA clergy; indeed its membership comprises mainly clergy, theological students and a small number of interested others. Services are designed for transient worshippers, that is, for those who are just passing through, whether that be a state of faith or literally. Behind the scenes members seem to be in regular contact with one another, making this community a parish without a parish.
The neighbourhood: The Uniting Church Centre is down the road from the Wesley Hospital (owned by the UCA), not far from a huge shopping complex in Indooroopilly, and about 10 mins from the business district. It is surrounded mainly by the older and more established suburbs of Brisbane – lots of classic Queenslander houses built on stilts either for maximum ventilation, or because of the steep hills in the area!
The cast: Embodier: Rev. Paul Walton; Presider: Rev. Jenny Tymms. Everyone else present had some part to play in the service, reading or doing otherwise.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?
The room itself could hold about 50, but there were 12 of us present in all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, and then some. I think I was introduced to everyone present in the foyer. I was handed the liturgy (in a specially produced booklet); the part of which I had to read was highlighted. I was also introduced to the thurifer and there ensued a discussion about what sort of coals and incense were being used.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a very comfortable 1980's pink fabric-covered seminar-style chair with silver metal runners (so it could slide over the carpet). Plenty of room to sit cross-legged on it. Or curl up. Or whatever.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very chatty in the foyer. Entering the chapel, we were enjoined to be absolutely silent in the glow of votive candles burning before the icons.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please be seated everyone." This welcome followed the lighting of the Paschal candle and the censing of everyone and everything (icons included).

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the liturgy booklet.

What musical instruments were played?
None. Only the pure (or otherwise) sound of the human voices.

Did anything distract you?
The trains. The main southbound railway line is not far from the building. I was also wondering why the windows had a metal mesh over them. I figured it was because they faced west, and the Queensland sun is very hot in the late afternoon. But it still struck me as possibly being quite depressing, had it been daylight. A big internal distraction was my own constant interplay of certainty and doubt – I was playing doubting Thomas again, and that bothered me big time.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a weird mix of liberal Uniting Church contemporary liturgy, Orthodox, Anglican evensong and others I couldn't pinpoint: incense; asperges; icons; periods of silence throughout the service for reflection; kyrie; sanctus; inclusion of the magnificat and nunc dimittis; non-specific consecration at communion (everyone said whatever was left of what I would term the canon); Australia-specific prayers – not that these are bad, unless badly written; and responsorial stuff that's not, to my knowledge, in any commonly used-source.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes. A copy is on Mustard Bush's website.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Mustard Bush was commissioning one of its members who is moving to Sydney. A theologian prays truly; one who truly prays is a theologian. Praying with the mind in the heart – not one without the other. We need to live as people of prayer, praying without ceasing.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Firstly the wonderful incense. Also the period after the Gospel for silent reflection and meditation – I was most disappointed at how short this seemed. At the time allotted for sharing, the love of the group for its members, their caring for each other and involvement in the others' lives was almost tangible. I was most impressed. And I loved the prayer time when anyone who had any prayer lit a taper, placing it in a box of sand on the altar.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the censing, I almost managed to have my forehead tattooed with the shape and size of a burning thurible; in my tradition, one bows to the thurifer before as well as after one has been censed. An almost fatal mistake! I also felt pulled in several directions through the service: coming from my liturgical background I was constantly feeling that what was going on was somewhat odd and not quite right in terms of what is normal for me. One moment that I could not reconcile was communion. The consecration is something I feel very strongly should be done by the celebrant, and not by everyone in tandem. Admittedly, most of those present were clergy, so one could argue it was a case of con-celebration. Even so I was not happy about it. I was also a tad dissatisfied with the use of a hamburger bun for the bread, partly because I am a coeliac, partly because of my liturgical sympathies and beliefs about what happens, and partly because I think it just looked wrong. Why not a standard bread roll or a slice or two of bread? Or any of the other variations people use? I mean, a hamburger bun? Honestly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I had to go, so didn't hang around. People wished me a hearty goodnight as I was going. A very friendly bunch.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, given that things finished so late. But I had been to dinner earlier with a couple of the group. And that was very nice.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Although I really enjoyed the experience of fellowship at Mustard Bush, I think I am too much of a liturgical junkie. I would definitely consider popping in every second month or so if I lived in Brisbane.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Unequivocally yes.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Nearly being smacked in the head with a thurible smoking frankincense.
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