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685: Carmelite Monastery, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
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The Carmelite Monastery, Kew, Melbourne, Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Verver.
The church: Carmelite Monastery, Kew, Melbourne, Australia.
Denomination: Catholic, although the service was in conjunction with the Kew Inter-church Council.
The building: The chapel of the Carmelite sisters is part of their monastery property, all of which is set behind high stone walls amidst beautiful gardens and shady trees. The chapel is ornate to say the least, with lots of marble, stations of the cross around the sides, colour, and an altar that must be the proverbial six feet above the congregation.
The church: This is not so much a church as a community of religious sisters. It is a closed order, but they open their chapel and grounds to the local community once a year for an ecumenical service. A different minister from the local churches preaches each year, and several years ago the local Rabbi preached, which to me, certainly affirmed the true ecumenical nature of this service. The sisters produce a range of toiletries called "Monastique"
The neighbourhood: Kew is a leafy suburb in inner suburban Melbourne, and is not a cheap place to buy into. The monastery itself is probably an unusual feature of the neighbourhood.
The cast: Various ministers of different denominations in Kew took part in readings. Rev. Malcolm Crawford (Catholic) preached; Rev .Peter Votjko (Catholic) called us to worship.
What was the name of the service?
2003 Kew Community Festival, ecumenical gathering.

How full was the building?
More than bulging at the seams – if you didn't have an invitation (which I did), you had to sit out on the lawns and listen through the loudspeaker system. Fortunately it was perfect weather.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, the sisters were near the front gate to make sure that those with tickets and those without were sent in the right directions. I was directed to a seat by an usher. During the service, we were invited to pass the peace in standard style. But generally, the congregation did not talk to each other, except with those they knew.

Was your pew comfortable?
No complaints.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy – there was lots of movement, with choirs getting themselves organised. Music and singing from the local Catholic boys' school prevented boredom.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"It is my pleasure to welcome you to this ecumenical service."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything was printed in the order of service, including the music for the sung responses to prayers. But we also sang the Lord's Prayer, and there was no music for that. Being a non-conformist Protestant, I found this a problem, and so tried to just guess the notes (pity the person next to me). The readings were from the Jerusalem Bible, which does not seem to be a gender-inclusive version.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, local school boys and their teachers on various brass instruments.

Did anything distract you?
The sheer opulence of it all. And the height of the altar area – I was a bit worried about all those clergy and sisters falling over the edge.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very proper, but not too starchy. The singing was brilliant, enhanced by all the marble, I suspect.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
11 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – It just wasn't all that exciting, although his delivery was clear and uncomplicated. And some of the school boys, who had been playing their trumpets from where he preached, had left their music stands there, and the good father was surrounded by papers and metal – not a good look.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He made some reflections on the nature of water – its use in baptism, for refreshment, cleansing. Much of south-eastern Australia is in the middle of drought, so this was topical. It was a reflection, though, not preaching as I know it. I can't say I heard the gospel preached that afternoon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing – hard not to be inspired by it. The sheer opulence. And even if you didn't want to take notice of what was happening "on high" you could reflect on the wall art and icons. There was a woman (only one) amongst the clergy procession. I think that was like being in heaven, knowing that there are some women around in ministry, although it might have been a distraction too.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The over-representation of men participating in the service. The readings were not in an inclusive version, so we had to hear about men's relationship to God and faith. Hymns, similarly, were not inclusive. For instance, "All creatures of our God and King" has the lines "Thou fire so masterful and bright, that givest man both warmth and light" and "All ye men of tender heart." I felt a bit excluded on this front. It isn't that difficult to do a bit of re-writing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hanging around was not really an option. Lining up at any one of the many tables to be served was easy, and the sisters were warmly welcoming. And since this is a rare opportunity to see the gardens, you wouldn't just stand there anyway.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Perfectly reasonable coffee or tea in good cups and saucers which could be enjoyed in the gardens. The sisters had also been baking during the week.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I would certainly aim to get to this particular service each year. But I doubt that I could make it as a sister in a closed order.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Glad, yes, and inspired by the singing, but not by the preaching.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome of the sisters and their holy, humble presence.
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