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1083: St John's, Cairns, Queensland, Australia
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St John's, Cairns, Queensland
Mystery Worshipper: Eagle Eye.
The church: St John's, Cairns, Queensland, Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The building: White stucco in a sort of Anglican tropical Gothic style. The parish was established in April 1884 and was the only church in Cairns at the time. The original building was destroyed in a cyclone, and the present structure was dedicated in 1927. The marble altar is particularly impressive for a small church in a tropical tourist mecca adjacent to a rain forest and the Coral Sea. Flowers had been abundantly and carefully arranged, and it was clear that the parishioners had given great thought to making the entire altar area beautiful.
The church: It sponsors many youth groups as well as Cursillo, Bible study, a Mothers Union, bowling league and other activities.
The neighbourhood: A heavily tourist-oriented town, Cairns is located in Australia's warm tropical north close to the Great Barrier Reef. Sitting in a mixed residential and commercial area, the church is close by to a Baptist Church across the road and the Roman Catholic diocesan headquarters diagonally across the intersection. "Hotel row" is also nearby, as are the hospital and related satellite doctors' practices.
The cast: Unnamed in the service leaflet, but a good guess would be the Rev. Wayne Corker, rector, and the Rev. Stephen Tabo, one of the associate priests at the church. Mr David Godwin (I think) supplied the music.
What was the name of the service?
Easter Vigil, lighting of the new fire and eucharist.

How full was the building?
25 in a church that could probably seat 125. This was a service at 9.00pm on Easter Saturday, which doubtless accounts for the low turnout.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. We arrived a little late, and the service had already started outside the building with the kindling of the new fire. A helpful parishioner with a small flashlight helped us find the proper service leaflet and a taper.

Was your pew comfortable?
Comfort was clearly not in mind when these pews were designed. They were unpadded and seemed to cut one right across the middle of the back.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Everyone was standing around outside watching the priest light the new fire. Once inside, we noticed two small children sitting in the front pew, paying attention and not causing any bother. But the next time we glanced in that direction, they had disappeared! More about this later on.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
We missed them, but probably "The light of Christ." The new fire had been kindled in what appeared to be a wok, and the priest was busily sticking colored pins into the pascal candle by the time the lady with the flashlight got us organized. We all lit tapers and processed into the church, using candlelight to find a seat in the dark.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
None – everything was in the service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
An electric piano with several different voices, one of which sounded like a choir going "ahhh."

Did anything distract you?
The oppressive heat and humidity, which is the normal state of affairs in far north Queensland. I kept thinking, "If it is this hot now, what must it be like at Christmas?" which occurs in mid-summer here. When the priest came around to pass the peace, the perspiration was literally dripping off his nose. That was a thought that stayed with me through communion.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Stiff upper lip with a Graham Kendrick song thrown in. I had never heard this one before and it had a sort of call and response portion in the refrain. The congregation might have failed in its attempt to flounder through but for the valiant efforts of an older woman with a determined deep alto voice and wonderful flat Australian accent, who marched us through the first two verses until we got the hang of it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
About 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Corker had done his homework and for that he gets high marks. His delivery was good as well, but the conclusion begged the question and seemed rather trite. (The Biblical account of post-resurrection events is true. How do we know? Because it says so in the Bible!) It was an appropriate Easter message, though.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The current best-seller The DaVinci Code espouses a view of history created in the middle of the last century to enhance the French tourism business. The great interest in the book is misplaced. The true story of Christ after his crucifixion is the one in the Bible.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
There were three, actually. One was looking at the altar, so masterfully constructed and beautifully decorated. Second was the care with which the service had been put together. The leaflet given to participants was thorough and well done. Having prepared more than a few of these myself, I know that this is not as easy as it sounds. Third was the simple request in the post communion prayer that we be given the "grace to recognize the Lord Jesus when he meets us, wherever we are on the road." Being a traveler, I found the prayer particularly appropriate.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The heat, actually, but there was nothing to be done about it. When the lights came on after the kindling of the new fire, the ceiling fans also came alive with gusto, promptly extinguishing everyone's tapers, but they were careful not to turn on the fans over the altar – which may account for the priest's excessive dampness.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't. We were invited to stay for a light supper, but by the time the service was over it was 10.30. We had put in a full day on the Great Barrier Reef and had another full day excursion beginning early the following morning, so we declined. Father Corker did ask us to send him a picture of our home church, though.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee was served on the porch on the north side of the church, but we did not stay to sample it.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The Easter Vigil is not what one would call a regular service, so I'd have to go back and try it on a normal Sunday. I tend to be more of a stiff upper lip worshipper than a happy-clappy one, so the style here would fit for me. The music was a bit weak, but again, with 25 people and an electric piano, one is not going to have great music. I do like the fact that the priest appeared to have done his homework, though.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. And glad to be able to go to a recognizable service so far from home.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Remember the two small children sitting in the front pew who suddenly disappeared? Well, when we went up to take communion, there they were, fast asleep on the floor in a couple of sleeping bags, surrounded by stuffed animals. They looked so incredibly peaceful.
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