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995: St Stephen's, Gleniti, Timaru, New Zealand
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St Stephen's, Gleniti, Timaru, New Zealand
Mystery Worshipper: The Flying Fox.
The church: St Stephen's, Gleniti, Timaru, New Zealand.
Denomination: Presbyterian.
The building: This is a 1970s building made of Oamaru stone in parts, and fibreboard in others. The interior is rather plain, with red pine floors, chipboard walls and accoustic ceiling tiles.
The church: This seems to be quite an arty-crafty congregation, but none of the art that was featured on the website was in the building – a shame, I think.
The neighbourhood: Located on the west side of Timaru, a town of about 30,000 people, the neighbourhood is a middle class to high income area.
The cast: Rev. Richard S. Gray, the church minister.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service, Second Sunday of Lent, including the dedication of a baby.

How full was the building?
Extremely full. There were only a few seats left here and there. The congregation was mostly made up of older people, but there were quite a few young families and a few teenagers, with probably around 120-150 people in total.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we walked in we were given a hello by a friendly lady at the door, who also handed us a hymn book. She then pointed out some available seats.

Was your pew comfortable?
Semi. They were simple school benches with some green padding. Not the most comfortable, but without the padding it would have been worse.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We only arrived in time for the beginning of the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Psalm 121 is a favourite psalm for many people..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Just a hymn book; all the other songs were projected on a screen by an overhead projector.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, guitars, keyboard and drums. However, only the organ was used after the initial entry songs, and things got quite slow and oldish after that. Because there were quite a few elderly people in the congregation, this may be quite justified.

Did anything distract you?
The very cute blonde toddler running around at the front, but that was a welcome distraction. Also the minister's hand movements and the way he drew out his "ssss" sounds.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Probably middle of the range, but leaning towards the conservative.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
19 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – He used a lot of hand and arm movements and stepped around a little. He also had a very expressive face, but I found his preacher-voice a little offputting. The sermon wasn't bad, but it didn't particularly stir me.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Nicodemus (who met Jesus in John's Gospel) and his darkest night, where all he believed in was suddenly questioned. Rev. Gray related this to the dark nights that inevitably come for Christians, and how we can be there for each other in these times.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The singing at the beginning of the service was wonderful. The number of young families with children was also encouraging.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The sound of some Sunday school soundtrack coming from the other room. Also, a faint but unmistakable smell at one point... obviously someone had a cooked English breakfast that morning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We didn't stay too long, although there were plenty of smiles from people. One lady turned around to speak to us while the children went out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I'm not sure. I didn't see any and we weren't invited to any, so either there is none or it was hidden away. If there is, maybe someone should have made the invitation during the service?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I would definitly check out other churches in the area first. Timaru mainly has "extreme" churches – either very traditional or very happy clappy – so finding one in the middle is an achievement in itself.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. I also really liked the tree-poster they introduced, where people can post their practical needs (such as lawnmowing, etc.) and the practical gifts they could offer. It's what its all about.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
At the dedication of his baby, the father was asked what the baby's name was. He said the name, and his wife chimed in right away with, "No it's not!" Oops.
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