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||1167: Ascension, Midland, Western Australia
Mystery Worshipper: Abbess Hildegarde.
The church: Ascension, Midland, Western Australia.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Australia.
The building: Quite a plain brick building from the outside, 106
years old. The inside, however, has been done over with lots of carved jarrah
(a West Australian timber) and brass, giving it a great deal of interest
and character. The solid timber flooring of the sanctuary was especially
set off by these ornamentations.
The church: A mix of ages and ethnicity, giving the feeling of being
part of a bustling lifestyle. This feeling is enhanced by the nearby growers
market held on Sundays, when adjoining streets are closed to traffic. Brass
band music wafted in during the quiet communion, although it wasn't intrusive.
The neighbourhood: Ascension is in the centre of the old Midland
town, about 20 kms from Perth, Western Australia. Midland is the first big
town for farmers from the wheatbelt and goldminers from the goldfields,
600kms to the east. In days past, Midland had a big railway workshop, now
closed and used as a tourist attraction, and has always been a bustling
trading place. The church's neighbours are the old town hall, police station,
shops and cafes, and some of the old homes.
The cast: The Rev. John Hewitson and two pastoral assistants. The
preacher was a retired priest, the Rev. John Pelham, who is now a member
of the congregation.
The date & time: Sunday, 11 September 2005, 9.30am.
What was the name of the service?
Formal Sung Eucharist with incense.
How full was the building?
About 40 or so people, one-third full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A handshake and "welcome" from a lady at the door handing out the books.
No one else spoke to me apart from at the peace ceremony, but even then
I barely received more than a handshake.
Was your pew comfortable?
Standard wooden pew, hard and cold.
How would you describe the pre-service
Quiet, no one really communicating.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Please be seated for a moment." The priest then walked from the
sanctuary to the front row of pews and in tears told the congregation of
the death of his mother during the week.
What books did the congregation use during the
Australian Prayer Book and a new Australian hymn book called Together
in Song. There were also two Bibles stacked up at each end of each
What musical instruments were played?
A small electronic organ/keyboard.
Did anything distract you?
It was a toss-up between the overhead projector, which had trouble playing
catch-up with what was being said by those reading from the books, and the
blast of music at the opening of each hymn or sung response. For the first
10 minutes of the service, the projector was way out of sync with the people,
so you really had to give up and turn to the book. The music was like a
radio turned on with the volume full blast, until it was toned down after
the first line or two. Even at communion, in the few moments of quiet between
receiving the bread and then the wine, right on cue the organ blasted forth
with a few bars before calming down. Ruined the moment.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Middle of the road really, rather mechanical and featureless. I felt very
much like an outsider, especially during the after-communion music when
people broke into song – nice tune, but I had no idea what anyone was singing.
Nothing was announced.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 Father Pelham seemed unsure of himself. Sweet guy, retired priest.
But he had a habit of making long silent pauses. I wasn't sure whether he
had forgotten what he was going to say or was praying for help. I found
myself counting 1000, 2000, 3000 . . . during the pauses and got to 10000
several times. At one point he said "I don't want to forget anything" and
then turned to his notes and repeated a couple of paragraphs that he had
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Salvation, forgiveness – we can forgive with the brain but we also
must forgive with the heart or we will not find salvation.
Which part of the service was like being in
My heart went out to the priest as he fought the tears in telling of the
death of his mother. But then he composed himself and talked for a few minutes
of the wonderful celebration of mass during her funeral service. It was
a poignant moment in which I realised how this man could feel deeply the
loss of his mother but then rejoice in celebrating her life.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That blast from the crackling amplifier as the music came through louder than ever during communion. I found myself wondering why they needed an amplifier at all.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I waited around like a spare part. Finally a woman asked me if I was new,
and just as I was about to answer her someone whisked her away, apparently
to attend to an urgent matter. The lady collecting the hymn books was the
only one to offer a smile or a good morning. The priest, of course, shook
hands with everyone and thanked us for coming. I stood there for about ten
minutes and then decided to walk slowly away, thinking I might find a warmer
welcome over at the growers market..
How would you describe the after-service
No tea or coffee – or not that I knew of. Nothing was announced and no
one invited me to anything. People seemed to be walking across the road
and standing outside the church hall, but they seemed so intent that I thought
it must be a parish meeting or something.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Cold and impersonal. I think it would take a long time to be accepted
into this congregation's midst. The priest and the hymn book lady seemed
friendly and welcoming, but the others forget it!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I thought of the original parishioners who built the church more than
100 years ago and how they would have struggled in their new adopted country,
and here we were all that time later, still worshipping here.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The chaos of the first 10 minutes when the overhead projector was all over
the place, but also the wonderful sanctuary with the ornate carving and
lots of brassware, lots of candles and the warmth of the picture it all
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