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2492: Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand
Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, NZ
Mystery Worshipper: Galadriel.
The church: Holy Trinity Cathedral, Auckland, New Zealand.
Denomination: Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Diocese of Auckland.
The building: The chancel and high altar area are 20th-century Gothic. The nave, built more recently, is in Pacific style: wide, with a high wooden ceiling and stained glass windows forming most of the walls on three sides. Alongside it is St Mary’s, the former cathedral church, a wooden building officially accorded heritage status. The precinct also encompasses a memorial garden, a labyrinth, and Mountain Fountain by the noted contemporary sculptor Terry Stringer, all of which provide spaces for contemplation and reflection.
The church: Holy Trinity is the spiritual centre and focus of the diocese, city and region of Auckland, which includes all the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand. From this centre flows a range of community activities and opportunities to explore faith and spirituality. They include ministry to children, youth and their families, a range of periodic seminar series, and regular home groups and other interest groups. The cathedral choir leads worship on Sundays during term time. On weekdays there are daily eucharist services. The boys' and girls' choirs and the cathedral choir sing at midweek choral evensong services. At the time of my visit, the cathedral had just hosted the funeral of a well-loved national individual, which had been attended by around a thousand people.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is located in Cathedral Precinct, Parnell, one of the oldest parts of the city of Auckland. It is surrounded by well-preserved wooden buildings that form a very desirable residential district. Just down the road is the village of Parnell. Up the road the other way is Auckland Domain, a large public open space that includes Auckland Museum and Winter Gardens.
The cast: The Very Revd Jo Kelly-Moore, dean, was the presiding priest. The Revd Tony Surman, priest assistant, was the preacher. Dawn Adams was the liturgist. Also contributing were the Revd Canon Howard Leigh, canon precentor; Timothy Noon, director of music; Philip Smith, cathedral organist; the cathedral choir and assorted acolytes.
The date & time: Transfiguration Sunday and Commemoration of Waitangi, 10 February 2013, 10.00am. Waitangi Day celebrates the treaty between Maori and white settlers that created modern New Zealand. It is one of the country’s public holidays.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Reasonably full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was welcomed with a warm smile and "Good morning" and handed a service sheet. When it became obvious that I was not a local person, two others stepped forward to welcome me further, asking where I was from and explaining where I could sit. The choir were still rehearsing, as was the group of acolytes who would later carry candles, a cross, and the thurible in procession.

Was your pew comfortable?
No pews – seats with arms, padded. Very comfortable but supportive so there was no inclination to lean back and doze off.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very friendly. Lots of people coming in and greeting each other. It was right at the end of the main summer holiday season in New Zealand, and people were exchanging holiday reminiscences in the pews in front and behind me. It wasn’t unpleasantly noisy but there was plenty of chat. The choir sang a short anthem before the procession.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome to the Festival of the Transfiguration."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
All the words of the service, including hymns, were in the service booklet handed out on arrival. This booklet also indicated that it was using the liturgy of He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa – the New Zealand Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
During the choir's opening anthem, a group of welcomers continued to chat at the back of the nave. It was very distracting. Briefly distracting also during the opening procession was the thurifer, whose skills at swinging the thurible involved some wide twirling motions, which meant other members of the procession had to give him a wide berth. He did it well, though.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Traditional Anglican choral eucharist, though infused with real enthusiasm and a certain panache. For instance, at the sharing of the peace, the clergy made a real effort to greet members of the congregation, and the choir director shook the hands of all members of the choir. They all looked happy doing it.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The Revd Tony Surman said he was very nervous because it was his first time preaching in the cathedral and he thought he might not do justice to the importance of the Transfiguration. Such modesty is becoming but somewhat misplaced – it was a good sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The celebration of the Transfiguration fits well into this part of the Church’s year. It follows Epiphany, when the Church celebrates the showing of Jesus to the Gentiles. Then followed the baptism of Christ and his presentation in the temple, when a young couple "from the back of beyond" turned up with the long-expected Messiah. The Transfiguration finally confirms that Jesus is the Christ. The disciples who observed his transfiguration realised that Jesus stood in continuity with a long tradition and the voice from heaven confirmed his special place. However, from Wednesday in the coming week, Jesus’ face will be set toward Jerusalem to confront the powers of evil. Paul's second letter to the Corinthians takes this further: the spirit of Jesus is essential to interpret the Old Testament stories of Moses and Elijah. This gives us the hermeneutic key that a concern to encounter God is fundamental to entering into a relationship with him. Peter, James and John has accepted Jesus’ call and were obedient to him, but they could not yet imagine what discipleship would cost them. It would lead to the start of the Christian journey that we are still on. We, too, can be transfigured, as individuals and as communities, into the life of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
How beautifully well-organised it all was. Everyone knew what to do, including the congregation, because clear information in the service booklet was given about who would do what and where, so the service flowed meaningfully without interruptions. And all the doors were open along one side of the building, which meant that even in moments of silence there was the distant hum of cicadas, which was oddly beguiling.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing really grated apart from that odd moment of chatter right at the beginning.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This congregation doesn’t let anyone hang around looking lost! As I moved to the back, one of the welcomers stepped forward to direct me toward refreshments in the building next door, and two members of the clergy shaking hands with everyone also said they hoped I would stay for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was acceptable though not noteworthy, but there was an excellent selection of biscuits and even some home-made cake.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Too far to travel, but if I lived in these parts the friendly welcome made me feel I could enjoy worshipping here.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The enormous enthusiasm of the presiding priest, the amazing skill of the thurifer, and the lovely prayer at the beginning that commissioned the new year of the Sunday School classes for youngsters.
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