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2795: St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland, New Zealand
St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland
Mystery Worshipper: Coffee Lover.
The church: St Matthew-in-the-City, Auckland, New Zealand.
Denomination: Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, Diocese of Auckland.
The building: A Neo-Gothic church completed in 1905. It features a stone vaulted ceiling, which is a rare treat in New Zealand. A stone from the ruins of St Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury, with the Cross of St Andrew carved into it, is placed in the northwest pillar near the transept. In 1993 Salmond Architects, known for their private homes, churches and commercial buildings, were commissioned to undertake major exterior refurbishments, which included extensive stonework repairs, a new slate roof, and the removal, re-leading and reinstatement of many of the windows.
The church: An eclectic congregation. The church has a reputation for being a liberal catholic parish, with the emphasis on liberal. The church makes a particular point of being gay-friendly.
The neighbourhood: An eclectic neighbourhood as well: inner city apartments, businesses, restaurants, bars – and brothels. The City Mission is next door, which provides support to many homeless people. The largest casino in New Zealand is a stone's throw away.
The cast: The celebrant was the vicar, the Revd Helen Jacobi. There were two deacons and another priest who were not named. The director of music was Michael Bell.
The date & time: Christmas, 25 December 2014, 12.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Midnight Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Full. Extra chairs had been put out in the side aisles and these were needed, but only just. About 250 people,

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. I waked in and was totally invisible. The back of the church was full of people all talking to each other. Everyone was busy, and I unknowingly picked up the wrong service sheet from a pile on a table.

Was your pew comfortable?
I was in a wooden chair in a side aisle. It was OK, and felt like it looked: adequate.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Hubbub and bustle. Many people knew one another and there was lots of chat, far too much, but this is difficult to manage on such an occasion.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
They were in Maori: "Tena kotou. Nau mai Haere Mai." ("Greetings. Welcome.") A community welcome, entirely appropriate and predicable.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A white service sheet, which I didn't pick up until the end.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ was played very well. It is an opus of Henry Willis & Sons Ltd of Liverpool, England. The original Willis organ dated from 1862 and was moved into the present church in 1905. It was rebuilt in 1938 and again modified in 1970. In 2006 Henry Willis proposed a new instrument that included only a few stops from the original organ that were still usable; this instrument was dedicated in 2011.

Did anything distract you?
For some reason, immediately after the sermon there was a noisy exodus of a couple of dozen people, including people who had been sitting around me. I wondered what they knew that I didn't.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal liturgy, vestments and incense. For some reason the deacons acted as servers: one was the thurifer, and a layman (not a deacon) read the gospel. I found this a bit odd and irritating. Also, although the choir and organist were excellent, it seemed that the collection of musical bits and pieces that interspersed the liturgy had nothing in common except a vague reference to Christmas. It was a bit of a strange mix.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
6 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 – It was a clear, well produced delivery – well done and good to listen to at the time, but there was nothing much to take away. They post their sermons on their website, but as of this writing the most recent sermon posted dates from 7 December 2014.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The vicar explored incarnation as being within the Jewish community before the arrival of Jesus. She then extended it to today's 200th anniversary of the arrival of the first Christian missionary to these islands and the first act of Christian worship.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir sang beautifully. The building is glorious and the celebrant's gold chasuble was stunning.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a moment when everyone turned the page of their service sheet at the same time and it sounded like a sudden shower of rain. This was exacerbated by the fact that I didn't have a sheet. Despite the choir and organist both being of excellent quality, there were a couple of moments when they couldn't quite agree on the beat. This was probably due to the fact that the choir sang from the rear balcony and there was a time lag.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone departed. There was no after-service function, which is understandable given that it was after 1.00am.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I loved the building. This church is well known for its sense of community and hospitality. However, even though I am a definite catholic within the Anglican Church, I found the liturgy just bearable primarily because of the odd roles assigned to the deacons.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, definitely.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The strange mix of music.
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