Wednesday, 8 January 2014

St Paul’s Anglican Church, Carlingford

Address: Cnr Moseley Street and Vickery Avenue, Carlingford 2118
Date of visit:    29/12/2013      
Services attended: 7:45am and 9am

My Notes

7:45am Service                       

Service Type: AAPB 2nd Order Holy Communion,  
Advertised as a Traditional Service      
Worship Leader: Rev’d Bruce Hall
Numbers: about 30-35 Demographic: 90% over 60, 50% over 75.
Music: two hymns – old favourites, sung to accompanying piano, sung quietly.
Readings: Only Gospel read, All of Chapter 5 of Mark.
After Gospel, the Creed was said and then the sermon (1662 order)
Sermon: Delivered by the Retired Rector of the Parish. (20 -30 minutes long)
It was a retelling of the story of the gospel and how the action of the gospel for the day fits into the plot. Mainly verse by verse exposition, and delivered well.
The Communion: The communion was white commercial bread cut into little squares, and grape juice in little cups. The words of consecration were delivered by the Worship-leader from the lectern. Then the bread and grape juice were brought forward from the back table on the stage area, and passed around the pews.  
After Communion: there was a hymn, with an offering plate circulated, then a final prayer and the service ended.
General Comments: The whole service was finished in about 50 minutes.
Before and after the service I had a number of lay people approach me and greet me and welcome me to their community. I stayed then for the second 9am service.

9 am service

Service Type: general prayer and praise service (advertised as a Family service)
Worship Leader: Rev Gary Koo (Rector)
Numbers: around 130, down from its usual 160-180 because this was the holiday period.
Demographic: many young families, with a broad variety of ages, and ethnic groups, a broad cross section of the community.
The Service was led by the rector / chief pastor, his manner was warm and charming, affable if you like. It made the worship time easy to enter and comfortable.
The opening had a series of songs of faith, all on the data projector screen, with drums and piano and various instruments and three singers. These were done well, three in all and one for kids and two for all the family.
The early part of the service was spent introducing the Preacher who was a student minister, a young Asian man.
The service had prayers and intercessions. These were led from the front, and were clearly well prepared ahead of time.
Readings: The Reading of Scripture was from James 5: 13-20. It was explained that the community had been going through James and this was the concluding of that series.
At the conclusion of the reading, the creed again was said, and then the young preacher came forward to preach.
Sermon: The Sermon was very well delivered, because the preacher approached with humility and worked sensitively through a few tricky pastoral issues.  Length of sermon; about 15-20 minutes.
At the conclusion of the sermon, we had prayers, then songs then the service was ended.
After the Service: I was welcomed and spoken to by a number of laity. The Rector made a move to meet me also, and spent a few minutes talking to me about the community and the year ahead. 

General Reflections and Recommendations

Furnishings were very comfortable, which, including the prayers, was probably the best aspect of my time there . The bibles for the service were stored in wooden book-bins at the entrance to the worship space. The services were called meetings. The community seemed content and sedate. In discussion after the service various laity and the Rector told me the whole Parish is about 900-950 in number. This included six Sunday services, two in other languages and two in parish plants.
I asked about the parish plants (communities coming from the main community in Carlingford but being generated in other suburbs as part of an expansion program)
Church plants were made in Baulkham Hills, North Rocks and Berala. These communities meet in School halls, and have generated communities of their own over a few years.
The Name: The church recently adopted the name Crossway Anglican Churches. This has caused legal problems since a Baptist church in Victoria has objected to them using the name which they use as a brand. So the Carlingford Communities are working on a new name for their combined churches.
My experience as a visitor in the parish prompted the following prima facie observations:
  • The parish values numeric growth, bible studies to direct godly living, and mission work overseas. Bringing people to Jesus and living a gospel-centred life is the hub of their Christian Community Life.
  • The worship life is very warm and relaxed. There was a focus on faith-sharing, gospel living, mission supporting and bible study.
  • The group has a large and strong leadership group. They have a strong sense of the vision of their community and what they are trying to offer the wider community.
Concerns and compliments about this Anglican Community
  1. The worship has little formal liturgical shape. Even the early prayer book service was only vaguely following the liturgical form according to the rubrics in the book. The later family service had no Anglican shape in it at all.
  2. The celebration of the Holy Communion was done in a very informal way,  suggesting a fairly unsophisticated or underdeveloped sacramental theology.
  3. There were no robes, no clergy collars, no priestly titles, no symbols of the cross inside or outside the church. This is interesting considering the pictures on the website of the Rector’s ordination and induction has him in both clergy collar and robes. I’m not sure what to make of the ‘dress-ups’ for important occasions and the ‘dress-downs’ for Sunday worship.
  4. The creed seems to have an important place in the liturgy. I think the definite statements of belief are comforting and good directives for a community of this kind.
  5. I think these services were starved for bible readings and for the many families that came to be fed on the word of God this is very concerning. The Anglican Church tradition has always made mandatory the reading of the Gospel (the life of Jesus from the witness of the evangelists) as part of Holy Communion services. It is also staggering that a church claiming to be bible-based has their main morning worship with families with only eight verses from James. 
  6. The prayers were done really well, and it was pleasing for me to hear well prepared intercessions (prayers on behalf of the world and those in need and wider church). I have been to Churches who forget intercessory prayer, and it shows a myopic and blinkered view of the church’s life and work. This Community has a commendable prayer practice.
  7. I listened to four sermons delivered by various preaches in this community. Two on the day and two on their website. The preaching is direct expository homiletics, and tends to be delivered warmly and with an earthy charisma but with a simplicity which may be comforting to some but frustrating for others. As a person who appreciates depth of theological ideas and debate, the simple nature of instruction from bible principles would leave me a little starved for intellectual content.
  8. I am surprised for a church who calls itself 'cross-way' that there was not a single Cross symbol inside or outside the building. Why Churches in Sydney feel they must ditch the symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus which for 2000 years has been the dominant symbol of the world faith is deeply concerning. Why you would do this and then name your church 'cross-way' i think shows a church whose mind and heart is distracted at the leadership level.
Who would struggle with this community?
  • People who enjoy sacramental liturgy and traditional celebration of the Holy Communion.
  • People who are highly theologically educated or interested in deep debate on contentious theological and political issues
  • People who need symbols in their church, liturgical seasons and colours represented, and extensive scripture read from throughout the bible, all of which are missing in this kind of contemporary reworking of worship life.

I am impressed with their friendliness, warmth and generous welcome during my visit, as well as their intercessory prayer. However, I think there are many concerns about this church claiming to be in the Anglican tradition. I think its expression of Christian faith is like warm porridge religion, comfortable and filling, but bland and without deeper substance for the maturing soul.


Welcome: 4/5
liturgical sense: 3/10
Music: 6/10
Technology Use: 3/5
Sacramental aptitude: 3/10
Building look and comfort: 3/5
Children Friendly: 4/5Anglican-like Worship: 3/10
OVERALL:  29/60 OR 48%

Reason: too many parts of worship missing, lack of bible read, basic preaching, no confession, no lord's prayer, lack of respect for the sacrament, simple use of bible teaching, songs and prayers felt like a Baptist youth group and bible study. 
John Gumbley

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