A large building (88m long) of solid rather than soaring appearance from the outside, with a solid-looking square tower at the east end. The outside is painted in a beige colour. Inside it has a more soaring appearance, with hints of art deco, as it was designed in the 1940s, though not completed until 1998. The interior is painted in a predominantly peach colour, nicely offset by pale mauve, white and aqua tones in the ceiling. Earlier designs, closer to European Gothic, were rejected as too vulnerable to earthquakes, which are a major hazard in Wellington. For the same reason, it is built of reinforced concrete. The east wall of the well-lit sanctuary features what looks from a distance to be a large mural of Christ, but is in fact a patchwork embroidery. A notable feature, invisible from the nave, is the Lady chapel, which is a transplanted old wooden church. That church, St Paul's in Paraparaumu, served a Maori congregation and was the first Christian church in the south of the North Island. St Paul, a noted sea traveller, is honoured in one of the stained glass windows, which features a variety of ships of various eras battling through storms very appropriate for windy Wellington.
The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia is organised into three "partners" Tikanga Maori, Tikanga Pakeha, and Tikanga Pasefika so that the Church may order its affairs in the cultural context of the locality. As part of Tikanga Pakeha, Wellington Cathedral offers services entirely in English (as distinct from all or partly in Maori). Consequently, most of the congregation are of European (mainly British) descent. It is an active inner-city congregation, with a reviving ministry to students and young families. Their website describes the many ministries that they offer; among these are men's and women's breakfasts, a craft group, and bellringers. There is a said eucharist, choral eucharist, and choral evensong each Sunday, and "prayer rhythms" and the eucharist during the week.
Wellington is the capital city of New Zealand, and sits on a large harbour near the southern tip of the North Island. With good reason, it is widely known as windy Wellington, and is also prone to earthquakes, as it sits on top of the main fault-line dividing the Asian and Pacific plates. Seismologists count about ten thousand earthquakes there annually, though the last really big one was in 1855, not long after the arrival of British settlers in 1840. St Paul's is situated in the government quarter of the central business district, and is a block or two away from other landmarks, including Parliament House, the National Library, numerous government offices, one of the campuses of Victoria University Wellington, and the Roman Catholic cathedral (Sacred Heart).
The Revd John McCaul, priest associate, was the celebrant. The Revd Michael Branley preached. Several other priests assisted with the distribution of communion.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist.
How full was the building?
It felt three-quarters full, as the service was confined to the area between the unused chancel and a gap in the seating. I counted about 150 present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a veritable gauntlet of greeters on duty. The first one just inside the door gave us the two pew sheets. The second one a few metres further in engaged in general chat, including about my home town in which he had lived for a few years. The third one at the gap in the chairs handed out hymn books.
Was your pew comfortable?
We sat on individual wooden chairs. They were comfortably moulded and each had a kneeler underneath for use by the person behind.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church filled up quietly; most people seemed to be there in good time.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
A voice came over the speakers announcing: "We open our service with the hymn whose words are on page 4 of the weekly cathedral news, which you should have received as you came in."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
One of the pew sheets (clearly marked "Please return after the service") was essentially extracts from the order of service in the New Zealand Prayer Book, with some modifications approved for use in Wellington diocese. The other pew sheet listed the hymns and Bible readings (though not their texts). The hymn book was Common Praise: A New Edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern.
What musical instruments were played?
The hymns and some of the choral items were accompanied by a splendid sounding organ, very well played by an unnamed young lady who was described to me later as an apprentice. The cathedral has contracted for a new electronic organ to replace the old pipe organ, but the current organ is a temporary one on loan from the supplier. The choir, whose role may have been restricted because of Lent, was comprised of six men and six women, who sang tunefully enough.
Did anything distract you?
The speakers for the sound system were all in front of the congregation, but the sermon started with no sign of a preacher in the pulpit or somewhere else in front of us, leaving me distractedly left wondering where he was. (It turned out that he was giving a sort of guided tour of the church, starting from the back.) I also wondered if the rather washed out appearance of the "mural" in the sanctuary was because it was only half-finished.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Formal, but only mildly so by the standards of many cathedrals. For example, the priests wore plain white robes with purple stoles but no more elaborate clothing. Indeed, the congregation were also fairly informally dressed, with very few suits and ties in evidence. There were no bells or smells during the service, except for a single bell before communion. The service included a commissioning of the Anglican Youth Movement, a team of about 15 young adults from the cathedral parish who most weekends go out to other churches in the diocese to assist with services and especially with youth work. As part of this commissioning, one of the workers was interviewed by the preacher. A large tattooed man with a big beard, he looked more like a biker than a traditional church worker, and certainly not like a stickler for formality.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The Revd Michael Branley spoke fluently and clearly without notes as he wandered around the service area.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel for the day (Christ drives the money changers out of the temple, John 2:13-22) inspired the preacher to muse on the shape of our "temple" today. The high cathedral building speaks to us of the grandeur of God, but it is vital to balance this with the intimacy of God without overemphasising either (and certainly not to think of Jesus as my boyfriend!). The gospel and the other readings of the day present a common theme for us: Who is Jesus and what does he mean for us? In particular, how can we including the Anglican Youth Movement best serve the changing local demographic? One possibility, bearing in mind the many students around, is perhaps visits to a local craft brewery as an occasional meeting place.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organ made a glorious and heavenly sound from its speakers high in the old organ loft. As a sound technician at our home church, I was also impressed by the quality and handling of the sound system generally, as it dealt with numerous wandering speakers and singers.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
A hellish moment was averted by quick action of the clerk, who realised that the gospel reader (who had processed to be in the body of the congregation) had not switched on his microphone. The clerk reached into the reader's pocket and fiddled there until sound suddenly came out of the speakers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As tea was served at the back of the nave, i.e. just inside the main door, one could not easily look lost or escape without being noticed. We had a good chat with the preacher, who, like us, had lived and worked in three or four countries and had an accent that showed it.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Poured from a large teapot into a proper pottery cup. No food was offered that I noticed, but we were able to lunch well at a nearby pub.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Having once been regular members of another cathedral in this province, we felt at home 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 pink painted interior and its contrast to the transplanted wooden Lady chapel. Also the motley crew of the AYM, who were noticeably more diverse than the rest of the congregation.