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2721: Holy Cross, Henderson, New Zealand
Holy Cross, Auckland, NZ
Mystery Worshipper: Coffee Lover.
The church: Holy Cross, Henderson, New Zealand.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Diocese of Auckland. The parish is administered by priests of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin.
The building: A ghastly 1950s (I guess) red brick edifice with no obvious redeeming features and built with no anticipation of the liturgical changes around the corner. In order to make a bad job worse, the interior has been turned sidewards so the space is now as wide as it used to be long, which makes for a very strange shape in which to gather a community for worship.
The church: Their groups and ministries are all mentioned on their website. I'll briefly mention the Dove Fellowship, which (quoting from their website) "aims to meet the needs of Catholic women to be nurtured and trained in the ways of the Holy Spirit," and the Joshua Fellowship, which (again quoting from the website) "pray[s] and work[s] for stronger families, for our men to be better husbands and fathers, who can instruct their children [in] the Catholic way of life." There is a large school next door to the church.
The neighbourhood: Henderson is a suburb to the west of Auckland, noted for its theatres, shopping centres, and Corban's Wine Estate, a major New Zealand export wine brand. The socio-economic mix of the area contains almost every variable (other than rich) imaginable: Maori, Pacific, Asian and European faces predominate. The whole church campus is a significant footprint located at a busy road junction.
The cast: A "Father Michael" was the celebrant and preacher. No further detail was given and no reference to him was made in the service sheet or on the parish team page of the church's website. He was ably assisted by a large team of readers, intercessors and lay ministers of holy communion.
The date & time: Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 20, 2014, 9.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass. There are four masses on a Sunday, and neither the website, noticeboard nor pew sheet indicates which, if any, is the principal parish mass. I took a guess and I think I got it right, although I haven't been to the others to compare them.

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full, around 300 people. The congregation seemed to reflect the demographics of the area and could have been a snapshot of people straight out of the nearby shopping mall.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was given a smile and a "Good morning" as I was handed the notice sheet when I walked in.

Was your pew comfortable?
A varnished pine wooden pew – as uncomfortable as all such seating is. Kneeling on the kneeler with a straight back was the most comfortable position I could find.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
When I arrived there were about 50 people present. Two dominant conversations were ringing through the building. As more people arrived, these two conversations were replaced by a general hubbub.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning and welcome to Holy Cross. A special welcome to visitors and new parishioners."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
No books – liturgical texts and songs were displayed on a screen via an overhead projector, but because of the sideways layout of the church probably fewer than 25 per cent of the congregation would have been within viewing distance.

What musical instruments were played?
An electric keyboard, which pretended to be a piano most of the time.

Did anything distract you?
The sanctuary wall, which was actually the full length of the nave as it was built, was filled with a clutter of banners, mosaics, projector screen, flowers, a redundant heater, and various items of furniture. In the midst of all this was an undersized altar. At one end of this wall was a striking larger-than-life crucifix that would have made a great focal point had it been in a different position and not surrounded by so much detritus.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Standard post Vatican 2 parish worship. Informality bordering on the casual despite full eucharistic vestments, servers in albs (or were they party frocks – see below), and a sanctuary bell I heard rung just once.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – Although there are many Irish names among the population of New Zealand, it is unusual to hear such a strong Irish brogue. I found this rather delightful in a congregation of whom at least half were Maori or Pacific Islanders.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The parable of wheat and darnel (Matthew 13:24-30) is a difficult passage, so just be sure of this: (1) God is more forgiving than we are; (2) there is no time like the present to offer to God everything that's wrong in our lives; and (3) God is more loving than we can imagine.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A small but competent children's choir sang some of the mass texts in Latin, in harmony to an easy melody. Also, at the consecration a Maori woman rang out a Karanga (a song/cry of greeting) to indicate the presence of God, at the same time as the sanctuary bell rang.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At the entrance song two teenage servers arrived wearing albs that finished just below the knee – one of these two was wearing bright pink leggings!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing at all! No one spoke to me, and I was nearly trampled in the rush for the door. Everyone piled outside. The priest, waiting to greet people, was swamped by children. Everyone walked off or jumped into their cars.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Despite the ghastly building made worse by an internal reordering, and nothing much to please the senses at all, there was an appealing authenticity about the worship of this community. Led by an elderly priest with an accent from the other side of the world and a twinkle in his eye, this mass did feel like a community at worship. And although no one spoke to me other than the initial "Good morning," I didn't feel at all excluded.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, it did. The community, of which for a short time I was a part, made eucharist.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The Maori Karanga at the consecration and the server's leggings.
 
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