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  1509: St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong, China

St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong

Mystery Worshipper: Amaranta.
The church: St John's Cathedral, Hong Kong, China.
Denomination: Hong Kong Anglican Church (Episcopal).
The building: The second oldest building in Hong Kong and the oldest Anglican church in the Far East, the cathedral is situated in lush though compact gardens, with other diocesan buildings scattered around the vicinity. St John's was built in the mid 19th century in the Gothic revival style. It opened for services on 11 March 1849 and was extended in 1873. However, much of the interior is not original. During the Japanese occupation of World War II, the building was stripped and converted to a social club for the Japanese imperial army and was badly damaged, and then was restored after the war's end. Before the handover in 1997, the front pew was reserved for the governor and visiting royalty. You can still see the governor's insignia at the end of the pew.
The church: Originally established to serve the British colonists, the cathedral continues to conduct most of its services in English. However, as the diocese has had a Chinese bishop since 1981 and the current dean is also Chinese, there are services and other activities held in both Cantonese and Mandarin. The cathedral also serves a substantial community of migrant workers from the Philippines, with Filipino services and clergy. The extensive information about the cathedral's activities available on its website emphasises their involvement in social welfare programmes.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is located on the bottom slopes of Victoria Peak, Hong Kong Island, just where the central business district begins to give way to residential areas. The lower terminus of the Peak tram (once a commuter line for wealthy Brits, now a tourist attraction) is only a few minutes walk away – most of that time being spent waiting for an opportunity to cross the busy road. The immediate neighbours these days are mostly skyscrapers belonging to the Hong Kong branches of various international banks.
The cast: The Revd John Chynchen, chaplain.
The date & time: Friday, 31 August 2007, 8.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Said Eucharist.

How full was the building?
The service was held in the Quiet Chapel, formerly the baptistery. Though more plainly decorated than the main body of the cathedral, it boasts air conditioning – an inestimable benefit in a Hong Kong summer. Nine of the twelve chairs set up for the congregation were filled.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Since we arrived well before the service started, only the priest greeted us with "Morning" as he went about his preparations.

Was your pew comfortable?
Plain wooden chairs with small back pillows were arranged around the three windowless walls. These would have been fine, except that my companion's was a bit rocky. I was wondering how kneeling would be managed, but as it turned out we stood for prayer.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The worshippers entered quietly as the cathedral bells started to peal. The atmosphere was reflective and reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Today we are celebrating the lesser feast of Aidan of Lindisfarne."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A booklet produced in-house entitled Holy Eucharist for Ordinary Time. According to the copyright credits, the material is largely taken from Common Worship, but also draws on other sources.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The chair that rocked. There were also a couple of late entrants. In a congregation this size, that creates enough of a disturbance for the priest to pause until they come in and take their seats. At the other end of the service, I was amused to note that the person nearest the door was perfectly positioned to open it for the priest as he left.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed low mass. Both congregation and priest seemed comfortable and familiar with the liturgy and each other.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
There was no sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Listening to the bells in the pre-service quiet.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The lack of welcome afterward was a bit off-putting. The priest shook our hands as we were on our way out, but seemed unduly taken aback when we started to make conversation. I imagine it is generally assumed that most visitors are tourists, and while that was true of us, a seeker or someone new to the area might have to attend a few times before being recognised as such.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
One of the regulars wished us a nice day. No one else spoke to us – presumably most were heading straight to work, although I noticed about half of the congregation move off together.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none, but I found the cathedral gardens a pleasant place to drink the orange juice I had brought with me.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would want to attend Sunday services to get a better sense of the broader cathedral community. If I worked in the area I could imagine dropping in regularly on a weekday while being part of a regular parish elsewhere.

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 early morning sun coming in through the window while the bells rang out.
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