I am a bad churchman

John Ray

And you will see why shortly.

Although my visits there are infrequent, I have always enjoyed going to a service at Ann St. Presbyterian church.  Just the smell of old varnished wood as I walk in pleases me.  And I like the feeling of continuity with both my own and my ancestral past that it gives me.

So I was interested to see what the new minister there was like.  The elders and congregation  took 3 years to call a replacement of their old minister (Archie McNicol) who passed away.  I liked Archie McNicol and thought he left big shoes to fill  -- and the congregation generally obviously thought similarly.

So Anne and I went along there this morning.  We knew that the new minister was a Welshman named David Jones (how Welsh a name can you get?) so we were keen to see him.

And I can see why he was called (Via their Elders, Presbyterian congregations "call" their own ministers.  They don't have one imposed on them, which is the deplorable Anglican practice).  He has all the passion of the traditional Welsh chapel and preaches very skillfully and confidently.

I had a few initial niggles.  He preached in a grey suit.  Scots Presbyterian ministers in my experience always wear an academic gown over their other clothes.  But I guess that is not the practice in Wales. And I know I am a bit silly here but church announcements at Ann St have always been "intimations".  Today they were just "announcements".  There were a few other departures from Ann St. practice but nothing grave enough to mention.

What really bothered me however was the length of the sermon.  It was a perfectly good sermon but could have been preached without loss in many fewer words.  But when somebody bothers me, I don't just whine about it to my friends.  I go to the bothersome person himself.  So, being as polite as I could,  I emailed the minister the following after lunch:
Dear Mr Jones,

Although I joined Ann St church back in 1964, I have been only a sporadic attender over the years.  But I have always regarded Ann St as my "Home" church. I was married there in November, 1985. Today was my first visit during your ministry.

I was pleased to see how large the congregation was.  You must be outstanding at outreach. And you are clearly a sincere and skilled preacher.  Your sermon made some good points but was wearisomely long-winded.  I expected the service to end roughly on the hour but due to your sermon, it went on to 20 minutes past the hour.

Were you especially enthusiastic today and are normally more succinct?  I hope so.

Because of car-parking problems, I have popped into St John's Presbyterian at Annerley a couple of times in the past year and I am beginning to wonder if they might not be a better "Home" church for me.


(Dr) John Ray
Mr Jones was on the ball.  I got the following reply from him in a matter of minutes:
Dear Dr Ray,
Thanks for your constructive criticism. I need reminding to be more succinct. Sorry I was not able to speak with you as we had our congregational meeting immediately after the service. Please make yourself known to me when you are next in the congregation.
If Annerley is more convenient for you I am sure that would be an excellent choice.
David Jones
So what makes me a bad churchman?  This blog post. I think it is rather bad form for me to publicize this correspondence.  So why have I done it?  I have done it because I really do want to put pressure on the excellent Mr Jones.  I like to be comfortable when I go to Ann St. and a service that greatly over-runs makes me uncomfortable.  I can hear people saying "Boo, Hiss" to that and I am sure I deserve it.

UPDATE: I guess that the above sounds rather negative so I thought I should note some positives too.

The big positive was the large congregation. Under previous ministers such as Percy Pearson and Archie McNicol there were always plenty of empty pews but the church was already pretty full when Anne and I arrived and there were a lot who streamed in after us. It may have been standing room only eventually.

And there were about 20 kids present, who were called forward shortly after the beginning of the service to receive their own talk. After that they trooped off to their own Sunday school elsewhere in the church. I remember being such a Sunday school kid myself.

So was the big congregation Mr Jones's work? Probably. He seems much more dynamic than his elderly predecessors. But I cannot help wondering if some of those present were following the money. After selling off their centrally-located church hall to help build a big office block, the church is now a very rich one and some people might like the idea of helping to manage such money.

And another thing I liked was that the congregation used the original King James version of the Lord's prayer, complete with "trespasses" etc. It's the version I grew up with.

I also liked the provision of tea and biscuits outside after the service. There used to be such an evening provision but not a morning provision. It enables congregants to mix.

I also liked the fact that Allan Morton was given hand-shaking duties after the service. The minister would normally do that but had to attend the congregation meeting after the service. Allan is a stalwart of the church but has some health problems so has to put in a big effort to get to the services these days. That he was chosen to stand in for the minister is a fitting acknowledgment of his steadfastness.

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