Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria

Christ Church Cathedral, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Cathedral
Location: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Date of visit: Thursday, 16 June 2011, 8:00am

The building

The 13th-century-Gothic-style building is the third structure on this site. The first was destroyed by fire in 1869; the second became too small for the congregation. It was designed by local architect JCM Keith and begun in the late 1890s. The nave was completed in 1929; the two western towers were completed in the 1950s;and the east end, which contains the cathedral chapter room behind the main altar, was finally completed in 1991.

The church

As the mother church of the Anglican diocese of British Columbia, in a city heavily visited by tourists, it ministers to the wider Anglican community and parishioners, as well as visitors and locals.

The neighborhood

Victoria is on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, off the west coast of Canada. It is the capital city of the province of British Columbia, and its magnificent Parliament buildings overlook its sheltered harbour, along with one of those grand colonial hotels that are found in pockets of the British Empire the world over, and a host of busy restaurants and shops. There is a lively tourist trade, due to its natural beauty, the proximity to the US state of Washington, and historic connections with Britain, as well as a relatively temperate climate compared to most of Canada. The cathedral is located quite centrally, just a few blocks from the picturesque harbour, and close to the downtown shopping district.

The cast

The Revd Ian Powell (identified in the Sunday bulletin's staff list as "Priest to the City") celebrated the eucharist service and preached the homily. A woman (I wonder if she is the Revd Nancy Ford, identified in the staff list as "Deacon to the City") assisted and read the lessons and gospel.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

Practically empty. The service was held in the Lady chapel to the side of the main altar, but the 16 in attendance were spread out the entire length of the nave. Two of the 16 worshippers were younger than 50.

Did anyone welcome you personally?


Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, with a cushioned seat. I didn't use the kneeler, so I can't speak to its comfort.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The collect: "Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid, cleanse the thoughts of our hearts..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer of Canada (1959).

What musical instruments were played?


Did anything distract you?

While not distracted, I found myself thinking about the blend of old and new within the cathedral. Traditional stained glass windows (images of the apostles and leaders of the church) line the upper north and south sides of the nave, but the modern windows above the chapter room (what one sees when one looks east toward the main altar) depict the seven angels of the Book of Revelation. Paintings by contemporary artists on the north and south nave walls starkly depict or suggest the stations of the cross. Many coats of arms and what look like regimental flags are displayed throughout the cathedral. Lots of stuff to look at.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Some might describe the worship as stiff-upper-lip (using the Rite 1 liturgy with all its "thees" and "thous, " muted responses from participants, priest's back to the congregation as he faced the altar), but I like to think of it as one end of the Anglican-Episcopal spectrum. It felt like an "insider's service": the same small group that attends this early service probably knows the old Prayer Book and the Rite 1 liturgy by heart, and appreciates the speedy progress through the service as well as the brief homily.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

9 – The priest had a direct manner of speaking, a conversational style. He used humour effectively, and even a little profanity ("a hell of a better place").

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

My summary of the sermon will probably be longer than the sermon! He acknowledged the challenge of preaching on Trinity Sunday with the expectation that he would explain the theology of a triune God in five minutes. So he didn't try. He instead suggested that the Trinity provides an example of diversity and unity.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I enjoyed the sermon quite a bit, and wished it had been longer.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The Book of Common Prayer of Canada was a little tough for this American Episcopalian to negotiate due to its tiny print. Also, the sequence of the prayers and order of service were not followed exactly and were therefore hard to find before we had sped on.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

The priest greeted nearly all the participants after the service (firm handshake, direct eye contact). The verger, who had received the collection in a basket, came back up the aisle with the same basket, now filled with an assortment of candies that he offered to all.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

8 – Since I seldom attend the traditional Rite 1 liturgy at my own church, I can't fairly judge Christ Church Cathedral by one service. I assume the music ministry is excellent. There are three organs in the cathedral. Its newsletter, Labyrinth, had pieces about an upcoming organ series, an upcoming classical recital series, a study series on Galatians, and children's programming. Its website has information about programmes and ministries that reflect the concerns and interests of 400-plus parishioners. I'm sure if I lived in Victoria I would visit Christ Church several times in hopes of a good fit.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

It made me glad to be part of the diverse and inclusive Anglican Communion.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

It's been two weeks since my visit to Victoria. The brief homily about unity and diversity still resonates with me.

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