Emmanuel-Howard Park United, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Emmanuel-Howard Park United, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: Transformed
Church: Emmanuel-Howard Park United
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 20 September 2009, 10:30am

The building

A traditional old building that has sadly been severely neglected. There have obviously been some water leaks, and the walls were grubby and stained, with peeling paint.

The church

This is a church that welcomes people radically, according to their website. They support the community with free meals and are welcoming of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgendered peoples.

The neighborhood

This is a lovely neighbourhood with large old homes near Toronto's High Park. The church is located on Roncesvalles, in the heart of a Polish neighbourhood. In fact, there was a Polish festival on the street on the day I visited.

The cast

The Revd Philip Cable, minister; Suzanne Meyers Sawa, music director; Mona Webb, lay reader. There was also a solo sung by Rosie Lewis.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Service

How full was the building?

It was practically empty. At 10.30, there were only 15 people present. I began to wonder if the service started at 11.00. More straggled in, and a few left during the service (you'll see why, read on). At the high point there were about 50 present, including the choir and worship leaders.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was given an order of service and someone said welcome, but the minister was standing right beside her and he said nothing to me. Another woman came up after I was seated and said good morning. The minister walked past me four times, but never said a word to me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Average wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was very quiet – probably because there were so few people there.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. The Christ in me greets the Christ in you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Voices United, the UCC hymnbook. There were pew Bibles, but they were not the same version as the lay reader and minister used.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano, which were both played very well. The sound was rich and the organist/pianist was incredible. The solo during the offertory was excellent.

Did anything distract you?

The peeling walls made me wonder if there was mould. A lay person made some announcements at the beginning of the service, but I couldn't hear her, as she didn't use a microphone.

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

The music was very traditional, but of excellent quality. There were only four people in the choir, but they were very good. We sang a birthday song to "Lord of the Dance" for those with birthdays, but the words were not printed anywhere.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

14 minutes, but it seemed a lot longer.

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

2 – He started out very strong, with a conversational manner, speaking from a podium on the floor, not the pulpit. Unfortunately, he then began to speak about the use of acrostic poetry in the reading (Proverbs 31:10-31 – a good woman is hard to find), and I got really lost and bored.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The minister went through the letters of the alphabet giving theological references for each in the form of an acrostic poem. This had already been done in the call to worship and children's time, and would be done again during the prayers of the people, with painful, awkward silences between suggested lines. Several people walked out. It's OK to have a theme, but this was like beating a dead horse.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I watched two teenaged boys in front of me, one wearing a jacket with flames and skulls, singing the hymns. Another boy lit the candles from the Christ candle. The music was excellent – too bad there weren't more people around to hear it.

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

The grubby atmosphere, feeling alone in a huge sanctuary, the lack of energy and spirit.

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

At the end of the service we were invited to pass the peace. I waited to speak to the minister, but he busied himself at the front and was clearly not interested in making contact with the congregation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Perhaps they should serve coffee before the service to get people a little more energetic. I honestly couldn't wait to get out of there! There was a sign that said there was coffee and tea in the fellowship room, but nobody told me where it was.

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

1 – There was little evidence of community. I would have walked out too if I weren't writing this report.

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

Not really. There is not much life in this worship service. The choir was great, but the congregational singing was horrible. The sermon was unintelligible. It seems like they do good social justice work, but they really need to work on worship.

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

Wondering if they would ever get through the alphabet during the sermon. Thankfully, he stopped at "P".

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