Mystery Worshipper: LQ
Church: St Paul's
Location: Bloor Street, Toronto, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 August 2008, 11:00am
The church is a complex of buildings: the historic first church (built in 1860), the current church (1913), and the parish hall (Cody Hall) are connected by a recent glass atrium. The new church is inspired by early Gothic architecture. The interior of the church is magnificent. A priest acquaintance of mine explains that historically, morning prayer parishes were the most ornate, since the people needed something to look at. Anglo-Catholic parishes, on the other hand, could rely on their ceremonial to provide visual interest. (The very high Church of St Mary Magdalene in Parkdale is decidedly plain.) Numerous memorials to past parishioners, including various old Toronto worthies, adorn the walls. Two rose windows on the liturgical north and south ends of the nave stand out among the stained glass. The chancel features stained glass panels and a stone carving of the Last Supper. Two side chapels, above which are a number of organ pipes, add to the complexity of the interior.
St Paul's is the largest and second-oldest parish in the diocese. It occasionally acts as a sort of pro-cathedral for large-scale ordinations and other diocesan services that prove oversized for the cathedral. Along with Little Trinity church, St Paul's is one of the two cardinal shrines of Protestantism in the diocese. Holy communion is celebrated as the principal service only twice per month, though there is an early celebration every Sunday and another low celebration on Tuesdays.
The nearby intersection of Yonge and Bloor is the heart of Toronto and the principal subway interchange of the city. The Toronto Reference Library, Church House (the national Anglican headquarters), the upscale Holt Renfrew department store, and the trendy Yorkville shopping district are all a stone's throw away from the church. The main campus of the University of Toronto is also easily accessible from the area.
The Revd Tim Haughton, youth and young adult minister, officiated and preached.
What was the name of the service?Morning Prayer.
How full was the building?
The huge church was about a quarter full; it was the Labour Day weekend.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter said it was nice to have me and gave me a service leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was average, with a serviceable kneeler.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation were quiet; there was very little conversation. I arrived only a few minutes before eleven, so perhaps it had been different earlier.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning." The officiating priest proceeded to outline the theme of the service and invited us to greet our neighbours, which we did in a sort of ersatz peace ceremony.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A bespoke, all-inclusive bulletin was provided.
What musical instruments were played?
A magnificent pipe organ supported all singing.
Did anything distract you?
The second reader seemed to have a New York accent.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This was formal, but not fussy. It was based on the Prayer Book service of morning prayer, but was not the traditional choral matins I had expected. Parts of the text were rendered into contemporary English, but this was done unevenly and inconsistently, sometimes even within the same prayer. For example, the collect for peace began: "O God, you are the author of peace and lover of concord" but continued: "in knowledge of whom stands our eternal life." The Venite and Te Deum were omitted and the Jubilate Deo was sung to a metrical paraphrase.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The Revd Mr Haughton was theologically and scripturally dense, but relatively easily to follow.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The text was the lesson from Hebrews about "the perfection of rest." Perfect rest is being at ease with the core of our being in God's presence. It comes only when we lay bare all our faults before God. We can achieve that rest through Jesus, the great high priest, who was himself laid bare as a sacrifice for our sins. The crucifixion removes our need for shame.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The traditional, familiar hymnody.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Apart from the aforementioned omission of two canticles, I was devastated that the psalm was merely read, rather than chanted.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
During the announcements, visitors were welcomed and invited to make themselves known. After the service, the intercessor said hello to me and kindly reminded me that we had met at the parish where he had served his previous internship, and where I am an occasional weekday mass-goer. He directed me to the parish hall for fellowship.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Lunch was served in the parish hall. Five dollars (about ₤2.50) bought one a thoroughly satisfying serving of chicken pot pie with a pleasant side of Caesar salad. Over lunch, I conversed with a very charming – and quite lovely – exchange student from New Zealand, who told our table about his travels. There were also two older gentlemen, one of whom questioned me about my studies, and the other of whom invited me to join a fledgling men's group in the parish.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – Weekly reception of holy communion is integral to my spiritual life – and if I were to attend morning prayer regularly, I'd want it done right.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I would have to say that the preaching reminded me of God's mercy, and that since it is as a Christian that I find myself experiencing that mercy, I was indeed made glad.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The lugubrious saying of the psalm.