Central Presbyterian, Cambridge, Ontario, Canada


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Central Presbyterian
Location: Cambridge, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 January 2021, 10:00am

The building

Dating from 1880, it is in the Gothic Revival style but has been much altered over the years. Their website boasts that ‘Central is one of the most photographed buildings in Waterloo Region.’ The stained glass windows, a later addition, depict various scenes and quotes from the Bible. A campaign is currently underway to raise funds for much-needed repairs inside and out.

The church

They have family and adult ministries described on their website, plus Bible study in small groups. Their Central Cares ministry (quoting from their website) ‘is there to help’ ‘when members of our congregation have a need, such as transportation to a medical appointment.’ In-person services are suspended now, but the Sunday service is live-streamed via YouTube. Prayer requests can be sent to their ‘virtual prayer clipboard’ via e-mail or by scanning a QR code provided on their website.

The neighborhood

Cambridge is one of three cities that comprise the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, in southern Ontario not far from Toronto. Cambridge is located on the Grand River, which is crossed by several historic bridges. The city is a major industrial centre and is home to such firms as Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada (the region’s largest employer), Frito-Lay Canada, Babcock & Wilcox, and Rockwell Automation, to name a few. It is also a locale much favoured by filmmakers. Central Presbyterian Church is located in downtown Cambridge, very near the river. Several other churches are close by.

The cast

The pastor, wearing a light purple pinstriped dress shirt with no tie, and black slacks. The current pastor came from the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa and has been at Central Presbyterian for 19 years. In fact, he is only the seventh minister since 1880.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service.

How full was the building?

I understand that in normal times it is a large and lively congregation with a low average age, which makes it interesting; and that on-line attendance has been good. Today, the online counter showed 79 at its highest point.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. The welcome was a general one and did not specifically mention visitors.

Was your pew comfortable?

My desk chair suits me just fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I busied myself opening the necessary apps on my PC and arranging the windows. I accessed YouTube under my Ship name, not my real name as I usually do. A countdown clock was displayed on the YouTube feed, and a chat window encouraged us to ‘say something’ although no one was doing so until someone asked, ‘Is anyone there?’ two minutes before start time. Interestingly, the clock showed the time in my local time zone, not the time zone of the church. There was no audio track playing – the silence was palpable. At start time, the silence was broken by a chorus of synthesizers playing something abstract.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Well, good morning. Welcome to Central Church’ followed by announcements.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

None. There was no service leaflet available for download. Text was projected onto the YouTube feed.

What musical instruments were played?

A variety of electronic sounds was featured on the feed – I wouldn’t call them instruments. One of the songs featured an acoustic guitar.

Did anything distract you?

It was somewhat distracting to have to scroll down to read the chat while at the same time trying to pay attention to the service, but I quibble.

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

It wasn’t so much of a service as it was a prerecorded video: song, sermon, song, blessing. No prayer to speak of, no reading from scripture except for the sermon text, no profession of faith, no intercessions, no communion. The music was of the soft, easy listening, Christian folk genre, sung by a small ensemble of folksy sounding male and female voices and accompanied by the aforementioned electronic sounds. I found the lyrics to be unnecessarily repetitive.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

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

10 — The pastor spoke clearly and his text was well organized. I found his message very inspiring. I loved his accent, although I couldn’t place it exactly. He did not sound like other South Africans I have known.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Today’s message was the beginning of a new series: ‘Impossible … Until it Happens.’ The text was Luke 7:11-16 (Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead). We’ve all prayed for miracles at one time or another. The widow in Luke’s gospel was all alone in the world, with no one to protect her – and then Jesus showed up. Faith is not just believing that God exists. Faith is trusting that God will show up, and that when he does, his timing will be perfect. Jesus saw the widow’s faith, and stepped into her circumstances at just the right moment. Our prayer should be: ‘God, please step into my circumstances and take control.’ God can change our lives with just one single word. Impossible? Yes … until it happens! Our hope is centered on what God can do when he shows up. Do we believe that he will show up at just the right moment – even if it isn’t on our schedule? There’s a miracle waiting to happen.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The sermon, by a long shot.

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

The music. I grant that there are some – many – who find this style of music inspiring and comforting. I find it cloying and overly sentimental.

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

Nothing. The YouTube feed ended abruptly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

It was still relatively early in my time zone – too early for a midmorning snack, although a frosted donut was waiting for me in the fridge. I resolved to enjoy it a bit later.

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

0 – As I said above, this did not strike me so much as a service as it did an inspirational video. Smooth, well prepared, inspirational? Yes. But worship? Not for me.

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

I suppose so.

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

God will show up at just the right moment.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools