Mystery Worshipper: Boat Boy
Church: St George on Yonge
Location: Willowdale, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 August 2015, 10:30am
St George's is a modern building, less than five years old, situated in an historic part of Toronto. Inside the building there were items that I presume came from an earlier church on the site. It was an interesting mixture of old and new, with some quite nice stained glass. They say they are fully accessible to the physically challenged and that the building incorporates innovative green elements such as materials from renewable sources, high-efficiency heating and cooling, and motion-sensitive lighting. There is underground parking available.
Like many churches in Toronto, St George's is attempting to reach the Mandarin speaking community by offering classes in English as a second language, catechesis, and a fellowship group. They also have several children's groups, a Wednesday morning friendship group for seniors oops, they call them the "young at heart," a prayer group, and several social justice ministries in the neighbourhood. There was mention of other community activities in the newsletter, but they seemed run of the mill church things such as community bazaar.
Willowdale is an affluent section of Toronto consisting of single-family homes, condominium townhouses and high-rise condominium towers. Many of the houses are quite large and opulent and are known locally as "monster homes." Yonge Street is a major arterial highway connecting Lake Ontario to the upper Great Lakes by means of its extension known as Highway 11. At one time, Yonge Street plus Highway 11 comprised what the Guinness Book of World Records recognised to be the longest street in the world, although Yonge Street itself minus Highway 11 never came near deserving that title. The honour has since been bestowed upon the Pan-American Highway. Opposite the church is a cemetery, a remnant of the time when Willowdale was a small agricultural community centred around this stretch of Yonge Street. First Nations people hunted, fished and camped on this land for thousands of years before European settlement began in the late 1790s.
The celebrant was the Revd Canon Sister Constance Joanna Gefvert, SSJD (Sisterhood of St John the Divine), honorary associate. The Revd Leonard Leader, associate curate, served as deacon.
What was the name of the service?Sung Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Attendance stood at about 55 people spread throughout the church, which probably seats 250.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Walking through a maze of entrances into the narthex, I spotted a number of people milling around, but no one approached me. Once I sat down, I realised that I would need a service booklet and so went back to collect one. There I discovered two people talking to each other. One motioned to the other as if to say, "He looks new; do you think we should greet him or something?" The second person attempted to shake hands and give me a booklet at the same time. He also managed to tender a cursory "Good morning."
Was your pew comfortable?
It was simple padded wooden chair, perfectly acceptable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was certainly not quiet or reflective. One person certainly dominated the noise level (more later).
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The entire service was on television screens at the front the church. Hymn books were in the seat in front, and most of the service was printed in a well produced booklet. It was a pity not to have the music for the congregational settings, though apparently one could have asked for it.
What musical instruments were played?
The organ and a piano.
Did anything distract you?
The collect began with "Offensive God." Yes, it did! I thought I was hearing things, but I looked it up, and there it was: Trial Use Collect, Year B, Proper 21: "Offensive God, refusing our religion of sacrifice and power ..." They are obviously into using the experimental collects that the Anglican Church of Canada seem so keen on and are, in my opinion, offensive in themselves. Additionally, as Sister Connie (as she likes to be called) preached, there was feedback that left a ringing in my ears. Finally, just before the communion, an usher struggled up the aisle with two large dispensers of hand sanitiser.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road Anglican. Vestments. Not overly inspiring but certainly nowhere near the worse I have experienced.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Sister Connie is a very accomplished speaker, very engaging. I found it difficult not be engaged with her despite the feedback in the PA system. She knew how to preach! A first class sermon!
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Sister Connie explained that she would attempt to draw the three readings together, but instead she gave an exegesis on each of them separately. First, she reminded us that the reading from 1 Kings 8 teaches us that whilst buildings, money and policies are all important, they are only a means to reaching God. Next, taking the reading from Ephesians 6, she said that in order to live the Christian life, we need the whole armour of God, particularly the sword of the Spirit. Finally, bringing in John 6, she emphasised that in the eucharist we share in Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Sister Connie's reverent approach to the liturgy. Excellent readers who had obviously rehearsed. Good prayers of the people.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The aforementioned person whose voice dominated although stationed in back of the church, this person may just as well have been standing immediately in front of me! The feedback during the sermon. The hand cleanser, which squirted out. The tedious "in-crowd" exchange of peace. Worst of all, the level of conversation during the distribution of communion, which completely drowned out the singing of the communion hymn.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Sister Connie had to dash out to another engagement after the blessing, leaving it to the deacon to give the notices. After the service I remained in my seat for a while, fairly near the back. People passed me but no one spoke. I moved to the narthex, where the action was, but still no one spoke. I looked around but still no contact, so I left. The people leaving in front of me just let the door close on me, with no thought that perhaps it might have been nice to hold it open.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I didn't stay, as no one had invited me, but it looked as if there were beverages being served in plastic or disposable cups, and some things to eat.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 – I'm quite satisfied with my home church, thank you, which has never been found wanting in the welcoming area.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really, except for Sister Connie!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
To be honest, I will remember its insularity.