Mystery Worshipper: LQ
Church: St George the Martyr
Location: Niagara Falls, New York, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 8 August 2010, 5:00pm
The first St George's was a little white church built in 1915 by the Lithuanian Roman Catholic community in Niagara Falls, New York. The present church, more recently made redundant by the Roman Catholic diocese, dates to 1927 and is a designated historic landmark. It is modelled in the neoclassical style after Vilnius Cathedral. Inside, stained glass windows depict the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the Immaculate Heart of Mary, St George, St Casimir, and other saints, and bear inscriptions in Lithuanian. In addition to the high altar are a Lady altar and one dedicated to the Sacred Heart with twin icons. The walls are lined with beautiful carved and painted stations of the cross.
The church is the new provisional seat of the bishop since the sale of the synod's former St Matthew's Cathedral in Cambridge, Ontario. The Independent Anglican Church, Canada Synod, traces its ancestry to an Anglo-Catholic congregation in Hamilton, Ontario, that split from the Anglican Diocese of Niagara in the 1930s as a result of anti-ritualist persecution. The resulting Independent Anglican congregation was seminal in the formation of the movement that would give rise to most of the Old Catholic and Liberal Catholic jurisdictions that later came to be active in Canada.
Niagara Falls, New York, is smaller and a little seedier than its Canadian counterpart, and was established in the late 19th century as an industrial centre, attracting immigrant labourers from Italy, Poland, and elsewhere in Europe. The proximity of the border town to its neighbour was made into a farce by Michael Moore in the film Canadian Bacon.
The Most Revd Peter Goodrich, Archbishop and Primate of the Independent Anglican Church, officiated. The Ven. Michael William R. Stott, archdeacon and vicar of the cathedral, preached. A full complement of assisting clergy were in attendance, including ecumenical guests: a Lutheran pastor and a Croatian National Catholic bishop. A pair of deaconesses – surely the first I have ever laid eyes on – served as taperers, their pink clerical blouses and collars visible under their burgundy cassocks and surplices. William Renwick, Ph.D., associate professor of music theory, McMaster University, was master of music, with Paul Grimwood on the organ. The Hamilton Schola Cantorum, a non-denominational choir of men and women dedicated to the study of Gregorian chant and to its performance in concert and in liturgy, sang the service.
What was the name of the service?Office of Dedication, Evensong, and Solemn Benediction.
How full was the building?
A little less than half full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Archbishop Goodrich shook hands with us at the entrance and directed us to one of the guest clergy who was distributing leaflets.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was. Sliding from a sitting position to the "Anglican crouch" was easy and the kneeler was adequately padded.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was fairly lively. A procession was forming at the back, the choir was at the ready in the loft, and a photographer was readying her camera up front.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
After the archbishop pounded on the door with his crozier, the clergy invited him to re-dedicate the building for worship, saying "Reverend Father in God, we pray you to dedicate this church."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
An all-inclusive booklet contained the texts from the Book of Common Prayer for the consecration of a church and evening prayer, together with hymns from the old Book of Common Praise. The Independent Anglican Church uses an adaptation of the 1549 Prayer Book.
What musical instruments were played?
The singing of the Hamilton Schola Cantorum was beautifully accompanied by the organ.
Did anything distract you?
There seemed to be a lack of common understanding with respect to posture. I found myself alone in sitting for the psalm at evensong (as one would expect) and again standing for the canticles (likewise).
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The sign out front reading "Anglo-Catholic" could hardly be called false advertising, but the liturgy was by no means fussy or sombre. One of the assisting bishops wore a striking red rochet, something one does not see every day. The service of dedication consisted mostly of spoken prayers by the archbishop blessing the space for liturgical use, but the choir sang a setting of Psalm 150. Incense was offered during the singing of Stanford's Magnificat at Evensong. Special intercession was made for the mission to women living on the street, a special outreach of the church. After the sermon, the archbishop stepped behind the free-standing altar for the service of benediction. Mozart's setting of Psalm 137 and a rousing hymn finished us off.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Archdeacon Stott wove together the readings and underscored the joyous yet solemn reclamation for which those present had gathered.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The temples we build with human hands are sacramental extensions of our understanding of church. However, like the whole created order, they shall pass away into something unimaginably wonderful.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Stanford's setting of the evening canticles.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was a bit alarmed to be collared by one of the visiting clergy after depositing my card into the collection plate left out for free-will offerings, although we could not have been more welcomed. It turns out that her congregation has been hit not once but twice.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Directions to get to the parish hall had already been announced, and we made our way next door for supper.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee and fruit punch accompanied mixed trays of sandwiches, potato crisps, cheese and crackers, and coffee cake.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – Niagara Falls has suffered a number of church closures in recent years, and if I lived here the lovely worship of St George's would be well worth the foray outside of Her Majesty's dominion.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I cannot think of anything more gladdening as a Christian than the opportunity to join a nascent community in giving thanks for their establishment.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The ceremonial pontifical knocking at the door.