St James Cathedral, Toronto (Exterior)

St James Cathedral, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St James Cathedral
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 October 2013, 4:00pm

The building

A Gothic-styled cathedral that was erected following a fire that destroyed the previous building. The present cathedral is built from local brick and Ohio stone; it opened for services in 1853. The interior is very Gothic and open, with a traditional layout of nave, choir, sanctuary and side aisles.

The church

The Diocese of Toronto is huge, covering an area of 26,000 square kilometres. The cathedral hosts a drop-in health clinic that provides information regarding community resource as well as foot care, hygiene products, hair cuts and the like. There are two weekly music recitals, a change ringing practice, and a chance to ring the bells. They also offer a volunteer parish choir (not the cathedral's fully professional regular choir).

The neighborhood

Fires seem to have destroyed Toronto twice in its history, which makes for very interesting surroundings. But in this area there are some stunning tower blocks, posh hotels and enormous condominiums. And trolley wires!

The cast

Andrew Ager, interim associate organist, gave an organ recital. Choral evensong was sung in the presence of the Very Revd Douglas Stout, dean and rector, who gave the blessing. The Revd Dr Walter Hannam, associate priest, also attended in choir. The officiant was the Revd Canon David Brinton, OGS, sub-dean and vicar, and the homilist was the Revd Lisa Wang, associate priest. One server acted as crucifer. Vicki St Pierre, associate choral director, led the choir of St James Cathedral.

What was the name of the service?

Organ Recital and Choral Evensong

How full was the building?

Without the clergy and choir there were a smattering of people down the nave, somewhere in the region of 50. Fairly empty for such a large building.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, and more about this later!

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was OK – not particularly comfortable, not a huge amount of leg room or kneeling space if, like me, you are tall. To gain access, one had to unlock the door to the pew and then lock it again once settled in lest it open accidentally.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I arrived about ten minutes before the start of the organ recital. Things were very quiet, with few people there. Mr Ager's recital featured works by Buxtehude, Bach and Hindemith.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

There no words of welcome. The first sentence spoken was: "The first lesson is written in the Second Book of Kings." Up until this point everything had been played or sung. Choral evensong had started with the processional hymn, "God that madest earth and heaven", sung preces and responses, and sung psalms.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

I had to collect (that is to say, we weren't handed) The Book of Common Prayer 1962 Canada, which was stuffed with a sheet detailing the music for the organ recital plus a service outline that gave page numbers, hymn numbers, composers, readings, the words of the anthem, etc., and the rubric to "Please stand and sit with the clergy." In the pew was the Book of Common Praise, the hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, originally an opus of the great 19th century Canadian organ builder Samuel Russell Warren of Montreal. A major overhaul was undertaken in 1936 by the noted Quebec firm of Casavant Frères. In 1979 a moveable console was installed by JW Walker & Son of London, pipe organ builders and tuners by appointment to Her Majesty the Queen.

Did anything distract you?

Mrs St Pierre conducted the choir wonderfully, but she was wearing the most amazing academic hood, as stiff as board, with a beautiful and interesting lining. I would love to have been to the university that dishes them out! The other distraction was a box on top of the pulpit that was meant to hold the preacher's notes – it reminded me of an oversized cereal box!

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

This was cathedral worship at (almost) its best: very traditional, very dignified, and very Anglican.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

11 minutes.

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

10 – The Revd Mrs Wang's style was clear and her homily was very well delivered, with a demonstration half-way through of how to rub your head whilst tapping your stomach. Believe it or not, it fitted in with the sermon!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

A day has been set aside in early October to honour Our Lady of the Rosary, sometimes referred to as Our Lady of Victory, ever since Pope Pius V attributed a 16th century naval victory over the Ottoman navy to a campaign throughout Europe to pray the Rosary. When we pray the Rosary we remember various events in the life of Jesus, which are called Mysteries. When we pray the Rosary, we aren't praying to Mary, but rather with Mary – a very powerful prayer partner to have.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I loved the sermon, but it was also so wonderful to hear a professional cathedral choir at work. The anthem by Gibbons (Almighty and Everlasting God) took me straight to heaven!

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

The welcome (or lack thereof). Someone glanced at me as I arrived, but more with a suspicious look than a welcoming look. Once I had locked myself in my pew, I noticed others bringing books and service sheets with them as they came in, so I emancipated myself and found the necessary books at the back. But worst of all, across the aisle from me was a young couple who also hadn't been given books, and I felt terrible for them as they evidently didn't know what was going on in the service. If I hadn't been locked in my pew I would have gone across the aisle and offered them mine. I also could have done with a short bathroom break between the organ recital and the start of evensong.

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

There was nothing to hang around for.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There wasn't any.

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

9 – I love cathedral worship done well, and now that I know the score I'll pick up my books and visit the loo before settling in.

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

Oh yes. It is so nice at times to let the liturgy waft over you.

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

That I need to dust off my Rosary beads when I get home.

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