St James, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

St James, Vancouver, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: Kingsfold
Church: St James
Location: Vancouver, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 14 September 2008, 11:15am

The building

This is the third church of St James, and the second on this site. Originally, the church was on the waterfront, but the present building was rebuilt in 1886 after a fire on the site. You come across the church rather suddenly as you walk down East Cordova, and come face to face with the whitewashed exterior with its central tower. On the south side of the church, behind some railings, there is a very small garden, with a statue of the Virgin and Child sitting in what looks like a bird bath. The porch is in the southwest corner, and leads up into the church itself. Inside, the main body of the church is under the tower and is roughly square, but with cut-off corners, and with the sanctuary added beyond to the east and a chapel on the south side. Hanging above the sanctuary is a large crucifix, with representations of what looked like the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene looking up at Christ on the cross. There were also six candles on the altar and seven sanctuary lights.

The church

The community is fairly mixed both in terms of age (one of the members was less than a week old!) and ethnicity. The church is in a deprived area, and they are involved in outreach to the local area. During the intercessions, a number of the street people with whom they worked were prayed for by name. The St James Community Service Society began its life in the basement of the church, and the church is also home to the Benedictine community of St Michael the Archangel.

The neighborhood

St James is located a couple of blocks east of Gastown and a couple of blocks or so north of Chinatown. Both these areas are busy, bustling, and (in the case of Gastown) touristy. However, the area immediately surrounding St James is a lot less salubrious and I felt more than a little uncomfortable on the walk there, during which I saw a large number of vagrants pushing supermarket trolleys containing their belongings or sitting in run-down shop doorways. Next door to the church, there is a very large Chinese market, which had an absolutely fantastic display of fruit and vegetables on show, most of which I didn't recognise (and since the labels were in Chinese I had to remain in ignorance!).

The cast

The Revd Mark Greenaway-Robbins, rector, was the celebrant, assisted by the Revd Jessica Schapp, curate, acting as deacon. The Revd Dennis Nichols, honorary assistant, preached. There was also a veritable phalanx of other clergy, Benedictines and servers.

What was the name of the service?

High Mass

How full was the building?

I would guess there were probably 50 or so in the congregation, with something in the region of 15 or so folk in the altar party.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. A very nice lady greeted me at the door and asked if I was a visitor, as apparently I looked a little bewildered. She asked how I'd found the church, said she hoped I felt at home, and pointed me in the direction I would need for post-mass coffee.

Was your pew comfortable?

They were wooden bench pews and were absolutely fine in terms of comfort. The fold-down kneelers, on the other hand, were a different story.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was reasonably quiet, although there was a lot of excitement and oohing and aahing over a very new baby at the back. However, it was restrained, and so you could pray and prepare yourself for worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"But as for us, it behoveth us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ: in whom is our salvation, our life and our resurrection." These were the words of plainsong introit.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The order of service was set out in a photocopied booklet, which we were encouraged to take away and use for our own reflection and prayers. The hymns came from Common Praise (both words only and music copies were available).

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The communion anthem was accompanied by a stringed instrument that looked like a small guitar. I'm afraid I don't know what it was called.

Did anything distract you?

The first hymn was "The royal banners forward go" and they did. It featured a procession of the cross, lights, clergy party and church banners round the church. Meanwhile, I was incapable of concentrating on the hymn as I was trying to work out how the clergy/server party was made up. I think I counted at least three copes, as well as the deacon and subdeacon, and at least two folk wearing Benedictine robes under their surplices/cottas. Not to mention all the servers and possibly one or two others.

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

This was high mass in an Anglo-Catholic church with all that goes along with that: bells, smells, intoned eucharistic prayer, and more maniples than I've ever seen in one place before. Oh yes, and a rather splendid processional cross, which according to the mass booklet is Ethiopian, perhaps dating back to 1470.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

7 – Father Nichols spoke very clearly and with a British accent.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

According to Paul, only the message of Christ crucified satisfies the soul. Christ crucified is the power and wisdom of God. Jesus knew that mankind's greatest need was reconciliation with God, and only his death can release us from our guilt. Confession and reconciliation will liberate us and we get the forgiveness we desire. This is Christianity: confession and forgiveness, and the holy cross invites us to examine our needs and our hearts.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I had not had an opportunity to receive the sacrament for several weeks. After receiving today, I experienced a feeling of comfort and rightness. I knew myself to be fed and sustained, and wanted to stay a while in prayer. Unfortunately...

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

... the people behind me kept whispering, which somewhat spoilt the moment.

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

I wandered along to the parish room and grabbed a cup of coffee. I stood alone for a minute or so, before plonking myself down next to someone and chatting. I was then introduced to Bear, the parish dog (a rather handsome black hound who seemed to have a lovely nature), and the rector, who was delighted to hear my "proper English accent." I was asked a couple of times how I'd found out about the church. It's not in the sort of area where you would just stumble across it in passing, so visitors tend to make a concerted effort to come to this church.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was fine, and there was a good selection of cookies too.

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

7 – Well, I was fairly comfortable with the style of worship, and the people I met in the congregation were lovely. They are also very involved in social outreach, which is clearly a major need in the area, and I was particularly touched by the prayers for the street people with whom they worked. However, I felt very uncomfortable walking to the church, and I suspect that if I lived in Vancouver I would probably end up attending church in an area where I felt safer.

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

I think so, though it was more a case of feeling profoundly grateful and thankful to have been in church and to have received the Sacrament.

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

Bear the dog, and the intercessions by name for the people they'd worked with in the course of their street ministry.

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