St John Shaughnessy, Vancouver (Exterior)

St John's Shaughnessy, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's Shaughnessy
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 September 2013, 10:00am

The building

Situated on a major thoroughfare (Granville Street at the corner of Nanton Street) the building could on first sight be taken for a crematorium! It was built in the late 1940s, and dedicated in 1950. The church is seen as a memorial to the men and women who served and died in World War II. The windows in the sanctuary and chancel are made from fragments of 11th century glass from Canterbury Cathedral that had been shattered during the bombing raids of the war. Extensive refurbishment of the exterior, and redesign of the interior, were undertaken some time ago by the Vancouver firm of VIA Architecture.

The church

In 2011 the majority of members of St John's voted to leave the Anglican Church of Canada over a variety of issues and now worship in another church building. The remaining congregation are working to enable St John's to continue as part of the Anglican Church of Canada, although the cost of upkeep of their historic building threatens to overwhelm. They offer their space for rent for concerts, meetings and receptions. Sunday services follow both the Book of Common Prayer and the Book of Alternative Services, plus they hold Taize services regularly. They maintain a special Facebook page for the youth of the congregation.

The neighborhood

Shaughnessy is a predominantly residential area, fairly close to Vancouver's city centre. It includes some very expensive housing, and is often seen as home to the city's elite.

The cast

The Revd Michael Fuller, rector, was celebrant and preacher, assisted by the Revd Michael Forshaw, associate priest, and one server. The organist was Michael Dirk (lots of Michaels!) and there was a choir of three (there should have been more).

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist.

How full was the building?

For a huge building that could seat hundreds and still feel that there was room for more, there were about 60 people at the service. I noticed that half the pews at the back of the church had been roped off to stop people from sitting in them, so we were all in the front half of the church. This definitely made it feel less empty.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived early, which seemed to come as a bit of a shock to the welcomers, as only one other member of the congregation had arrived before me (15 minutes before the service was due to start). But I got a nice friendly hello and was handed a service booklet and notice booklet.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was a modern wooden one, not bad as far as comfort is concerned; it had a curved seat so you naturally slid back into it. The kneeler was built into the pew in front and could be pulled down or put up for whether you wanted to kneel or stand. I was surprised to find Cheerios scattered on the floor under the pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere was mainly reverential, with the odd whispered chat as people arrived and caught up on the news from their neighbours. For his prelude, the organist played an improvisation on the hymn "All my hope on God is founded."

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In thy house, great God, we offer of thine own to thee" (words from the third verse of the first hymn, "Angel-voices, ever singing"), followed by the announcement of that hymn.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service booklet specially prepared for this service, with all the words and the music for the sung part of the eucharist. In the pew I also had the option of browsing The New Revised Standard Bible, The Revised Standard Bible, Supplementary Eucharistic Prayers, and Alternative Services Canada, but none were required for the service.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ, played mainly from the console in the choir area, except during the communion anthem when it came from the console in the balcony at the back of the church. My only complaint was the hymns were played far too loudly to make it enjoyable to sing and hear others. Not even the choir could be heard leading the hymns.

Did anything distract you?

The Cheerios! I didn't want to put my feet on them and crunch them and get them all over the carpet.

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

It was definitely Anglican in the best sense of the word: traditional with dignified liturgy, well known hymns and good music. The choir were in casual clothes and on a raised area to the side of the altar, on which they moved back and forth (although they were very well behaved compared to many choirs I have seen!). They should either wear robes or sit out of sight.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

9 – Father Michael was quite an animated preacher: he used arm movements, he moved from side to side in the pulpit, and he was good at expressing himself, sometimes getting to the point where his excitement had him raising his voice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Angels. His opening question was, "Why do angels ascend and then descend in the Bible (Genesis 28)?" And why do we so rarely hear sermons on angels, when they are mentioned so often in the Bible? The problem with us is that as rational and intellectual people we find it hard to believe in angels, but we still want the angels to protect us or find a parking space for us. We all need to become more like angels, messengers for God, and be healers, proclaimers, warriors and light bearers.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was a definite plus, as was the animated sermon. Also during communion there was the laying on of hands for healing. This was a simple and powerful ceremony that included anointing with holy oil. I guess that if I was in heaven I wouldn't be in need of it, but it was a lovely touch.

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

The Cheerios! And I hate to say it, but the unrobed choir sitting in a very visible place. And name badges! When I looked around during the sharing of the peace, I noticed that 99 per cent of the congregation had their names attached to their breasts. That made me feel like an outsider and not a member of the congregation.

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

Father Michael had given directions in the notices on how to get to coffee in the hall, but I must have taken a wrong turning, as I ended up in the sacristy area – this church goes on and on and on! So the "other" Father Michael had to direct me out of the building, around a cloistered path, and into another building, which was also immense.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Excellent coffee. No idea if it was fair trade, but is was filtered proper coffee. There were also some lovely vegetarian spring roll type snacks, hot and delicious!

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

10 – If I lived in Vancouver I would come here; it was exactly what I like about being an Anglican.

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


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

The organ prelude – a great piece, well improvised, and I still have the tune going around in my head.

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