St Mark's, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada

St Mark's, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mark's
Location: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 19 April 2009, 10:30am

The building

A lovely old traditional Anglican church, dating from 1792 (though renovated since then). This is the oldest church in the Niagara diocese. Inside there is some beautiful stained glass. The building as well as six acres of grounds are well looked after.

The church

Their several outreach programs and other activities are all well documented on their website. Of special note are the Wednesday Morning Musicales, which feature local artists who perform for the parishioners, the community at large, and patients of the local nursing homes and hospital. There are two eucharist services each Sunday, with a third service added on the first Sunday of the month. The eucharist is also celebrated on Wednesdays.

The neighborhood

Situated at the mouth of the Niagara River, Niagara-on-the-Lake played a key role in much of the early government of Ontario. The town has retained its 19th century charm and is a very popular tourist destination as well as a favoured retirement community. It enjoys a very mild climate for Ontario. Among local attractions is the Shaw Festival, which began in 1962 as a venue for the plays of George Bernard Shaw and has since blossomed into a major force in the theatre, known for its provocative and subtle ensemble acting and innovative theatrical designs, as well as for reviving once-popular genres such as operettas, stage mysteries, and other such neglected gems.

The cast

I assume it was the Revd Canon Dr Robert S. G. Wright, rector, as his picture matched with the priest who took the service, but his name was not mentioned in the bulletin. They are currently advertising for an organist and choir director, but someone was there playing the organ.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

One-quarter full – about 60 people, mostly seniors so far as I could see. There were also three sets of parents with eight children among them, I think.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Outside the church, a gentleman commented on the colour of my jacket. As I approached the door, an usher handed me a Prayer Book and said, "Good morning." A gentleman in my pew also wished me a good morning.

Was your pew comfortable?

No – of course not – it was a wooden pew. But tolerable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

People chatting. I could overhear what the ladies behind me were saying. The organist began to play and someone tapped his foot on the wooden floor in time to the music.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning. Our opening hymn will be number 211." After the hymn, the rector warmly welcomed everyone, including the visitors whom he had seen. I thought to myself, "Ah, I have been seen and noted."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Canadian Book of Common Prayer and Common Praise, the newest hymn book in the Canadian Anglican Church.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The organist moved to the piano for the psalm.

Did anything distract you?

The aforementioned foot tapping pre-service. Also an interruption in the middle of the service for announcements. Otherwise, the service was well conducted and the few children were well behaved.

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

Mostly very conventional – especially using the old Prayer Book service. The congregation, mostly over 60, were not great singers – no rafters shaken there! And I was very sorry not to see a choir in attendance. I am not sure why the absence of a permanent organist should stop the choir from singing on Sundays to lead the congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

7 – Canon Wright stood in the chancel and so seemed to speak personally to us. He used an excellent sound system with a remote mike. (No squawks.)

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

He spoke about forgiveness and how important forgiveness is to allow us to live our lives in Christ to the fullest.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The lingering smell of lilies from Easter. All the beautiful bulbs – daffodils, hyacinths, tulips in the planters on the window sills. The glorious sun streaming in through the windows.

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

The foot tapping and the interruption of the service by announcements.

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

Before I stood up from my seat, the gentleman in the pew asked me where I was from, etc. I then followed the rest of the congregation across the yard to the hall. Above the coffee window was a sign that read: "Practise hospitality" – a quote from St Paul, which was reiterated in the information leaflet. I was given coffee and shown where the "fixings" were. As I drank it, I stood in a conspicuous place and waited for a full 11 minutes for someone to talk to me. But no one came near me except to walk past. St Paul would have agreed that hospitality is more than coffee. I hated standing there and would have left much earlier if I hadn't been "on duty" as a Mystery Worshipper.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee, served in a china mug, was quite drinkable but I did not see whether it was fair trade. Someone was celebrating their 90th birthday, and there was sherry and a cake for that, but I didn't stay to try it.

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

4 – As far as I could tell, there is no children's program. There were, after all, only eight children at the service. There was a note about Bible study but no indication of when it was to be held. There was a lot of literature about outreach programs and fellowship but not much about spirituality and its development. Although it is not fair to make up one's mind on the basis of one visit, if I lived there I think I would be church seeking.

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

Overall, yes.

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

The discomfort of standing like a lemon after the service.

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