Mystery Worshipper: Henry Troup
Church: St Michael & All Angels
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Saturday, 30 May 2009, 7:00pm
From outside, it's a large square box of a building with a separate bell tower, in a 1960s or 1970s style. In a quiet area of the grounds to one side of the church is a labyrinth. Inside, it's a large square box, but livened up with a big skylight. There's a partial choir gallery at the entrance point – you can't really use the classic church architectural terms, as the benches are set in an L-shape. The interior is bright and open-concept, with a number of interesting pieces of fabric art, including one behind the free-standing cross that looks like the roots of a huge tree.
St Michael's is definitely one of the inclusive/liberal parishes in the Diocese of Ottawa. The Revd Dr Linda Privitera, rector of St Michael's, is also the chaplain of Integrity Ottawa and is married to another woman.
St Michael's is located in the Bel-Air section of Ottawa, a classic Canadian suburb. There are lots of single-family houses and trees and hedges. For this occasion, signs had been posted on many neighbourhood streets reading "U2charist" and pointing to the church.
The Rt Revd John H. Chapman, Bishop of Ottawa, was the celebrant. The Revd Dr Linda Privitera, rector, assisted. The preacher was Andrew Stephens-Rennie, youth ministries development coordinator, diocese of Ottawa. The band was fronted by the Revd Jon Martin on guitar. The sound engineer was Dave O'Hare. I didn't get the names of the rest of the band.
What was the name of the service?Diocesan U2charist for Pentecost.
How full was the building?
Comfortably full – there were a few empty places but not very many. The parking lot was full, and people were parking at the school across the street and on the street.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was handed an offering envelope by one of a team of young women in U2charist T-shirts.
Was your pew comfortable?
Classic wooden bench, reasonably comfortable within its style.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Busy and expectant. Since the U2charist followed on a diocesan youth day and BBQ, there were lots of children and families, and some kids were running around, but not in a chaotic way.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good evening and welcome to our diocesan U2charist."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
None; everything was projected via two computer projectors. The text was clear from where I was sitting – near the back – and the slide show was nicely embellished with graphics that were actually related and meaningful.
What musical instruments were played?
Five-piece rock band: keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, bass and drums.
Did anything distract you?
There was a constant popping noise of kids playing with glow-stick bracelets. The two-or-so year old girl in front of me was a bit squirmy, but also quite friendly – we waved and played peek-a-boo a bit. There's a lot of interesting art: a banner at the back for the Primate's World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF) made of blue jean patches; a set of papier-mâché balls that might have been planets; a big icon. I was also looking for familiar faces.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Straight-up hard rock; a little clapping and some dancing in the aisles. The decor had some flashing lights and LED/fiber-optic fan lights added. Selections from U2's repertoire were well chosen: "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" (processional); "With Or Without You" (gradual); "Wake Up Dead Man" (offertory); "All I Want Is You" (communion); and others.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Andrew Stephens-Rennie was a clear and fairly unemotional speaker. He used some riveting phrases – describing, for example, Ezekiel's vision (Ezekiel 1:1-28) as "acid-trip zombie movie."
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The service was a benefit for the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Anglican Church youth programming. The sermon was a well-constructed rationale for giving, linked with personal stories. His thesis was that the Millennium Development Goals are attained but only with God's help. I'd say it was a good example of the social justice/development fundraising sermon.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The congregation were a wonderful mix of ages: from a few seniors in their 80s or 90s to toddlers. The singers were good, and the band was very good on difficult material. I was pleasantly surprised by how worshipful it was. The communion itself went quickly and smoothly, something that doesn't always happen at big special events.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There were times in the sermon where it felt too long. I got annoyed when some of the children pretty much ignored the prayers and chattered away. One kid knocked over an LED lamp, noisily. There was one "pop" from the sound system when someone disconnected a guitar.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A couple of people we know spotted us. This was a diocesan special event, so there were lots of familiar faces. We wound up chatting for long enough that I didn't have a chance to gather some details I would have liked.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
None was offered. Since it was an evening service/concert, people just dispersed and left.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I'd probably be fairly happy at St Michael's, based on the website and reports from friends of mine.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
How easy it was to worship to the music of U2.