St Patrick's, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Patrick's
Location: Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 1 March 2020, 10:00am

The building

Tall steepled church dating from 1885, with a brick exterior. The interior was beautifully decorated in the pre-Vatican II style. Beautiful stained glass windows. Interior lighting was good, not too bright and not too dim. The exterior, however, is badly in need of repair. The front windows were boarded up. A Restoration Society was formed in 2007 and has been engaged in a broad spectrum of fundraising activities.

The church

The church hasn't had a full time priest in some time, especially since the Jesuits left. There have been rumours about the church closing due to climbing maintenance costs and declining attendance.

The neighborhood

Across the street is St George's Round Church (High Anglican). The neighbourhood is a traditionally poor area that is gentrifying (there is some controversy about a mid-rise apartment building to be built next to the church).

The cast

A supply priest celebrated mass, assisted by a deacon, cantor, and lay readers, plus a crucifer and two acolytes.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Mass, First Sunday in Lent.

How full was the building?

About a third full, 125 parishioners or so.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

When I entered, no one spoke to me. I found the bulletin on two stands leading to the pews. No one interacted with me until the peace (hand shaking) and the first person actually to make conversation with me was after the service.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. The seats had cushioning and the kneelers were cushioned as well.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was quiet. Murmured conversations. A few people praying.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning on this first Sunday of Lent.’ Then there was a reminder to turn off our cell phones.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Journeysongs hymnal; Catholic Book of Worship III; Sunday Missal; a locally made booklet of prayers and songs in a plastic folder. ) My Picture Missal, an illustrated missal for children, was also available in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?

Acoustic guitar. There was no choir. The church has a large and beautiful organ, but it was not used during the service.

Did anything distract you?

At 10.20, the church bells of St George's were rung for their 10.30 service. The lady in front of me was wearing strong perfume. Quite a few people showed up late and seemed to be wearing loud shoes. The sound system had some issues – the speakers would go in and out without warning, and so it was hard to hear at times.

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

It was rather uneventful. Not very loud singing by the congregation. There was a variety of levels of worship. Some seemed very devout and kneeling a lot, some just seemed like it was their duty to be there. It wasn't what I expected from a Roman Catholic mass – everything seems very informal and rushed. The cantor introduced the service and did most of the talking and leading of the singing. Lay readers read the readings except for the gospel, which was done by the deacon. Communion was ‘efficient’ – people went up, received their host, and went back to their pews.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

8 minutes, although it seemed much longer!

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

5 — The priest’s style wasn't the most inspiring. His voice was almost monotonic. With the sound system issues, it was sometimes hard to hear what he said.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus was tempted in the desert for 40 days, but did not succumb. Neither should we.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The church was very visually appealing on the inside with all the stained glass and artwork.

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

Overall, the service seemed ‘rushed.’ Despite a series of long announcements, it was over in less than an hour. There were no well timed pauses for one to reflect before moving on to the next item of worship. The church bulletin didn't have any useful information specific to the service (i.e. readings, hymns, etc.) – I’m not sure what the point of it was except to hold some announcements.

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

A lady approached me and asked if I was visiting. I said yes. She told me a bit about the history of the church and the stained glass windows. She then let me be. I walked around some more, then grabbed a cup of coffee and looked lost, but no one else approached me in conversation. I said good morning a few times and received replies, but no one made conversation with me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee, tea, and various juices were available. Coffee was hot. There were some cookies and little cakes, but not a great selection.

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

5 — I might visit again if I knew the music would be better (i.e. with organ or choir).

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

Yes and no. You could clearly tell there was a sense of community at the church, but as an outsider, I was left basically to my own devices.

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

That the eucharist, the central part of the service, seemed like its shortest part.

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