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619: St Mathias, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
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St Mathias, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: St Mathias, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Canada, Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.
The building: A brick barn, probably built after World War I, with a wood interior and good stained glass. I was seated on the epistle side, near a window of Mary and Martha. Martha looked remarkably like Kelly McGillis, an American actress for whom I have long carried a torch. From time to time, I would look at the window and quietly sigh.
The neighbourhood: St Mathias is in Halifax's north end, an interesting mix of single family dwellings and apartment buildings, probably from the first quarter of the last century. The quarter is best described as pre-trendy, with a few second-hand bookstores (a phenomenon for which Halifax is justly famed) and yoga studios. Only one chic coffee joint was in the vicinity, but no doubt there will be more coming. There were a number of smaller churches in the neighbourhood, including a Lutheran church and an Antiochian Orthodox congregation. The area is full of splendid huge trees everywhere.
The cast: Rector Peter Armstrong, properly vested in chasuble and with a respectable beard (one does not really approve of beardless clergy – too many visits to Russia, perhaps?).
What was the name of the service?
Holy Communion, Fifth Sunday after Easter (Rogation Sunday).

How full was the building?
Less than half full, but the hundred or so congregants were spread about the place evenly and one had the impression of a full church. Preponderantly middle-aged, there was a sprinkling of well-behaved but lively children (the sort one approves of and which incline one to parenthood), and two or three fetching young women with short hair and birkenstocks.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes Nova Scotians are friendly by nature, and the welcome was pleasant and non-intrusive.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was nicely carved, and did not leave me with a sore back, or cause me to fidget overmuch.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, with a teeny bit of murmuring in the background.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"I'd like to warmly welcome you to St Mathias, and I'd like to invite the young people to come to the front."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Canadian BCP (1959), reinforced with a five-page service handout, featuring jolly little photos of the diocesan bishop and the Queen in the prayers of the people section.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, as I had expected. The precentor and the choir deserve a special mention. Although small in numbers, they were well-rehearsed and competent and the precentors voice was almost professional in quality, making the gradual psalm (Psalm 66) memorable.

Did anything distract you?
Did anything distract you? The anthem, for personal reasons. The last time I had heard this particular anthem (I will lift you up on eagles wings) was some years ago, at the requiem mass for a colleague of mine who had been murdered by her husband. I was surprised by the level of emotion which arose in me, and was much distracted by this for the rest of the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle of the road BCP, a little stuffy, and a little relaxed. I had the feeling that everyone knew each other, and had done so for a long time.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
We had two renditions of the sermon. At the very beginning of the service, the priest had called the children together and sat with them on the chancel steps, and explained the gospel reading (John 14:15-21) to them. He was able to communicate with them without patronising them, and I found it more useful than the second version, for us grown-ups. The kids lesson was about six or seven minutes, and the sermon took 10-12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 for the kids, and 6 for the adults.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The altars of the unknown gods in Athens, and imagining what God was like.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Curiously enough, the prayers for the battle of the Atlantic, commemorated on this day. Halifax has been a seafaring and naval town for a quarter of a millennium, and was the key western port for the allies in bringing the convoys safely over the ocean. There was an almost tangible weight to the silence, and I had the feeling that there were spirits from the parish who had died during the battle, and who were present with us.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The anthem, but that was no-ones fault. I remember how I had once dined with a moderately prominent mystery writer over guinness and shepherds pie and spoke of how few murder mysteries dealt with the fact that the aftermath of acts of violence can live on for years.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Sadly, I missed out on this aspect of my role, as I had to sprint off (the service lasted over an hour and thirty-five minutes) to keep a coffeehouse appointment with a clerical friend who had retired under a cloud and whom I had not seen since then.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The trendy coffeehouse nearby served a fine espresso, but I would have liked to have tried St Mathias coffee. Next time.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I had good feelings about this place.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Kelly McGillis as St Martha in the window.
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