|648: St Luke's, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada|
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Mystery Worshipper: Pewgilist.
The church: St Luke's, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Canada.
The building: This is a pretty, red-brick, shingled shoe box with a small spire and welcoming little porch on one side. The naive worshipper chancing upon this church at 9.30am on a Sunday for the principal service, and taking in the plain but cozy building, might mount the three stairs to the narthex-ette with a fond smile, preparing himself for the sung, simple morning prayer of his small-town youth.
The church: Our naive friend would be in for a surprise. St Luke's is Hamilton's torch bearer of traditional Anglo-Catholicism. Here a smallish congregation celebrates high mass using the 1962 Book of Common Prayer each Sunday, tenebrae in Holy Week, and a Corpus Christi neighbourhood procession led by a canopied, monstrance-bearing priest (so the St Luke's website tells me; your correspondent looks forward to reporting live from the scence next June). St Luke's, which is located a few blocks away from the port of Hamilton, at the western end of Lake Ontario, also maintains an ecumenical mission to seafarers tucked behind the fuming hulk of the Lakeport Brewery.
The neighbourhood: Standing on the street corner in front of the building, one doesn't see the great lakers or the brewery, but rather two large Roman Catholic schools and blocks of small, neat houses, many with colourful pictures of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and miscellaneous saints next to the front doors. St Luke's finds itself smack-dab in the middle of Hamilton's Portuguese community. I haven't the foggiesest idea what the locals make of the little Protestant church with the fancily dressed ministers.
The cast: The service was led, I believe, by the Rector, the Revd Bob Hudson. Joining Fr Hudson were homilist, the Revd William Hubbard (the only billed cast member), one or two deacons, five vested choristers, organist, and several servers. I counted 14 in the sanctuary, so I must be missing a few people.
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What was the name of the service?
Solemn Evensong and Benediction in celebration of the feast of St Luke, patron of the parish of St Luke.
How full was the building?
It was a sparse congregation: there were 14 of us occupying a nave that would hold some 65 comfortably. The sanctuary, which occupies a good third of the interior, held another 14.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The narthex was empty but for the table with bulletins, concert announcements and the latest Anglican Journal. I helped myself to one of each, since I was 10 minutes early and had some time to kill.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden rectilinear pew, but comfortable enough (for all that we actually sat).
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was subdued. The other 12 worshippers, who appeared to be either under 30 or over 50, were already there before my companion and I arrived, and were either kneeling or sitting quietly.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"With you, O God, is the well of life and in your light we shall see light."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A photocopied pastiche containing the text, rubrics, hymns, music and a hagiographical sketch of St Luke was all that was needed. The pew racks held the 1962 Book of Common Prayer and the English Hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
An organ with some 50 pipes sat against one wall of the sanctuary; it filled the small room quite warmly and evenly, rather like the incense.
Did anything distract you?
Had there been anything to distract me, it would have been able to do so to its utmost. The church, perhaps as a nod to Luke, the beloved physician, was lit up like an operating theatre. The ceiling, of gleaming, dark, oiled pine, ringed round with colourful apostolic armorial shields, might have distracted me had I dared to look up into the penetrating glare.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The congregation was active but restrained throughout a liturgy, which I found to be a not so much pure Anglo-Catholicism but a contrasting mixture of paradoxes: understated popery alternating with old-fashioned, high-chuch Protestantism. Everything was sung that could be sung. As evensong drew to a close, and the shock of the Angelus at the beginning with all of its Hail Marys and genuflections was forgotten, a bell rang overhead, and the veiled, mysterious item on the altar came into play. The incense mounted in thickening clouds while the priest, himself now wrapped in the humeral veil, projected the glittering monstrance over the kneeling congregation in solemn benediction. The closing hymn, sung lustily to the same tune as "Ye Watchers and Ye Holy Ones", and a robust postlude by de Gringy (to which the whole congregation listened through to the end before budging), brought the service to a close in a most satisfactory manner.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 I must qualify that number. As soon as the (oddly-familiar-looking) Revd William Hubbard opened his mouth I was dumbfounded to realize that it was actually none other than my good ol' quondam drinking buddy Will. His lively delivery, engaging tones and easy manner, as much so over pulpit as pint glass, would easily merit a 7. Sadly, auld lang syne notwithstanding, I must report that the sermon was nowhere nearly so good as the preacher's delivery of it.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I hesitate to commit to an answer, because I'm not exactly sure. There was quite a bit about St Luke as exemplar of both the science and art of healing that I didn't quite follow, and some implicit criticism of the state of medicare in Ontario that I did. Giving it a bit of thought afterwards, I think that his point was that, like both St Luke and Our Lord himself, we are enjoined to be healing agents in the world around us, reaching out with God's love.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
It's tempting to say the passing of the peace, because there wasn't one, or perhaps the offering (same reason), but I shall focus on the donut and not the hole. Since I'm a bit of an incense junky, and I do love the old standards, I was a happy Mystery Worshipper as we sang the closing hymn amidst the fading billows.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Hell is normally thought of as quite a dark place, but I wonder....
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat in my pew with my companion for about one minute as the rest of the congregation filed past. Then we loitered at the narthex table. Then we left. It wasn't uncomfortable, rather it just appeared that we were all there for our own reasons that evening and there was no one on PR duty. The rector, now de-coped and in one of those great black capes priests get to wear, did greet us pleasantly outside the door.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any for this service. And sadly I couldn't find Will anywhere in order to invite him out to the pub with us.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I rather like to be left alone, so I don't hold the lack of greeting, peace passing or hi-how-are-you-ing against them. But the liturgy felt, to this worshipper, uneven in tone and language, and God knows I have enough trouble trying to believe in God enough to worship him properly without liturgical surprises to distract me. Still, if I found myself living in the parish, I wouldn't hesitate to make it my home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I normally look at this question the other way around: did the service make me feel sorry to be an atheist? To which I answer: yes, a little bit.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Dr Tongue's 3-D House of Worship: the unfamiliar image of the veiled priest, discordant with the sparse sanctuary of the chapel-like church, solemnly thrusting forth and drawing back the monstrance in its gilded splendour.