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|1701: St John
the Evangelist, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Photo: Rick Cordeiro
St John the
Evangelist, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
Anglican Church of Canada,
St John's is a big, brick barn of a late Victorian building
from the outside. The interior is quite lovely, not obviously
modernised beyond a free-standing altar. It's a light and
airy take on the plaster-and-dark wood Victorian Neogothic
which is more typical in Anglican churches hereabouts; in
fact, the rounded arches of exposed brick around the windows
lend a rather Romanesque look. A retirement home of roughly
the same dimensions as the church building is physically connected
to the church and intimately connected with the parish.
The parish appears to own the aforementioned retirement home.
They also support several charities (I believe that I recall
mention of a food bank and men's shelter, as one could expect),
and host Bible studies and prayer groups (not what one would
necessarily expect). There are three choirs (junior, intermediate
and adult) but apparently no Sunday school (more about that
later). No mausoleum for the blue-haired set is St John's.
The bulletin refers to the parish as a "safe
place." I'm not quite sure what that means – code for
gay friendly or seeker friendly? It is certainly a family
friendly church, judging by the abundance of young families
in the pews.
The Locke Street area was once a respectable mix of working-class
and middle-class homes straddling a commercial street, all
bordering the former industrial lands at the edge of the city.
The neighbourhood took a dive before becoming the slightly
gay and mostly gentrified mix of family homes, the odd rental
unit, and boutiques and shops that it is today. St John's
is one of four prominent churches along a two-block stretch
of Locke North (only eight short blocks altogether), the others
being Roman Catholic, Baptist and United.
The bulletin named a cast of 30. I will name only the Revd
David J. Anderson, rector, who was celebrant and homilist,
and Mr Simon Irving, organist and choirmaster.
The date & time:
Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of
How full was the building?
Mostly full – it was Easter morning, after all. There were
at least 150 in the pews and another 50 in the chancel, between
the three choirs and clergy and such.
Did anyone welcome you
I was wished a happy Easter a few times by fellow worshippers
on the way in and by the woman at the entrance to the sanctuary
who handed me a bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a wooden pew with drop-down kneelers and about as comfortable
as one might expect such a thing to be.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
It was casual and chatty but not boisterous.
What were the exact
opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Christ is risen. Alleluia!" said
the woman whose role was billed as "Invitation to Worship."
This greeting preceded a brief sort of mini sermon. Altogether
something new to me.
What books did the congregation
use during the service?
The bulletin contained the text of the service, which was
a slight rearrangement of the text of the eucharist from the
Book of Alternative Services. The "old"
(1971) hymnal, found in the pews, was used. There was also
a bespoke songbook in the pews, but we used it only for the
musical setting for the mass text.
What musical instruments
There was a respectable organ, a brass quartet with timpani,
and a bell choir of three children. As I sat down, I eyed
with some alarm a drum kit behind the pulpit, but it didn't
come into play.
Did anything distract
Did I use the phrase "family friendly?" Did I mention
that there was no Sunday school? There were young boys before,
behind and beside me, so that meant no end of fidgeting, whispering,
kicking and clattering – even though these were reasonably
well behaved children.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
It was a casual take on traditional Anglican liturgy, nothing
stiff but nothing too sloppy. So on the one hand, a mostly
sung liturgy, gospel read from the nave, full-voiced singing
of favourite Easter hymns, and no clapping even after the
bell-choir performed. But on the other, modern language, "open
hospitality" at the altar, a mildly perambulatory peace.
Exactly how long was
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
7 In these days of hyperbolic praise, I should note
that I consider 7 to mean a good preacher. I intend no slight
to Father Anderson – I just need my socks knocked off a little
bit before I get to an 8.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
The rector preached on the gospel text, Mark 16:1-8, which
tells the story of the women going to Jesus' tomb and finding
it empty, much to their amazement and alarm. We make a mistake
to look for Jesus in the past, where we think he was. For
Jesus has gone before us. We live not in alarm but in hope
and expectation because Christ is in our future. Great things
await as as we go forth to meet him.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Singing traditional hymns on Easter Sunday, with the pews
and choir stalls filled with young families and their children.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Being surrounded by children – grumpish semi-atheist that
I am, uncharitable thoughts kept intruding on my struggling
attempts at prayer and worship.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I wandered over to the coffee cart in the small lobby. There,
I spoke briefly with a woman who guided me through the carafes
and handed me a slice of tasty coffee cake. I then fingered
the nearby pamphlets and such for two minutes. Finally I scampered.
I really must steel myself for this part and don't particularly
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
I wouldn't come back just for the coffee, which was served
in a styrofoam cup and was not so tasty as the cake.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
7 If I lived in the parish, I would without question
make this my regular church. The liturgy may not be just what
I perfectly love, but it's a living Anglican parish with people
of all ages and thriving choirs and a very natural feel to
it. And I will happily visit again now and again, too – their
11.00am service time is rather appealing in a city in which
10.00 or 10.30 is the Anglican norm.
Did the service make
you feel glad to be a Christian?
It made me think for a time that I might, after all, be a
Christian, so that's something.
What one thing will
you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How surprisingly disappointed I was when Father Anderson omitted
the Easter greeting ... and how happy I was when he acknowledged
the omission and slipped it in later. "The Lord is risen
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