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1912: Trinity-St Paul’s, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Trinity-St Paul’s, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Mystery Worshipper: Haywood.
The church: Trinity-St Paul’s, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: United Church of Canada.
The building: A solid and substantial building with landmark stone towers, built in the revived Romanesque style. Trinity-St Paul's stone was quarried from the forks of the Credit River. It is part of the body of work of architect Edmund Burke, whose splendid buildings are so much a part of Toronto's cityscape. In a column in the Toronto Star, entertainment editor Kathleen Kenna called Trinity-St Paul's "one of the most romantic venues in Toronto." The sanctuary is built on an amphitheatre or auditorium plan. It has imposing organ pipes and central pulpit at the front.
The church: Trinity-St Paul's once had the largest Protestant congregation in North America. It describes itself as "an affirming congregation." The church uses language, imagery and metaphors that are non-racist and inclusive (using male and female images of God) in worship. It offers community outreach for neighbourhood programs, social justice activities, educational forums, and support services. Their building is used as the performance venue for Tafelmusik, a baroque orchestra and chamber choir, and the Toronto Consort.
The neighbourhood: The area is just outside the Toronto downtown area and close to Spadina subway station. Like most of Toronto, just outside the church is a grand view of the CN Tower and city skyline. The area is filled with housing and local businesses, and is situated on a main city highway, Bloor Street.
The cast: The Revd Hans van Nie, pastor for stewardship of resources and worship and faith formation.
The date & time: Sunday, 21 February 2010, 10.30am. I liked the way the church put an end time for the service of 11.45am on the board outside, and kept to it!

What was the name of the service?
Gathering.

How full was the building?
About half full downstairs. There was a large empty balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Aa man smiled and said hello as he handed me the service sheet and reminded me to pick up a More Voices hymnbook – just as well, as I needed it in the service. The peace was passed, but no one asked at this stage who I was, was I visiting, or where was I from.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew had a cushion – reasonably comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The atmosphere was quietly worshipful and respectful when I arrived. The piano music began about five minutes before the start time. Just as I was wondering whether it was about time to begin the service proper, the choir processed ceremonially down the central aisle singing the first congregational hymn. It took some time to work out which hymn it was and which book it was from!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everyone, and welcome to this service on the first Sunday of Lent."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Voices United and More Voices (both published by the United Church Publishing House).

What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano – beautifully played.

Did anything distract you?
The woman who came in a quarter of the way through the service and plonked herself right in front of me and blocked my view. I had to shuffle to the side to see what was going on.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A formal service – which was carefully planned to include variety. This would have wide appeal. The choir were dressed in red robes and took a full part in the service. They were a great bunch and led the singing worshipfully. I loved the solo spot.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The pastor had an engaging style and was not hard to listen to. Just as you might be drifting off, he put in a funny comment or story and got you back. The "conversation with the children" was great fun. I’ve rarely seen such proactive children – their questions were fantastic! They clearly felt very much at home. Congratulations to Hans for handling their questions so well. They certainly kept him on his toes!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was on the theme of "shriving for Lent." This comes from the root of "shrove" and means confession and penance, and a Lenten prescription for restraining from harmful practices. In Lent we need to examine what is already in our lives, reject false visions or temptations, and reflect honestly on our own current reality. But this doesn’t argue for an uncritical status quo. We need to reaffirm what is good in our home, work, community and church. We must focus on spiritual well-being and follow Jesus in his way of loving and serving others.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I wouldn’t normally say this, but the announcements (called "life and work of our congregation") were so well integrated into worship that it felt this was all part of their Christian life. This was followed by a musical prayer, which was sensitively played and led to the readings. It all seemed very holy.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
That bit where they asked those who were visiting to stand up and say who they were. Am I the only one who gets embarrassed by this? Maybe it's the threat of blowing my Mystery Worshipper cover that worries me! In fairness, there was no pressure and they did it well. Some people seemed rather to like the opportunity – most peculiar!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was approached by a man straight after the service who was lovely and we had a good chat. He seemed genuinely interested in me and told me about their church. I then hung around without anyone else coming up to me. One woman brushed past me and apologised but then moved away without saying anything else. As I was leaving I had another pleasant conversation with a woman at the welcome desk. I was certainly noticed – thanks – but more work to do so everyone thinks of the stranger before talking to their friends.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had a drink of delicious orange juice in a glass, and there were cakes on offer. I’m a fan of any church that offers cakes! Didn’t see the tea and coffee – I think there was some, but couldn’t find it. No signs around to say whether the juice/tea/coffee was fairly traded.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I might try a few others first if I were living in Toronto, but could happily make a home here. Their Christian and inclusive values (and cakes!) are exactly what I would be looking for.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. The "prayers of the people" made Trinity-St Paul’s feel a holy place. It was worth being there for that alone. I loved the words in the ecumenical prayer: "When justice goes to the dogs, let us dare risk a revolt."

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
So much: the "prayers of the people," the sermon, the wonderful piano playing and singing, the inclusiveness of worship.
 
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