Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Quebec City, Canada

Cathedral of the Holy Trinity, Québec City, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: Kingsfold
Church: Cathedral of the Holy Trinity
Location: Québec City, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 July 2009, 11:00am

The building

Holy Trinity was built between 1800 and 1804, and is the first Anglican cathedral to be built outside the British Isles. Built of a local grey stone, it was designed by two Royal Artillery officers (Major William Robe and Captain William Hall) and adapted from the style of St Martin-in-the-Fields, London. Inside, the box pews are arranged in two main blocks between the central aisle of the nave and the two side aisles. These side aisles are loaded with memorials, many to military or government personnel. There is also a balcony round three sides of the church, with the organ occupying the west end of the balcony. The east window is Palladian in style, with three Victorian stained glass panes framed in dark wood. The panels of the window were made by Clutterbuck & Co in England, and were shipped to Québec in barrels of molasses to protect the glass during the sea voyage. The sanctuary is semi-circular and painted cream, with panels of the Lord's Prayer and Creed on the north, and the Ten Commandments on the south. Over the window is a painted border framing the words Holy Holy Holy.

The church

The cathedral is home to two communities of worshippers: the English-speaking Parish of Québec, made up of Anglican and Lutheran Christians, and La Paroisse de Tous les Saints, which is the Francophone parish. They are served by different clergy, and separate services are held in French and English on a Sunday morning.

The neighborhood

Holy Trinity Cathedral is located in the centre of Vieux-Québec, one block away from the Catholic Basilica-Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Québec. The east end of the cathedral faces the Place d'Armes, which overlooks the St Lawrence River and the funicular railway down to Basse-Ville (the lower town). Also facing the Place d'Armes is the Chateau Frontenac, the main landmark of Québec City, which is now a hotel. Along the north side of the church, the street is full of small hotels and cafes with their tables spilling out onto the pavement. The churchyard on the north side has a path with small arts and craft stalls on either side displaying a wide variety of goods mosaics, leather, wood, jewellery, glass, etc.

The cast

The celebrant and preacher was the Very Revd Christian Schreiner, dean of the cathedral and rector of the Parish of Québec. The choir director was Béatrice Cadrin.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

I'd guess there were around 70 people enough that the church neither looked empty nor especially full. It was the English speaking congregation that I visited (though a number of the prayers were said in French instead of English) and this appeared to be comprised of a range of ages and nationalities. I imagine too that a fair number of the congregation that morning were visitors like me.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The gentleman on the door welcomed me and handed me my book/leaflets. He then went back to his conversation with the folk immediately in front of me about where they had come from whilst I slipped quietly into my pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

For rigid upright box pews, they were considerably more comfortable than I had anticipated: indeed, I wasn't aware of any particular discomfort at any point.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Pretty relaxed, with a quiet hum of conversation. The dean walked down the central nave greeting folk on either side whilst the organ played in the background. He was about a third to halfway down the nave when the organ stopped, so he just turned and walked back to the front in order to greet us formally and begin the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning and welcome" in English and then in French.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The hymn book was Common Praise, Anglican Church of Canada. There were also two leaflets, the service sheet for the day and another page containing the words of Eucharistic Prayer 4.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ.

Did anything distract you?

The decoration on the celebrant's chasuble, which from afar looked like embroidery but turned out to be beading on closer inspection. However, I spotted this and did a double take just as he was about to hand me the consecrated bread, which meant that I really wasn't concentrating on things spiritual!

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

It was middle of the road, done unstuffily and without overmuch ceremony. This may have been atypical, as the dean did say at the start of the service that they try to shorten things over the summer, and cut out the processions.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

7 – I was conscious that the dean was preaching in his second or third tongue – he is German, but also speaks French and English but his delivery was easy and fluent. He also came across as humble (despite his comments about being unwilling to ask others for help!) and very genuine.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel for the day was Mark 6:1-13, telling how Jesus was rejected in his home town. Dean Schreiner related a similar experience of his when he had preached in his home town in Bavaria, and people were so surprised to see someone in the pulpit whom they had known growing up that they didn't listen to his message. However, he went on to say that the biblical passage was not just about rejection of God's prophet, but also rejection of God himself. We are perhaps unwilling to accept God because of our need to be in control of our lives. This comes about because we live in the world, which teaches us to hide our weakness and vulnerability so that we build ourselves up and remain in control. This, he said, is not true: it is the voice of the serpent. He then related a couple of anecdotes about his own unwillingness to show weakness and ask others for help in everyday situations. However, when he admitted his weakness and asked for help, not only was the task achieved much quicker, but the person who was helping was given the gift of happiness. And so it is with God. We need to admit our weakness and our need of God, because that admission enables us to receive strength from God and from others.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The eucharistic prayer was set to a Byzantine tone, chanted throughout with a sung congregational response. I'm an absolute sucker for Byzantine tone and harmony, so it was great to hear.

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

The communion wine was truly revolting. I'm ashamed to have to call it hellish, but it's very difficult to feel thankful for the gift you've just received when you're frantically trying to get the taste of it out of your mouth. Miserere mei Deus.

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

I hung around a bit trying to get a good photo of the east end, then made my way back up the aisle, where I was intercepted by the welcomer past whom I'd slipped earlier. He'd recognised that he hadn't asked me where I'd come from when I arrived, and had come to make up for that. After a brief conversation with him, I went over to the coffee table and helped myself. There, another member of the congregation asked where I'd come from and whether I was here on holiday. A gentleman wandered in dressed in what seemed to be a military costume dating from the mid 18th century. He was obviously a member of the congregation, as he greeted many of the people present. It was a little difficult not to stare!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The coffee was hot but otherwise unmemorable. I think juice was also available, but I don't remember any tea.

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

7 – This is the heart of Francophone Canada, and Anglican churches are relatively few and far between. To be honest, I think that if I lived in Québec, I wouldn't have any other choice but to worship here. That said, I think I would probably be quite content at All Saints.

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

No, but that's more a reflection of my personal state of mind at the moment than a result of anything that did or didn't happen during the service.

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

The gentleman in military costume.

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