Christ Church is an unimposing Victorian Gothic building on a corner in downtown Vancouver dwarfed by high-rise towers, which makes it look and feel more like a parish church than a grand cathedral. Worship has taken place on this site since 1888. The cathedral narrowly survived destruction and redevelopment in the 1970s when its own congregation was prepared to sacrifice it. But the Vancouver public saved it, and it is now a protected heritage building.
Their motto is "Open doors, open hearts, open minds." It did not feel like just a throwaway slogan either. Their worship sheet emphasizes their commitment to diversity and to providing a safe, welcoming space for all. Their staff includes a rabbinic scholar in residence. There is an American Sign Language interpreter for the deaf community at the 10.30am service. The British Royal Family worship here when visiting Vancouver.
Vancouver is the third largest city in Canada and the most densely populated, with an urban mix of residential and corporate buildings that has led to its being rated one of the most livable cities in the world consistently over the past decade. The church is situated in the downtown core, surrounded by high rise hotels, apartments and business offices, and so is hidden by its much taller neighbours.
The Ven. Ellen Clark-King, vicar, officiated at the morning eucharist, assisted by the Revd Deacon Dixie Black. The preacher was the Very Revd Dr Peter Elliott, dean and pastor. The Revd Kay Schmitt and the Revd Ed Schmitt, and the Revd Chris Dierkes, curate, assisted with the distribution of communion. The organist was Edward Norman, guest musician, and a solo quartet stood in for the vacationing choir. The Revd Canon Douglas Williams presided at the evening service of compline, assisted by server Dana Osborne, and the music was provided by the men's schola cantorum.
What was the name of the service?The morning service was called Choral Eucharist. The evening service was called Compline: The Service of Gregorian Chant.
How full was the building?
In the morning it was about three-quarters full with a wide spread of age groups. Compline was less well attended: about one-quarter full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There was a welcoming team of eight people. We were heartily welcomed to the eucharist and encouraged to sit wherever we wanted as we were given our service sheets. We were asked to sign the visitors book. In the evening, however, the greeting was silent and the church was in near-darkness.
Was your pew comfortable?
There were some old-fashioned style pews, but we opted to sit in very comfortable chairs.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
At the morning service there was a hubbub of quiet conversation and organ music and an air of bustling as various people prepared for the service. Some noise filtered in from the street, as the Sun Run, a 10km road race held in Vancouver each year around this time, was in full swing. For compline, there was a reverent silence, no extraneous chatter in the dark.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
At the eucharist: "Good morning and thank you all for braving the Sun Run." In the evening, I was so caught up in the reverence I failed to notice the opening words.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service sheet was all encompassing, with everything printed out: the words of the service, the music and words of the hymns. and the music for the sung parts of the service. In the book holder in front of the chair were Common Praise, Anglican Church of Canada and The Book of Alternative Services, Anglican Church of Canada.
What musical instruments were played?
In the morning, just the organ. In the evening, just the choir. The organ is an opus of Kenneth Jones Pipe Organs Ltd of Kilcoole, Ireland.
Did anything distract you?
The sound of the Sun Run, which didn't stop until about 11.00am. There was also an occasional squeaking noise that was very off-putting, and I could not work out what it was. That had stopped in the evening, when the only distraction was the noisy arrival of some latecomers.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The Sunday morning service was middle of the road: not happy-clappy, but also no smells and bells. Compline, however, was very Old World, with lots of incense and all done by candlelight. The service was mostly sung and was almost mesmeric. The chanting was sublime and the whole service made me feel as if I was completely at peace with the world.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
17 minutes (morning). There was no sermon in the evening.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The dean was a very clear speaker and it certainly didn't feel like 17 minutes. When I came to write this, I was surprised to realize that he had spoken for so long.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The gospel reading (John 10:22-30 Jesus says that his sheep shall have eternal life and that he and the Father are one) is the first since Easter that has nothing to do with the Resurrection. It takes us back to the middle of winter, to the Festival of Dedication (what we know as Hanukkah). If we want to know about God, we need just look at Jesus. Jesus is the human face of God. In him we see forgiveness, healing, grace, a man who is all encompassing and who welcomes all into the community. We are all children of God no matter what our race or creed. He invites his followers to join him in peacemaking and forgiveness rather than revenge. He is the fusing together of the mortal and immortal, fully human but also divine. But it works the other around too just as there was divinity in Jesus, because of the Incarnation there is humanity in God. We are all a part of God's creation; the material and the spiritual are not separate. God's sacred creation is the Body of Christ.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Our warm and genuine welcome made it special in the morning. In the evening, it was the feeling of total relaxation and peace that led to an excellent night's sleep.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The external racket from the Sun Run and the unexplained squeaking in the morning. During compline, the irritation of the noisy latecomers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the morning eucharist we were invited to join everyone in the basement where the parish rooms are, for coffee and tea and also home-make cookies. One of the ministers was from Kent and we were pointed in her direction, as we had similar accents. After compline there was nothing; everyone left very quietly, and so did we, so as not to spoil the atmosphere.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Very tasty! I have no idea if it was fair trade or not, as it was served out of large black square urns.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
I gave it a 9 in the morning and a 10 in the evening!
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The lovely warm welcome in the morning, and the the wonderful calm and contemplative feeling we got during compline. We are still talking about it!