A modern structure, built in 1963. There are some beautiful stained glass windows along with other components that were incorporated into the building upon amalgamation of the congregations that comprise this one.
The Church of St John & St Stephen, formed in 1917, resulted from the merger of two congregations founded in the mid 19th century. St Matthew's Kirk, which ministered to working class Scots, merged with them in 2008 to form the present congregation. They sponsor groups for children, men, women and seniors, as well as a narcotics support group and an adoptive parents association. There is also a Korean congregation who meet on Sunday afternoons.
Saint John is New Brunswick's largest city and Canada's oldest incorporated city. It is located at the mouth of the St John River on the Bay of Fundy, said to experience the world's highest tides. The city is a treasure-trove of well preserved and carefully restored historical buildings. Grace Presbyterian Church, being a modern structure, stands out conspicuously among its much older neighbours.
The Most Revd Robert Harris, Roman Catholic Bishop of Saint John, was the guest preacher. The service was conducted by the Revd Dr John Crawford, minister, and the Revd Dr Philip Lee, minister emeritus.
What was the name of the service?Anniversary Sunday and Community Food Basket Sunday. The service commemorated the fifth anniversary of the amalgamation of the congregations of St John & St Stephen and St Matthew.
How full was the building?
The pews were roughly one-third full. The more senior members of the congregation sat in the front portion of the church. Mostly young families with children sat in the back.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, from Bishop Harris, who smiled, shook my hand, and said, "Welcome to Grace. I am Robert Harris, Bishop of Saint John, and I am visiting here today." I told him we were in the same boat. So far as the Presbyterian greeting went, a gentleman handed me an order of service without a word.
Was your pew comfortable?
The wooden pew was moderately comfortable. However, as we were seated in the front row of a section, there was a partition that prevented us from stretching our feet.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was a constant din due to chatter taking place. We were seated back where the families were, so there was some restlessness (moving around in the aisles and pews) on the part of the children.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"The Lord be with you."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, and The Book of Praise.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and Piano.
Did anything distract you?
Yes! The din of the families we were seated around continued throughout the service, although on a lesser level. This was endearing in that if I were a parent of small children, I would feel very comfortable taking my children to church here, as no one chided them for their noise. On the other hand, it was difficult to catch some words here and there in the service. The other thing that I found distracting was the extreme echo in the place. The acoustics are not terrific, and if there are even two competing sounds, one has to listen very carefully to pick up the words between the echoes.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal and followed an order of service, with prayers and some scripture readings. It was also, in a sense, very informal in that no one seemed to be ticked about the noise level of the families occupying the back pews.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – One thing I loved was the fact that the bishop came down from the lectern, which was high up a series of steep steps, and stood among the pews to give his address. His message was simple and he was easy to listen to.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Because it was the congregation's fifth anniversary celebration, the topic was "Who are we?" He talked about God's longing for fellowship with us, how we have a longing for God even although we don't know it, and that we don't know who we are until we meet him. He spoke of our role as disciples to help others know who they are by introducing them to the good news of the gospel.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choral anthem was beautiful. Also, I thought it heavenly that a Roman Catholic bishop was preaching in a Presbyterian church.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The echoes in the place. It was difficult to understand what was being said or sung at times.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I hung around in this manner for a good eight minutes before anyone approached me. When they did, it was to offer a coffee. This was a difficult exercise for me because I almost always speak first. Those eight minutes felt extraordinarily long. I was wishing someone would say hello.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Served in a styrofoam cup, it was just hot like it should be, but the flavour was just OK. There was a plate of store-bought cookies that I chose not to indulge in.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – I would have to return in order to give it a fair chance and to hear the regular preacher speak and to see how people would react when spoken to first.
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 warmth of the bishop and his charge to evangelise.