St John's, Tillsonburg, Ontario

St John's, Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St John's
Location: Tillsonburg, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Friday, 24 December 2010, 10:30pm

The building

The present building saw its first service on September 23, 1900, and is the third for the parish. Parish hall, kitchen, and school rooms were added over time. The church has a traditional red brick exterior with a belfry that stood empty until 2002. The interior features some beautiful stained glass windows, which we could not see because the service was at night.

The church

They sponsor all the usual groups such as Anglican Church Women, Chancel Guild, Scouts, and a youth group. There are two services each Sunday, and they put on a fellowship breakfast the first Saturday of each month.

The neighborhood

Tillsonburg is a thriving community of 16,000 located in southern Ontario, about halfway between Toronto and Detroit, Michigan, USA, about 15 miles inland from Lake Erie. The area used to be a centre for tobacco growing, but these farmers have had to diversify recently – which is not a problem, as there is no limit to what they can grow in this fertile land of warm summers with a good rainfall.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Bill Ward, rector. He was assisted by a deacon who I presume was the Revd Deacon Vermell Stevens.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

One-quarter to one-third full – somewhat disappointing for a Christmas Eve service.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The greeter shook our hands, wished us a happy Christmas, and handed us bulletins.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not too bad for a wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was reasonably quiet, with the organ playing softly. No distractions.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The processional hymn was announced.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Canadian Book of Alternative Services and the Canadian Book of Common Praise for the singing.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ for all the hymns, but the very competent organist switched to a grand piano for the choir's anthem.

Did anything distract you?

Two parishioners turned and bowed each time the priest walked past them.

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

The worship was very traditionally Anglican – with a restrained joy. We really appreciated the good clip at which the organist played the hymns. Neither choir nor the congregation slowed him down, which was unusual, but then it was a small church. After the recessional, there was a heartfelt burst of "We wish you a merry Christmas", which we enjoyed.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

7 – The rector spoke with a comfortable conversational style, easy to understand. He read from notes, a lot of which were the reading of a story.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The sermon message was "Is there any room in your heart for Nazareth?" He then read a North American version of the Leo Tolstoy short story "Where Love Is, There God Is Also". The message was to look for and see Jesus in everyone, in every situation.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The candles during one hymn, the warm atmosphere, and the sense of family.

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

No one in the congregation was wearing a coat. Clearly they all knew where the cloakroom was, but no one bothered to tell the newcomer where she could hang hers. But really, this did not matter somehow, although it is something that I hope would not happen at my home church.

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

People were leaving and going home, and coffee had not been announced, so we didn't hang around. Anyway, we made our way out of our pew slowly to give someone an opportunity to speak, but nobody took us up on it. At the door, we spent a few minutes introducing ourselves and chatting to the rector.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

No coffee.

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

7 – As it is the only Anglican church in town, I would go straight back if I lived there. I don't suppose this Christmas Eve service was a particularly good example of how the parish normally functions. However, on checking out their website, I see lots of opportunity for the sort of parish life I would be looking for. Granted, their online newsletter is over a year old, but perhaps they are too busy with their outreaches to keep it up to date.

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

On the whole, yes.

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

The large number of hymns and the candles during the singing of one hymn. I really must go back in the daytime to see the stained glass.

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