St Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto

St Martin-in-the-Fields, Toronto, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: Liturgy Queen
Church: St Martin-in-the-Fields
Location: Toronto, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 November 2007, 11:00am

The building

Dating from 1905, the church is a well preserved example of the Arts and Crafts style and is quite impressive from the outside. Steps lead through a small sort of gable or shelter down to the entrance of the church. I had been told that St Martin's was Anglo-Catholic, and the interior confirmed these reports. The first thing I saw on entering the nave was a statue of the Madonna and Child with a prie-dieu in front of it. The sanctuary had three lamps, as well as a tabernacle behind the altar flanked by six candles. Noteworthy is a series of stained glass windows on the "I am" theme: I am the bread of life, etc.

The church

St Martin-in-the-Fields is somewhat enigmatic. Their website gives few insights into their parish life, although church school, nursery, and Scout troops are mentioned. However, the Revd Dr Dana Fisher, chaplain at Trinity College, the liberal Anglo-Catholic college and seminary at the University of Toronto, is an honorary assistant at St Martin's, and the rector is one of the brethren of the Anglo-Catholic Oratory of the Good Shepherd.

The neighborhood

The church lies on the edge of High Park, the largest of Toronto's public parks and the jewel of the city's park system, noted for its varied attractions ranging from manicured gardens to unkempt forests and including a small zoo. This is the last remaining "dry" area in Toronto – i.e., an area where the sale of alcoholic beverages is prohibited.

The cast

The rector, the Revd Canon Philip Hobson, OGS, was the celebrant. He was assisted by the Revd Alexandra Meek Sharman, a deacon in the diocese of Edmonton and a seminarian at Wycliffe College in Toronto, as well as by an unnamed subdeacon who looked to be about my age (that is, in her late teens). The Rt Revd Joachim Fricker, a retired bishop, was the homilist and gave the final blessing.

What was the name of the service?

Procession and Sung Eucharist for the Patronal Festival of St Martin

How full was the building?

Probably about 80 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Not knowing how long it would take me to get to that part of town, I managed to arrive a full hour early, thus bypassing the greeting system. However, over the course of that hour, several people acknowledged me with a smile and a nod of the head, including the rector. A woman approached me in my pew to explain that everyone would be wearing name stickers and asked if she could make one for me.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. There was nothing extraordinary about the pew, but it served its function admirably. The kneeler was also quite comfortable, sturdy but padded.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

When I first arrived, two musicians were rehearsing at the organ. I slipped downstairs to put away the bottle of cranberry ginger ale I had brought, and was directed to the fridge by a group of parishioners chatting in the kitchen. Things upstairs became increasingly boisterous as mass time approached, even before the church really started to fill up. Things quieted down when the organist began the prelude, and by the time it was finished silence more or less reigned.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Father Hobson began the announcements with a hearty "Good morning to one and all." The liturgy itself began with the deacon intoning: "Let us go forth in peace," to which the choir and congregation responded: "In the name of Christ. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Alternative Services and Common Praise, the most recent Canadian Anglican hymnal. This may have been the only Anglican church I have been to where there were no copies of the Book of Common Prayer in the pews. A comprehensive leaflet provided the outline of the service and the propers, so that those familiar with the mass did not have to refer to the book.

What musical instruments were played?

The main instrument was the organ, which was played quite competently. A violin introduced the alleluia verse and, along with a piano, made an appearance after the communion.

Did anything distract you?

There was a woman with white hair in a bun so large and so thoroughly blow-dried as to be reminiscent of a poodle. Also, it was somewhat odd that as the deacon sang the petitions of the prayers of the people, the choir sort of hummed a continuous tone underneath, in a manner that reminded me of an old spiritual.

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

This was a modern Anglo-Catholic mass with both bells and smells. The sacred ministers stood behind the altar and faced the congregation, which is not my preference but which was handled well. The modern language rite of the Book of Alternative Services was used and the choir sang the music of the mass. In modern fashion, there was no Kyrie. Although the introduction and conclusion of the gospel proclamation were sung, the gospel itself was simply read.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

18 minutes.

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

7 – Bishop Fricker's train of thought was a little hard to pin down at first, though I appreciated his use of an anecdote. It involved his having his palm read in Boston while visiting the Episcopal Divinity School in neighbouring Cambridge. I immediately thought of several colleagues who would have wept to hear this. However, his earnest words of encouragement to the congregation were deeply inspiring. Also in lieu of the customary invocation, the sermon was introduced with a prayer bidding God "through us, [to] recreate the world," which I found theologically suspect.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Is there a future for the Church? Bishop Fricker believes there is, but we must acknowledge that we now live in a post-Christendom reality. The congregation of St Martin's can play a unique role in mission, not by "talking about Jesus" but rather by "being Jesus." A community-wide study of the countercultural life and example of St Martin might be a good jumping-off point.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The choir singing from the back of the church during communion. Also, this was the only Anglo-Catholic parish I have visited that uses a decent red wine for the Mysteries, rather than a heartburn-inducing white.

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

The singing of the Nicene Creed was extremely odd. They had attempted to set the modern translation of the Creed to Merbecke's tone, with uneven results. There was a painfully noticeable gap in the chant when the filioque would have been sung in the traditional translation. Finally, when the sacred ministers kissed the altar at the end of mass, the subdeacon only pretended to do so, and remained bent over with her head a noticeable distance from the altar.

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

I didn't really need to look lost. After kneeling at the prie-dieu to say the midday Angelus (which had not been said congregationally), I lined to up to greet the bishop (who graciously allowed me to kiss his ring), the rector, and the deacon. Father Hobson immediately invited me to the potluck taking place downstairs.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There were a number of delights to be found at the potluck. I sampled the shepherd's pie, the perogies, the macaroni and cheese casserole, a curry of some description, and several types of dessert. During the luncheon, the Order of St Martin, a parish award, was presented to this year's honourees. I sat at a table with several other people and got to know the thurifer, who as it turns out participates in an on-line Anglican discussion group I belong to. There were several young men my age, which is always a pleasant change from my own parish, and they were quite welcoming as well. Several flags were hung around the parish hall, and the tables competed to identify them with the most accuracy. Partly since that's the sort of information I tend to remember, my table won, and we all had a great time.

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

9 – St Martin's has a nice parochial feel in contrast to the two "shrine" Anglo-Catholic parishes in Toronto. In the future, I would be open to making it my parish home.

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

It certainly did. I appreciated the excellent liturgy coupled with the proclamation of the gospel. On a day when most parishes in the city observed Remembrance Day in a display I often find unfortunate, it was greatly refreshing to sing hymns to St Martin praising him for turning from warfare (while of course also remembering in our prayers those lost to war).

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

The splendid vestments of the sacred ministers and the camaraderie of our table's team in the guess-the-flag game.

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