Mystery Worshipper: The Vicar
Church: St Paul's Cathedral
Location: Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 August 2006, 9:30am
It's probably best described as Gothic Revival and has some nice stained glass windows. The seating capacity is around 300. There appears to have been a significant amount of re-ordering inside, with a free-standing altar in the middle of the chancel, the choir and organ console in the south transept, and the organ case in the north transept. One thing that I had never seen in a church before was a stained glass window of Christ driving the money changers out of the temple. Interestingly, it was located in the west wall directly behind the baptismal font – the image of Christ driving people out of his Father's house being located in such close proximity to the font, where people are brought into the church, is a little ironic. Still, it is a nicely done window, subject matter and placement notwithstanding.
Originally built as a parish church, St Paul's was made the cathedral church of the diocese of Qu'Appelle after it became obvious that plans for a much more ambitious cathedral building would never be realised. They sponsor a chapter of Anglican Church Women and offer a "Breakfast Club" that supplies a healthy, balanced breakfast to Regina's neediest once each week. Every Sunday except during summer, they offer a children's liturgy in a space separate from where the adult liturgy is celebrated.
The diocese of Qu'Appelle includes the lower third of Saskatchewan. Regina, named in honor of Queen Victoria, is Saskatchewan's provincial capital. The flat, treeless prairie comprising the area was first settled in 1882, although nearby sites would perhaps have been more favourable for its intended purpose. Regina was incorporated as a city in 1903 and grew rapidly until the Great Depression of 1929, from which it never fully recovered. Its economy was fueled primarily by mining and, to a lesser degree, agriculture, although in modern times the telecommunications and financial services industries have injected new life into the area. The city has worked wonders transforming the dull prairie into tree-rich parkland. This is one of the few places in North America where the American elm tree, once widespread, has not been wiped out by Dutch elm disease. The cathedral is located in downtown Regina, very close to City Hall.
The Very Rev. S. Hugh Matheson, dean of the diocese of Keewatin, was celebrant and guest preacher. Dean Matheson was assisted by the Rev. Deacon Michael Jackson as well as a subdeacon – a lady, although the bulletin listed a man's name; there must have been a last-minute substitution. A crucifer, two acolytes, and several readers and eucharistic ministers were not named.
What was the name of the service?Choral Eucharist
How full was the building?
Approximately three-quarters full, probably about 200 people in total.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A gentleman at the back of the cathedral handed us our service booklets, leaflets, etc. A lady near the entrance smiled and said good morning as we walked in.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard wooden pew with typical fold-down kneelers. Both were quite comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We got there early and the choir was warming up when we walked in. As the church filled up, the chattering in the pews grew louder. A few people did sit or kneel quietly amidst the choir warm-up and general chatter.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning, everybody!" spoken by the deacon in a game-show host sort of delivery, followed by a "Good morning" from most of the congregation. He continued with: "Welcome to St Paul's Cathedral" and extended a special welcome to the guest preacher and celebrant as well as the guest choir and any visitors (which apparently many of us were).
What books did the congregation use during the service?
A booklet called St Paul's Cathedral Service, which contained most of the liturgy; Common Praise, the hymnal of the Anglican Church of Canada; as well as a bulletin insert or two.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ for most of the liturgical music and grand piano for accompanying the choir. A guest choir, the Bishop's School for Choristers, provided the music.
Did anything distract you?
A couple of things: First, the posture and deportment of the servers. The crucifer was chewing gum and one of the acolytes was casually perched on the armrest of her stall for parts of the liturgy. I was glad to see that the cathedral managed to muster up three young servers on a warm summer Sunday morning, but perhaps the training session scheduled for 17 September could touch on these topics. Second, the vestments! My apologies to their donor, but they were a particularly unattractive pattern of light green mixed with some darker green tones. Just my opinion, of course! Finally, I was surprised to see Dean Matheson take this service, as Mrs Vicar and I worship at the cathedral at Keewatin whenever we are visiting my aunt's house in Kenora. Furthermore, we belong to a choral ensemble that had just sung evensong in Kenora two weeks before. We certainly did not expect to see him in Regina, 800 kilometres from his home. It turns out the dean's family is from Regina and his parents were celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was an interesting combination of styles. There were high church elements – the three sacred ministers were all vested in the appropriate trappings, the deacon wearing his stole over the dalmatic, as well as the servers in cassock-albs and the crucifer in a tunicle. But lower church happy-clappy elements included people clapping along to "Shine, Jesus, Shine" (one of my least favourite hymns) and applauding the choir at several points.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Interestingly, the sermon was at the very beginning of the liturgy, before anything at all other than the opening "Good morning." I gathered that this order was done in the summer as something of an experiment. A couple of ladies behind us were heard to comment something about "not knowing where we are" in the liturgy. Since I am acquainted with the dean, I will not comment on his style, except to say that his microphone was not switched on until halfway through, when it suddenly kicked in, giving him a rather disembodied voice due to the placement of the speakers in the church.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The sermon was based on the epistle (which, the reader will recall, we had not yet heard): Ephesians 6:10-20 (putting on the full armour of God). As St Paul is clear to point out, it is the sword of the Spirit that is the word of God. All too frequently, Christians claim that the Bible itself is the word of God and use it as the sword of the Spirit, with negative results. The main point, as I understood it, was to recognise the need to get along despite our differences.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Probably the organ music. Well played, beginning with a couple of Bach's Little Preludes and Fugues and extending through the hymns, taken at a good tempo (unlike our organist back home, who manages to sap the life out of even the most joyful hymns).
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Well, it would have to be a few things: (1) The behaviour of two of the servers, as noted above; (2) "Shine, Jesus, Shine" ('nuff said); and, sad to say, (3) the choir. They were certainly enthusiastic and had obviously worked hard at preparing the music for that morning's service, but the fact remains that they still have a way to go. I applaud, though, the Bishop's School for Choristers as an institution, as it was great to see so many children and teenagers in church, participating in the worship on a beautiful summer morning when they could have been off doing something else.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
First of all, there were many visitors there (families of the choristers, etc.) so I think the regulars were quite outnumbered. That said, one of the ladies behind us told us it was nice to have had us visit. We also chatted briefly with Dean Matheson, but he was a guest as well and we were acquainted from elsewhere. Second, we needed to return home, so we were unable to stay around. I had a feeling, though, that visitors are made to feel quite welcome on an average Sunday.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
We were going to stay for a very quick cup of coffee, but upon walking down to the hall we saw only three ladies, none of whom was eating, although a very nice looking spread of food had been laid out. If we had had more time, we would have waited around and gone in once we saw other people going in.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
5 – In all fairness, this was not a typical service for the cathedral and I have given it a 5 on that basis. In addition, we do not live in Regina, nor do we plan to relocate there. The cathedral seems to have some higher church leanings than most churches in the snake's-belly-low diocese of Rupert's Land (three vested sacred ministers would be virtually unheard of there). But should we be in Regina again, we would probably give it another go.
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 placement of the sermon at the very beginning of the service.