St Paul Bloor Street Toronto

St Paul's, Bloor Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: TransFormed
Church: St Paul's
Location: Bloor Street, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 27 February 2011, 4:30pm

The building

The large building is a Gothic Revival design built between 1851 and 1854, with significant changes and expansions taking place in the intervening years. There is also a parish hall (Cody Hall) that is joined to the church by an atrium.

The church

They offer a number of education programmes, including small groups for healing, grief, divorce, and those new to or exploring Christianity. Small groups, described on their website as "a great place to meet others and learn to follow Jesus among friends," meet at various times and locations. They offer a variety of services described as "quiet communion", "relaxed worship" and "classical worship."

The neighborhood

St Paul's is located on Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, near an upscale shopping district, and at the end of the city's gay village. Nearby is the national church house of the Anglican Church of Canada and the excellent Anglican Book Centre.

The cast

The service was held in the presence of the Rt Revd George H. Elliott, Bishop of the York-Simcoe Episcopal Area of the Diocese of Toronto. Serving as bishop's chaplain was the Revd Deacon Aldith Baker. Presiding at the service was the Venerable Peter Fenty. The preacher was the Revd Canon Cheryl Palmer. Also taking part were readers Olivia Waterman and Elsa Jones; intercessors Matthew Waterman and Janet Jake; acolytes Karimah Butler and Aliya Whyte; and crucifer Martin Bradley. Karen Richardson, a Toronto-based poet, gave a reading.

What was the name of the service?

16th Annual Celebration of the Black Heritage of Our Church.

How full was the building?

About one-half full. There were about 800-1000 people present.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A man gave me a bulletin but said nothing. When I sat down, people said hello as they joined me in the pew. A woman behind me tapped my shoulder and asked if I had been to this service before.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a standard wooden pew with kneelers that were too close for proper kneeling. I had to bum kneel. The pew was comfortable enough considering the service lasted for two hours.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was quiet chatter as people greeted one another, but it was not distracting or bothersome in this large space.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Would you be seated, please?"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Just the order of service, which was very detailed.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, trumpet, steel pan. The organist and choir director was William Khan, who conducted the Augmented Diocesan Choir. Also providing music were the Yes to Life Choir and the Worship in Steel Band, featuring drummer Takudwza Mudereri on the steel pan.

Did anything distract you?

The sanctuary was filled with many flags, and I kept wondering what their significance was. There was a photographer who was very annoying. He was really getting in the faces of the musicians and liturgical dancers, and I wanted to go and tell him to sit down!

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

It was a real mix. Bishop Elliot greeted the congregation, prayed over the gifts, and gave a final blessing at the end. There were Old and New Testament readings but no gospel reading. Intercessory prayers were read. The guest choirs and band were fabulous, especially the steel pan. However, I thought the congregational singing was dry and stiff. The hymns they chose were very traditional, but some did not fit with a celebration of African heritage, nor did they fit with the theme of the service. I'm just not sure why they were chosen. I really enjoyed the offertory, which had liturgical dancers garbed in colourful head dresses and costumes dancing in the aisles, and the choir singing "Every Time I Feel the Spirit." The poet Karen Richardson read a reflection after the offering had been received. There was no celebration of holy communion, which was sort of disappointing, as I would have liked to have seen how they would have done it in this unique service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

23 minutes.

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

8 – Canon Parker had prepared notes, and referred to them regularly, but her style was conversational and easy to follow.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The title was "Seize the Promise: God's Goodness Sustains Us." She spoke about how things may fall apart around us, but we must hold onto Christ to sustain us. We must always count on Christ for our hope.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was amazing. I have never heard steel pan in worship before, but it was great. The Augmented Diocesan Choir was very good, and I would have like to have heard more from them.

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

The choice of hymns was odd. They were very old, familiar hymns, but I would have liked to have sung spirituals or hymns that were more relevant to the theme of the service.

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

I had to run, as my parking meter was about to expire. I didn't expect the service to go two hours.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I don't think there was any.

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

5 – This is not a normal St Paul's service, but I really enjoyed it and will attend it in the future. Previously, this service had been held at St James Cathedral, but was moved to the larger St Paul's a number of years ago. I don't think I could attend St Paul's regularly, though, as their lack of community outreach bothers me. I should think that a church this size could manage more than what they do.

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 offertory.

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