Timothy Eaton Memorial, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Timothy Eaton Memorial, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: Transformed
Church: Timothy Eaton Memorial
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 18 July 2010, 11:00am

The building

The building was completed in 1915 and originally housed a Methodist congregation. It was named in honour of the founder of the Eaton's department store chain, once one of the most important retail institutions in all of Canada. Neo-Gothic in design, the building immediately catches the passer-by's attention with its oversized windows featuring delicate tracery. It has a huge sanctuary that seats 800, plus many meeting, concert, and Christian education rooms in a separate wing. There is some interesting stained glass, with several windows commemorating various members of the Eaton family.

The church

This is a large, fairly conservative, wealthy congregation with a huge endowment fund. They sponsor several social and community service groups.

The neighborhood

Timothy Eaton Memorial Church is located in the Forest Hill area of Toronto, one of the city's wealthiest districts. Like heaven, there are many mansions.

The cast

The Revd David McMaster, minister of congregational life, and an unnamed liturgist.

What was the name of the service?

Sunday Service

How full was the building?

There were about 175 people there – less than one-quarter full. Decidedly an older congregation, with fewer than ten people under the age of 50. I saw no children, nor was there a children's time. If there were any children at Sunday school, I imagine that they would have come to church with their great-grandmothers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I walked in the side door off the parking lot and went to find a seat. Apparently that's a no-no. An usher came running after me and insisted on walking me to my pew. I felt like I had done something wrong!

Was your pew comfortable?

Traditional wooden pew with pads. There were wooden kneelers, which is unusual in the United Church.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?


What were the exact opening words of the service?

"The apostle Paul called out to the people: 'Encourage one another with hope!'"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Voices United, the United Church hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was the only instrument. It was played fairly well. The pipe organ is opus 583 of the Casavant firm, installed in 1914.

Did anything distract you?

During the announcements, the liturgist listed all the radio stations that were carrying the service. This felt quite ridiculous for a worship service. The sound system made a buzzing noise during the sermon.

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

Very stiff! This would not be a clapping congregation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

30 minutes.

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

4 – The minister's manner was quite conversational, but he was trying to cram too many points into one sermon. It was way too long! He talked about so many different things that the main thread was lost. It sounded more like a university lecture than a sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

His text was 1 John 1:1-4; 2:24-29 (John, as an eyewitness to Christ's ministry, exhorts the faithful to stick to what Christ taught). He mentioned the Gospel of Judas and The Da Vinci Code as examples of false teachings, full of misinformation and distortion. He gave a long dissertation on children talking about a playground brawl as an example of how facts can be distorted by second or third-hand reporting. Compared with all the false and heretical teachings that have accumulated over time, the books of the New Testament have a certain integrity to them. The Church today often limps along amid much doubt. If we go back to the original teachings of Christ, we may re-experience the meaning that faith has had for countless generations.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The building is beautiful.

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

The liturgist, who was not named at all, was very sedating. The length of the rambling sermon was unnecessary.

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

Nobody spoke to me. I just left. It was obvious that I don't fit in.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

If there was any, no mention of it was made.

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

2 – I don't fit in here. I can't be in a church with no kids! To have children away in Sunday school and not part of the congregation at all, even for a short time, is not the Body of Christ, in my opinion.

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

Not really. The sermon did not connect with me. I can stand an intellectual challenge, but I also need to connect with God.

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

The long, boring sermon and no kids!

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