St James Cathedral, Toronto

Cathedral Church of St James, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Cathedral Church of St James
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 November 2015, 11:00am

The building

The mostly cream-coloured brick circa 1850s Gothic Revival edifice was designed by the 19th century Canadian architect and engineer Frederick William Cumberland. The cathedral itself looks more like a large parish church than a cathedral in Canada's largest and most important city. Additions, including the 305-foot-tall spire, exterior architectural details and the ordering of the nave and chancel, were carried out through the 1880s. Unusual for a cathedral, there are fixed pews facing northward as the church isn't on the traditional eastward alignment. Also inside one sees a visible reminder of the Anglican Church of Canada's historic connection to the Church of England through the royal coat of arms at the south end of nave.

The church

The seat of the Archbishop of Toronto and Metropolitan of the Anglican Church of Canada's seven-diocese Ecclesiastical Province of Ontario, St James is the oldest Christian congregation in Toronto. Every Sunday it offers three services with the eucharist (said, sung and choral, respectively), a said mattins and a choral evensong.

The neighborhood

St James is located at the intersection of King and Church streets (how aptly named for an Anglican cathedral!) only minutes from downtown Toronto landmarks, many of which are now overshadowed by the large number of plate-glass skyscrapers erected in recent years. It sits on the western edge of a park that is surely a lovely oasis from the urban jungle that is downtown Toronto today. Depending on your vice – gluttony or sex – both the St Lawrence Market and Jarvis Street, known for its ladies of the night, are a short walk from the cathedral.

The cast

The Very Revd Douglas A. Stoute, dean and rector; the Revd Canon David Brinton, OGS, sub-dean and vicar; and two unnamed clergy. All wore chasubles with visible stoles underneath. Stanley Hauerwas, B.A., B.D., M.A., M.Phil., Ph.D., D.D., Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, delivered the sermon, which St James called a homily. Dr Hauerwas' biography was absent from the printed materials given to congregants, so I'm sure I couldn't have been the only person in the pews wondering why a layman, albeit one with such an impressive array of degrees to his name, was giving the sermon on the first Sunday of Advent.

What was the name of the service?

The Great Litany in Procession and and Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

It was difficult to tell because the congregation weren't evenly spread out across the nave. A good six or seven rows of pews at the back of the nave were reserved for unknown worshippers but barely used. Other pews had one, others four.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I slipped through unnoticed, as I wasn't spotted until about three rows into the nave. But once spotted, I was approached from the side by what St James calls a sidesman (as opposed to the more common usher), who said hello and who handled me a collection of printed materials. I made my way up a few more pews until I found an empty one that had a reasonably decent view of the pulpit and altar.

Was your pew comfortable?

The original box pews (so they appear to be) weren't terribly comfortable and had very limited legroom (think economy-class on an airplane). Thankfully, the kneelers were generously padded for the long time I spent kneeling during the litany.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

A tad social and frankly noisy. Getting into the box pews required the opening and closing of a cranky wooden door.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"O God the Father, creator of heaven and earth, have mercy upon us."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A booklet specific to this the First Sunday of Advent contained all of liturgy. There was an insert for the great litany. The liturgy appeared to be a combination of traditional language from the Book of Common Prayer with more passages from the Anglican Church of Canada's Book of Alternative Services. Hymns were taken from the Common Praise hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, an opus of the Samuel R. Warren Company of Montréal dating from 1888, as rebuilt by Casavant Frères of St Hyacinthe, Québec, and with a console by JW Walker of England.

Did anything distract you?

The deacon saying the gospel when the rest of the service was sung. With that said, I found it difficult to sing the Lord's Prayer and Nicene Creed, as I don't have a good voice and no musical score was printed to give guidance. Also, as I was sitting with my eyes closed, listening and reflecting during the choir's chanting of the psalm, one of the sidesman approached my pew and said, "Sir. Excuse me, sir? Hello, sir? Do you have room in the pew?" He then proceeded to shuffle a person into my pew. Given the emptiness of nearby pews, I wondered why he thought it necessary to disturb someone obviously deep in meditation.

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

Very solemn to the point where at times I felt like a spectator watching state pageantry. I'm not terribly familiar with the churchmanship of Anglicans in Canada, but St James is on the higher end of the proverbial candle. For example, I saw the dean prior to the service walking in the nave wearing a Roman black cassock with red piping. Then there was the stone-faced crucifer wearing a tunicle, which I've never seen before, at least in-person. Yet there were some contradictions in the churchmanship. While the choir did sing the Sanctus and Benedictus as well as the communion hymn in Latin, I didn't see any genuflection during the Nicene Creed – something you might expect to see done by those way up the candle.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

15 minutes.

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

4 – I felt the subject of this layman's sermon would have been appropriate for a different environment – perhaps seminary or even Sunday school. I very much would have enjoyed the opportunity to engage him. He read word for word from prepared text and barely paused at all, which made it difficult to follow and digest.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

How Christmastime is bad for Christians, who are accustomed since childhood to getting what they want under the Christmas tree every year. He diverged at the end with a short detour to his advocacy of pacifism, which wasn't related at all to the rest of his sermon.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Liturgy, which to my eye and ears was almost perfectly executed with only a couple of slight verbal deviations from the printed script.

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

I noticed the service booklet made a point of forbidding communicants from practicing intinction – that is, dipping the bread in the wine – at the altar rail. Instead, it instructed those who wished to do this only to receive the host and then to cross their arms and allow the chalice to pass. I've never seen this in an Anglican church. Letting the eucharistic minister do the dipping for you, yes – but not partaking of the chalice at all, no. If they were afraid of spreading germs, it should be noted that there were bottles of hand sanitizer stationed on small tables hidden in front of the first row of pews on each side of the central aisle, just before the chancel steps.

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

Nobody greeted me and I eventually made my way through the great south doors (functioning as the west doors). The line to greet the dean was long, so I slipped around. A junior clergyman saw me and shook my hand, but didn't invite me to any sort of post-church coffee hour.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I wouldn't know.

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

5 – I would want to visit other Toronto churches before making this decision, as my first impression was that this is a rather large congregation and it would take a long, long time before anyone gave you any notice.

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

As much as any church could, I suppose.

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

The bothersome sidesman.

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