Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa

Christ Church Cathedral, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Info and corrections →

Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Cathedral
Location: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 12 October 2014, 10:30am

The building

An attractive Gothic Revival cathedral in grey stone with a front corner tower and brick-red painted doors and window frames. The interior has a great deal of carved wood and stone, with a terra cotta tile floor and much stained glass. The sanctuary is separated from the nave by the choir and clergy stalls.

The church

The church is the cathedral of the Diocese of Ottawa. They have an arts group that uses the cathedral setting to present concerts and lectures. They also have men's and women's groups, a food pantry, and a Compass Rose Society, which (quoting from their website) "supports the work of the Archbishop of Canterbury and enables caring partnerships within the Anglican Communion."

The neighborhood

The church is right in downtown Ottawa, an easy walk to Parliament Hill. The area around the cathedral has been under construction for some time, meaning that it is surrounded by scaffolding and danger signs, and it's difficult to park.

The cast

Presiding celebrant: the Revd Canon Catherine Ascah,
pastoral vicar. Preacher: the Very Revd Shane A.D. Parker, dean and rector of the cathedral.

What was the name of the service?

Harvest Thanksgiving Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

Quite full, around 350 people in attendance. There were no empty pews in the nave, but also none that were uncomfortably full. There were one or two people sitting in the balcony. This weekend is Thanksgiving in Canada, and so it may be that there were more people at the church than on a regular Sunday.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I got a smile and a nod from the greeter, who handed me a sheaf of documents, including the leaflet, as I entered through a side door. No one welcomed me personally, but I was sitting with a child, and during the peace a friendly older gentleman sitting in front of us said to her smilingly, "You seem lost!" as he shook her hand.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pews were standard for a Canadian Anglican church: dark wood, shiny from years of use, with book holders on the backs and padded kneelers that swing up and down underneath. As comfortable as any seating that is not upholstered.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere at the beginning of the service was like that at the beginning of a well-attended concert. There was a low buzz of talking and other noise as people who were already seated settled in and as others made their way in.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning to everyone. Happy Thanksgiving to you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Book of Alternative Services;
Common Praise
(hymnal). Readings were printed in the leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a Trillium 958 digital instrument from Rodgers Organs Canada.

Did anything distract you?

Something seemed slightly off with the sound system, such that the readers at the lectern sounded a bit staticky and tinny, like they were being transmitted over a 1930s wireless. During the gospel procession, the servers carrying the candles held them at dramatically different heights, which was noticeable mainly because it was so different from the precision of the rest of that aspect of the service. Finally, the temperature was also distracting. It's difficult in the fall in Canada, when temperatures fluctuate wildly from day to day, and even during the day, to get it right, and having a large number of people in a contained space doesn't help. At the beginning of the service the church was a bit cool, but not uncomfortable. At the end it was just swelteringly hot, both within the church proper and also in the hall, where the radiators were pumping out ferocious heat and people were fanning themselves.

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

With the exception of the modern language, this was a full-on high Anglican cathedral service, with several vested clergy, a large men's and boys' choir, dignified parishioners in their Sunday outfits, and a large amount of music, including an organ prelude and postlude. The choir (mostly) sang the mass (Darke in E), with the congregation taking the Gloria and four hymns. Sidesmen directed traffic during communion, which was taken at the high altar, and the congregation knelt, stood, and sat as one. There was no incense. At the beginning of the service, the dean drew the congregation's attention to the new vestments being worn by the clergy, which match the new "creation" altar front and other hangings throughout the church. These were, erm, extremely Canadian, including a frolicking moose on the altar front and a loon in the pulpit (probably not a commentary on the preacher). Pictures of these may become poster material for the Society Against Tacky Vestments.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

7 minutes.

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

7 – The sermon itself was very good. The only thing that dropped the score from an 8 to a 7 was the complete lack of energy with which it was delivered by the dean, who might have been reading his grocery list aloud.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Because this was Thanksgiving weekend, the readings, psalm, hymns, etc. were all chosen accordingly. The sermon included exegesis of two of the three biblical texts (the gospel and the Old Testament reading), and resolved into a non-trite message about the importance of giving thanks for God, as opposed to enumerating specific worldly things for which to be thankful, which would be a harder task for some than for others.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The music was superb, and clearly appreciated and joyfully added to by the congregation. The choir did an especially nice job on Edward Woodall Naylor's Benedicite at the gradual. It was also good to see the overflowing baskets of donated food being brought up with the offering. This church clearly takes outreach seriously (at least at Thanksgiving).

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

It was a bit distracting to have the children tromping in from Sunday school, talking loudly, during the Sanctus and Benedictus. Even the choir were distracted from their singing! At one point a cellular phone rang distinctly. Finally, I have some ambivalence about the rubric at the end of the readings. At this church, the reader says not "The Word of the Lord" but rather"Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church," which is a bit too hokey and hippy for my liking.

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

Not a soul spoke to me, although I did hang around ostentatiously and even made eye contact and smiled at several people. I knew that there was after-service coffee, but no one invited me or acknowledged that I was a visitor. To be fair, I was no doubt one of many visitors that day because it was Thanksgiving, and so perhaps my experience would have been different on a normal Sunday.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

The after-service refreshments were served in two crowded adjoining rooms, and included doughnuts and cakes on open tables. There were coffee and tea, but frankly it was so hot that I couldn't bear to force my way through the crowd to where they were being served. I did hang around the edges looking forlorn, but nobody spoke to me, and I was finally driven out by the heat.

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

6 – The music would be a powerful enticement to make this my regular church, but I am strongly attached to the traditional language of the Book of Common Prayer, and it's clear that this church rarely uses this liturgy if at all. I think that anyone who prefers modern language liturgy would be quite happy here.

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

Yes. Overall, it was a very good experience, and a well-organized service.

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

I especially loved hearing the Naylor Benedicite, a particular favourite of mine.

Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you’d like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.

Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.

Comments and corrections

To comment, please scroll to the end of this report and add your thoughts there. To send us factual corrections, please contact us. We also discuss reports on our Ecclesiantics bulletin board.

© Ship of Fools