Christ's Church Cathedral, Hamilton

Christ’s Church Cathedral, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ’s Church Cathedral
Location: Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 23 November 2014, 4:00pm

The building

The exterior presents a largish pile of soot-tinged limestone, solidly late Victorian, and separated from the sidewalk by a handsome iron gate and a modern fountain: just the thing for a not-quite-so-prosperous-as-it-once-was industrial city. Coming through any of the three pairs of huge wooden doors, one finds a broad expanse of cream walls and pillars topped by a striking red ceiling, all leading up to a handsome and rather intricate reredos (by North American standards, at least).

The church

The cathedral received national and international attention last month when the massive regimental funeral for Corporal Nathan Cirillo – shot dead while standing guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Ottawa – culminated in a very moving service held there. In less troubling times, the cathedral puts on a large number of religious and social events all well documented on their website. A video feed on their home page lists these succinctly.

The neighborhood

Christ's Church Cathedral is located on a high street that has seen better times. The cathedral, the armoury, the old Orange Hall, and the roughed-up Victorian commercial blocks tell of more prosperous and more Protestant days. The neighbourhood, kept alive in recent decades by Portuguese and Vietnamese families and business, is undergoing something of a renaissance sparked by a growing arts scene, of which the cathedral is a vital part.

The cast

The Rt Revd Michael Bird, Bishop of Niagara, presided. The dean, the Very Revd Peter Wall, and the director of music ministries, Michael Bloss, were the more prominent of the supporting cast of eight or so. There was a choir of, curiously, two.

What was the name of the service?

Diocesan Celebration & Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?

The pews were quite full, and the overflow seating was half full. So, a good crowd for 4.00pm on a dark November Sunday.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I was caught like Buridan's Ass (equidistant between two equally desirable attractions) between two smiling women with extended bulletins for a few moments as I approached the sanctuary.

Was your pew comfortable?

I was in a stackable upholstered chair in a side aisle. It was typical of its kind, and so perfectly comfortable. But since there was no way of kneeling, I wasn't able to kneel in prayer as is the custom on settling down; and so I didn't quite feel settled down, no matter my comfort.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The crowd was on the boisterous side, for Canadian Anglicans: there were small groups from at least 15 parishes across the diocese, and there were hellos and chatter as people caught each others' eyes and sorted themselves amid what would be, for most, unfamiliar surroundings.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"I will sing a song of justice ..." sang Mr Bloss from the centre aisle. Such a relief to start with something more uplifting than the everyday greetings of street and office.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The leaflet contained the text of the service and the words to the songs, as well as the music to one of the hymns and the Trisagion (why only those two pieces, I had to wonder).

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, baby grand piano, and accordion!

Did anything distract you?

I am still not used to the extent of bare leg one sees these days – even in church on a dark Sunday in November. Normally, I will allow myself a discrete glance or three, but given where we were, I tried very hard to stick to looking up and around instead, playing Guess the Saint with the windows and carvings. Also, around the time of the gospel reading, we were treated to a cacophony of honking car horns outside, and we knew that the local football team had won the Grey Cup semifinals (the dean later confirmed same via an announcement – see below).

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

There were clergy and copes galore, and various formal things: cross, standards, mitre, crosier. Everything seemed to move in decent order. But the liturgy and prayers were in contemporary English and the overall tone was on the chummy side.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

There was no sermon. In the sermon-shaped hole between the offertory and the eucharist, 18 people were inducted into the Order of Niagara in recognition of their service to parishes and the diocese. The bishop had a good half-minutes quiet chat with each inductee after placing the insignia of the order about their neck. From the diocese's website: "The Order of Niagara was created in 2000 as a way of celebrating lay ministry. Parishes are invited annually to nominate a person who has given of themselves to the parish, diocese and the wider Church."

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The director of music's opening line of song was the beginning of a lesson: he was teaching us the refrain to the responsory psalm, which was to be sung in rounds, and this done largely by example and gesture. It was, well, somewhat heavenly.

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

I find the passing of the peace purgatorial at best. But this was a ten-minute, cross-nave scrum of handshakes and kisses and smiles and laughter and head-pats of goodness-how-they've-grown children. I confess that the hellishness resides largely in my hermetical heart.

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

I sat listening to the nigh-cliche but never unwelcome fifth movement (often called the Toccata) from Widor's Organ Symphony No. 5 in F Minor, Op. 42, No. 1, through to the end; I was left alone, happily. And I was left just as alone as I perused memorial plaques for five minutes. But given that almost everyone was a visitor that evening, I wouldn't expect – or wish for – anything different.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Coffee and tea (the latter strong but fresh, I can attest) were poured out for us into paper cups, and there were two tables bearing the Holy Trinity of Canadian celebratory dessert squares: Nanaimo bars (rich layers of chocolate and butter cream, very buttery), brownies (plenty of walnuts), and chocolate cake with butter cream icing (the icing as thick as the cake).

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

7 – I'll certainly go back just to hear more of what Mr Bloss is up to with the music, no matter that I like a little more thee-thou-thine in my Sundays. So lets give Christ's Church Cathedral (and its idiosyncratic apostrophe to the heavenly King) an easy 7.

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

Always a tricky question, this: I dont know that I can really call myself a Christian anymore. But the service certainly made me feel glad that there are still downtown cathedrals, and Christians doing Christian work, and Christian worship done decently and in good order, and that I am still, to some degree, a part of all of this.

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

The dean pausing during the liturgy to declare, "The Ti-Cats won!" [The Hamilton Tiger-Cats are Hamilton's pro football team, founded in 1950 with the merger of the Hamilton Tigers and the Hamilton Wildcats.] He added, "Probably 37-24," but noted, too, that we shouldn't take his word for it, since he had had to ask to make sure that this was indeed the game with the pointy ball.

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