Mystery Worshipper: Transformed
Church: Holy Trinity
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 11 July 2010, 10:30am
This is a beautiful old building, designed by local architect HB Lane and opened in 1847. The church was rebuilt after a devastating fire during construction of the surrounding shopping centre in 1977, which destroyed the roof and south windows.
This is a church that has a commitment to social justice. They support the gay and lesbian community, and have actively worked to support refugees and asylum seekers for 20 years. During the recent G20 summit in Toronto, the church stayed open for protesters to tell their stories. The church shares its space with San Esteban, a Spanish congregation. There is a sung eucharist in English on Sunday mornings, a said eucharist on Wednesdays, and a Spanish language service on Sunday afternoons. They hold a number of joint bilingual services throughout the year. They also hold services and maintain a memorial for homeless people who die on Toronto's streets.
The church is in the heart of downtown Toronto, in the shadow of a major landmark shopping centre. When the centre was designed, they intended to tear down the church, but the congregation fought to keep it, and won. It's a remarkable David and Goliath story.
The preacher was the incumbent, the Revd Sherman Hesselgrave. Michael Creal celebrated, and there were three readers for the three readings: Vivian Harrower, Ann Griffin and Bill Whitla. Becca Whitla is the music director, and she also sang.
What was the name of the service?Contemporary Sung Eucharist
How full was the building?
People came in and out (some homeless, some tourists), but there were about 40 people present about a tenth of what the church could hold.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone gave me a hymn book, a eucharistic prayer book (which was available to be taken home, for a suggested extra $5 in the offering) and last week's bulletin. I had to go back and get this week's bulletin.
Was your pew comfortable?
Torture! It was wooden with unpadded kneelers, not that anyone kneeled. My back still hurts from the pew. There were wing chairs on the periphery of the sanctuary, but they were removed from the service.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
People chatted quietly. Nobody spoke to me.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning. Welcome to the Church of the Holy Trinity."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used Voices United the hymn book of the United Church of Canada, along with the $5 prayer book and the bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and trumpet. Both were excellent. There was also an a capella duet, performed by the music director and someone who was unnamed. Very well done.
Did anything distract you?
The pain in my back from the pew was terrible. The people coming in and going out during the service were disruptive. Also, there was coffee available during the service, and people kept going up and helping themselves.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The music was good, especially for a small congregation. It was fairly traditional, but unusual for an Anglican church, because they used the United Church hymn book.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 – Mr Hesselgrave read from prepared notes. He held the papers in his hand like a nervous high school student giving a presentation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Umm. I'm not really sure. It was called "Plumb lines, pickaxes and my neighbour." It was based on readings from Amos (Amos 7:7-8 God tells Amos that Israel must be "true to plumb") and the story of the Good Samaritan. It was about how Amos used the word plumb line, but the actual Hebrew word means pickaxe, and that we should be good neighbours, or something like that. If the sermon had held my attention, I might have a better idea.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was very good. I like the fact that the congregation has a real commitment to social justice.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The pew from hell! My back still hurts! During the eucharist, I was told to come up to the front and be part of the circle, and that I should just pass the bread and wine if I didn't want to participate. I felt like a little kid the way the woman spoke to me. I remained in my torture-pew and when the priests came to offer me communion, I said no, but no blessing or alternative was offered.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
This was terrible. I sat alone for 13 minutes before someone spoke to me. She was pleasant enough, but didn't even ask my name. The priests were busy with the candlesticks and tablecloths and never gave me a second glance.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Disappointing. In the bulletin, it said there would be soup, but that is only in the fall and winter. Darn. I really wanted some soup! The bulletin also suggested that we should be cautious during the passing of the peace because of flu season, but it was July and more than 30°C (about 90°F) definitely not flu season.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – While I like the social justice commitment, the pew would be a dealbreaker for me. I'd have to bring my own chair each week. Also, the congregation is quite closed, and clearly not welcoming to visitors.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. Christianity means community for me. I'm sure that once you are part of this community it would be great, but I think it would be hard to break in.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
My back ache.