Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal (Exterior)

Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal, Québec, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Christ Church Cathedral
Location: Montreal, Québec, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 13 October 2013, 10:00am

The building

An imposing neo-Gothic building, the work of the 19th century Gothic revivalist Frank Wills, who designed dozens of churches in Canada and the United States. Wills did not live to see the completion of his project, which was finished in 1859 and consecrated in 1867. It soon became apparent that the soft ground could not fully support the cathedral's weight, and by the early 20th century the stone tower had leaned noticeably and had to be demolished. A new foundation was poured in 1939-40 and a new aluminum tower erected. In the late 1980s an underground office and shopping complex were built beneath the cathedral, which had to be supported on stilts during the construction.

The church

This is a cathedral that has a parish community, with emphasis on social action and justice. There is an active Amnesty International group, and there was an update during the notices about amnesty prisoners who had recently been released. The cathedral also advertises its support of fair trade, and there is a kiosk every third Sunday. It is also the regimental church of the Canadian Grenadier Guards.

The neighborhood

Christ Church Cathedral is located on Saint Catherine Street, the primary commercial artery of downtown Montreal. There is little residential accommodation in the local area.

The cast

Presider: The Revd Rhonda Waters, associate priest. Preacher: the Revd Dr Donald Boisvert, curate. There was also a serving team of crucifer, acolytes, master of ceremonies, and verger.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Eucharist for Harvest Thanksgiving

How full was the building?

It's a large building, but a goodly number of the congregation sat toward the front, with a smattering down the rest of the nave and in the side aisles. Not counting clergy, servers or choir, there were about 50 at the start of the service, rising to about 80 in the middle, and 60 at the end.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A smile and a nod from the person who handed me a hymn book. The entrance to the cathedral was quite cluttered with people chatting, making it difficult to get in.

Was your pew comfortable?

I have sat in worse pews but not many. Typical of its era: shortish seat, upright back and not much leg room.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

When I arrived, a member of the choir was rehearsing the introit for the service. This was followed by quiet, with some chattering until the organ prelude started up just before 10.00am.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Bon jour, good morning, and welcome to visitors and those here for the first time."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

We were handed a service sheet with all the words for the service and hymn numbers: English on one side of the page and French on the other. Common Praise hymn book.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, a four-manual mechanical key and stop instrument by Karl Wilhelm, Inc. of Mont-Saint-Hilaire, Quebec. And oh my, was it ever played – read on!

Did anything distract you?

Lots! The procession was a veritable parade, with the choir detaching themselves and splitting in half to return to the back, one half up the north side aisle and the other half up the south side aisle. There was a sort of very odd strumming of strings in the middle of each verse of the psalm. The period of silence following the sermon was heralded by the ringing of a bell, and we knew when the two minutes were up as the bell rang again! The autumnal flowers at the end of the pews kept getting knocked off and having to be picked up and reattached.

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

I think "or what" best describes it. It tried to be traditional but never really hit the mark. This was harvest thanksgiving, but only the collect prayer focused on harvest. During the offertory procession, a basket was carried up that had a plastic bag hanging out of the top of it, with two tins and a can or sardines. Communion was like being herded in a cattle market – not reverential or dignified at all!

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

5 – The Revd Dr Donald Boisvert's style was very dead-pan. He described how lepers were isolated from society in the Middle Ages, a fate tantamount to death and burial.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The readings (2 Kings 5:1-14 – Naaman is healed of leprosy; and Luke 17:11-17 – Jesus heals ten men of leprosy) had featured lepers, and so the sermon had leprosy as its theme. How brave Jesus was in associating with lepers. He deliberately reached out to them to illustrate the life-altering nature of divine forgiveness. We still have outsiders among us today, and when we ignore them, we psychologically bury them. We have so much to be grateful for. We need to listen to the voices outside. (Interestingly, the verger chucked out one of the homeless who came in at the end of the service asking for money!)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Not much, I'm afraid, but if I had to find one thing, it was the intercessions: well written, clear, concise, and a time of quiet and prayerfulness.

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

The music. Every hymn was preceded by a ridiculous (in my opinion) introduction and, even worse, improvisation between verses. The organ is meant to accompany the singing and add to the worship; this was just a take-over. The mass setting was a relatively modern one, which I didn't find uplifting at any point. I love music and I love singing, but this was torture.

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

I hung around and I hung around some more. The Revd Mrs Waters was standing at the door chatting with two members of the choir; none of them had even a good-bye for the visitor. I wandered off to the baptistery for a coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I guess about 20 people had gone for coffee. It all seemed a bit of a bun fight, but I finally realised I was queuing at the wrong end of the table. I eventually managed to get myself to the urn and pour a cup of coffee (very nice and hot and fair-traded). I then stood around some more and noticed others standing on their own. At length I left, having chatted with no one.

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

1 – I would go back one more time if I was looking for a church in Montreal, in case this was not a typical Sunday.

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

No, I felt terrible.

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

What an unfriendly place this was, and being defeated by the organ.

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