Church of the Redeemer, Toronto

Church of the Redeemer, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Redeemer
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 31 August 2014, 7:00pm

The building

A small Gothic Revival building in the heart of downtown Toronto dating from 1879. The architects were the firm of Smith & Gemmell, who designed some 90 churches in Toronto alone! It is described in Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto (1894) as "a handsome and commodious building". The interior was renovated in the 1980s and again in 2000 to provide meeting space and accommodations for the church offices; this has resulted in the rear section of the nave being raised somewhat to create more space in the basement.

The church

On their order of service they describe themselves as "a vibrant Christian community that celebrates diversity: singles, couples, gays, lesbians, children and the elderly." However, the parish almost went out of existence in 1979 as a result of the dwindling attendance suffered by many urban churches, and it was only through the sale of several church properties that they acquired the funds necessary for survival. Today they are known for their progressive stance on social issues, especially gay rights, and they host a range of musical events and concerts. There is one said eucharist and two sung eucharists each Sunday. On Sunday evenings they put on either a Taizé service (which is the service I attended), Bach vespers, or a rock eucharist (the music of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young will be featured on Holy Cross Sunday).

The neighborhood

This was once open countryside on the outskirts of Toronto, but today the church is surrounded by skyscrapers in the heart of downtown. The University of Toronto grounds are to the south and west, and a high-end shopping district sits to the north and east.

The cast

No names were given.

What was the name of the service?

Taizé Service

How full was the building?

Only about one-tenth of its capacity. The worshippers were sparsely scattered throughout the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. No one welcomed us. We helped ourselves to the order of service from a table.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was just fine.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The sanctuary was dark, but as is frequently the case in Taizé worship, a number of candles flicked at the altar above. It was very quiet – I heard no one speak whilst waiting for the service to begin. The service sheet stated: "We begin in silence with our focus toward the altar. Please bring conversations to an end when entering the worship space."

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Come and fill our hearts with your peace. You alone, O Lord, are holy." These words were sung.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books at all – just an order of service on which the songs to be sung and prayers to be said were printed.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, an opus of the venerable Casavant Frères firm of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, dating from 1904 – the first Casavant instrument to be installed in a Toronto church. It was renovated in 2006.

Did anything distract you?

The very loud but beautiful singing of two people off to my left. One thing I noted was that one of the worshippers seemed to take a great interest in the contents of the collection plate. He seemed to be rummaging around in it – not sure if he was taking a few bucks or looking to make change.

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

The worship was meditative in nature as per the Taizé tradition.

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

Feeling very much alone in that I was at no time greeted by anyone.

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

I stood by the door for a good five minutes. The only person who spoke to me inquired if the washroom was occupied. I thought it was too bad that no one said hello but given the quiet atmosphere and meditative nature of the service, it was not surprising.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was none.

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

2 – This church hosts a Taizé service just twice per month. I would need to attend other types of services to get a real feel for this church and I would need people from the church to speak to me.

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


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

the gorgeous singing.

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