St Bartholomew's, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

St Bartholomew's, Regent Park, Toronto, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: LQ
Church: St Bartholomew's
Location: Regent Park, Toronto, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 22 June 2008, 10:30am

The building

A dignified brick building with a simple cross on the roof. On entering, one is greeted by an icon of St Charles Stuart, King and Martyr. Inside one finds a fairly ornate interior, including a traditionally-oriented chancel (no westward celebration here), a Lady chapel, and a shrine to the Virgin. Above is an organ loft and choir gallery. Various saints are depicted in the stained glass windows.

The church

St Bart's is one of five Anglo-Catholic parishes in Toronto. It is small in numbers and resources, and recently the diocese of Toronto has been trying to close it down and merge it with two utterly different parishes in the area. The parish appears to have a healthy gay presence. The rector is a former superior of the Canadian congregation of the Society of St John the Evangelist, or Cowley Fathers, whose monastery at Bracebridge, Ontario, was closed in 1988 for financial reasons.

The neighborhood

The church is on Dundas Street, a major east-west thoroughfare that meanders through the entire width of Toronto. The street bisects Regent Park, Canada's first and largest social housing experiment built in the late 1940s in a slum neighbourhood called at the time Cabbagetown (a name now applied to the upscale, gentrified region to the north of Regent Park). The average income for residents is about half of that for other areas in Toronto. Nearly 70 percent of the population lives below the poverty line. Originally designed as a transitional community for those experiencing financial difficulties and/or receiving social assistance, it has in the past two decades also become an area for the settlement of new Canadians.

The cast

The Revd Gordon Walls, rector, assisted by a single server.

What was the name of the service?

Parish Mass and Baptism

How full was the building?

There were about 15 souls in a nave that could have seated ten times that number.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

I arrived relatively early and the church was empty. Closer to the service, an usher came along proffering leaflets.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was quite adequate, with a very good kneeler – padded, but not too soft.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The church was fairly quiet, save for the murmurings of the choir as they prepared for mass.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

The introit began: "Hearken unto my voice, O Lord, when I cry unto thee." Afterward, the celebrant wished us good morning and announced that the baptismal candidate had not yet arrived. The usher replied from the back of the church that he had seen her outside and that she had promised to come in shortly.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer (1962) and the English Hymnal. A leaflet was provided giving an overview of the service, together with inserts giving music for the psalm tones and the ordinary of the mass.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ, rather idiosyncratically played by an interim organist. Afterward I heard someone remark, "He doesn't know how to accompany plainsong."

Did anything distract you?

At one point the wind swept into the church and blew through the Lady chapel, rustling the frontal and the curtain around it. It was an idyllic sight.

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

This was not only Anglo-Catholic, but very Prayer Book. Although it often alarms English Anglicans to learn this, many Anglo-Catholic churches in Canada do use the 1962 Book of Common Prayer because our edition of 1962 seems more Catholic than the 1662 version. Still, this service was unusually faithful to the BCP, using features that I have never seen used outside of Prayer Book Society events. For instance: (1) The traditional eucharistic lectionary was used, hence no Old Testament lesson. (2) The proper introit and gradual from the table of psalms were sung. (3) The Gloria was at the end of the mass. (4) The rite of baptism "of such as are of riper years" was used, which is almost unheard of around here, at least in my experience. The ordinary of the mass (except the Gloria, which was Merbecke) was sung to Missa Orbis Factor in Latin. The sursum corda and preface were accompanied by organ, which was new to me but nice. The only missal-type interpolation was the Ecce Agnus Dei before the distribution of communion.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

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

7 – Father Walls reminded me of the Roman Catholic homilists of my childhood – articulate and conversational, without being especially polished.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel was the calling of Simon Peter from his boat. Just as he asked St Peter, so does Christ ask permission to enter our lives, and it is up to us to invite him in. Like Peter casting his net, we are called to follow obediently in faith. The sea is like the world, into which we are called to go out, even though it seems vast and dark. If we have the courage to do so, we will reap spiritual bounty as great as the fish that broke the apostles' nets.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing of the Angelus at the end of mass, something I have always wanted to do in church, but had not as of yet. Also, the congregation's joy at hearing that a new part-time interim priest had been called – a reprieve, one hopes, at least for now.

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

I found myself speaking alone when responding to the Ecce Agnus Dei. Evidently the custom in this parish is for the congregation not to continue the prayer with Domine non sum dignus ("Lord I am not worthy..."). Inasmuch as the prayer of humble access was recited, perhaps they see the Domine non sum dignus as redundant.

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

Several parishioners introduced themselves to me, and I was invited to join them downstairs for refreshments.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I was treated to a rather bland cup of fruit drink, but there were also chocolate chip cookies, peanut M&Ms, and that perennial Canadian favourite, Timbits (doughnut holes).

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

8 – Should I at any time find myself in the market for a new parish, St Bart's would be a serious contender. A priest friend of mine, who was an intern here, remarked to me later that he was surprised that the parish isn't more renowned among Anglo-Catholics in the diocese. I have to agree.

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

Absolutely. This was the best of Anglo-Catholic liturgy and congregational fellowship. I got the impression that there are a lot of interesting characters at this church, which is always a good selling point for me.

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

The rustling of the frontal on the Lady altar in the wind.

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