St James, Stratford, ON

St James, Stratford, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St James
Location: Stratford, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 7 April 2013, 10:30am

The building

The current Victorian building is the third to be built on the site, worship itself having a history of over 150 years. There are 15 bells in the belfry which ring out an impressive peal. The blue carpet in the aisle is actually a section from the Westminster Abbey carpet used in the coronation of the Queen in 1953.

The church

Very active in the community, with Meals on Wheels, food banks, Anglican Church Women, nursing home visitations, prayer groups and more.

The neighborhood

Stratford is a small city in southwestern Ontario, about 85 miles west of Toronto. The annual Stratford Shakespeare Festival, begun in 1953, brings hordes of tourists to the area, and has featured such performers as Alec Guinness, Christopher Plummer, Peter Ustinov, Dame Maggie Smith, and William Shatner, among others.

The cast

The celebrant was the Revd Canon Dr Lorne Mitchell, rector. The Revd Lynn Mitchell, associate priest, preached and presided over the children's time. Susan Nagtegaal, director of music, provided organ music throughout the service.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

About one-half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was welcomed by about three people who introduced themselves, gave me a name tag, and made me feel very comfortable.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew wasn't very bad at all, but the kneeler was angled so that I couldn't kneel up but had to rest my behind on the seat. This is not an ergonomically good position and I found it difficult to relax. If I did relax, then the kneeler, with no one else's weight on it, slid forward.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There were people walking around getting ready for the service, but not in a disturbing way. I was able to be quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning, everyone, and welcome on the second Sunday of Easter."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The service was printed in the bulletin but it was taken straight from the Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada. The hymns were all found in Common Praise.

What musical instruments were played?

The organ was played throughout to accompany all the singing except for the anthem, which was unaccompanied. During the children's message, the priest taught the whole congregation a round: "Gloria in excelsis Deo, gloria alleluia." The director of music joined in with the round on the piano, finding the key and filling out the voices.

Did anything distract you?

Two things: (1) the aforementioned difficulty in kneeling and (2) the organ playing (albeit quietly) during the intercessions. I find I cannot concentrate on what is happening in the foreground when music is played as background, so I was not able to concentrate properly on the prayers as I should have liked. I think that silence is OK and I hope there will be silence in heaven as well as lots of music!

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

The worship was traditionally Anglican, as I like it, and the hymns were joyful and beautiful. I loved the choir anthem: Charles Wood's arrangement of This Joyful Eastertide, conducted by the organist.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

9 – The Revd Mrs Mitchell was excellent. She made her points, which were Bible based and gospel inspired, succinctly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Based on the gospel reading of the Doubting Thomas, she told us that signs are an outward pointer to awaken faith and to bring us life in Christ. We are not to be passive recipients, but to participate and to be interpreters for others. They should point us beyond our relationship with others and their experience, and make them our own, in order to become an interpreter for others. We all change year by year and even day by day, and we ourselves become a sign pointing to life in Jesus Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The singing. The quiet dog in the pew in front of me, who lay down throughout the whole service and was no distraction at all. The beautiful blue hydrangeas left over from Easter. And perhaps most of all, when I was offered my bread and wine by name. I nearly wept at this point, I felt so included. Not very many people do this and it was good.

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

Unfortunately I was not able to join in with the Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei as I was unfamiliar with the setting (The Centennial Acclamations – Lynn Trapp) and there was no music offered to me. When in heaven I expect to be able to join in, knowing the music intuitively!

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

I had no need to hang around! The coffee was at the back of the church and I could hardly get to it for the number of people who stopped me on the way, introduced themselves and invited me to stay for it. Both the priests spoke to me and welcomed me very well too.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Acceptable – although I was disappointed that paper cups were used.

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

10 – I am actually church seeking at this moment, and the only thing that discourages me is the 30 minute drive to get there. Sundays would be fine, but getting more involved and going midweek for other events would be difficult.

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

Oh absolutely! I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit as soon as I sat in my pew.

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

Oh, so much! The presence of the Holy Spirit in so many ways, especially at communion time.

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