St Jude, Wexford, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Jude, Wexford, Toronto
Location: Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 March 2024, 4:30pm

The building

The new church was built in 1952. The original Chapel of St Jude, built in 1848 to serve the farming community of Wexford, is preserved on the property, and now serves as a cemetery chapel. The new church is built in light-colored brick, and the interior has an impressive wooden roof, with arching trusses emerging at floor level and ascending into the ceiling. The east end of the chancel, lit by side windows, has a large tapestry of Christ in glory.

The church

St Jude has done outreach by building wells in Tanzania and, with the Scarborough Centre Interfaith Council, has hosted a number of Iftar dinners for the local Muslim communty to break the fast in Ramadan. Once Covid is over, they hope to return to offering their community thanksgiving dinners in October.

The neighborhood

This church is situated in the middle of an east end residential district. In the beginning, the original chapel was surrounded only by farmers’ fields.

The cast

There was a choir made up of members from six different Scarborough Deanery Anglican churches. A sister from the Convent of The Sisters of St John the Divine read the first lesson, and another nun gave the homily. As well as many deanery clergy being there, the former Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada was in attendance as an honorary assistant of the parish. The presider was the parish rector.

What was the name of the service?

Scarborough Deanery Choral Evensong to celebrate the Sisters of St John the Divine.

How full was the building?

St Jude’s is a large church, and there was a congregation of 40, a choir of 25, various deanery clergy, an archbishop, and 10 nuns from the convent.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A man said hello and handed me the bulletin as I tried to fight my way down a hallway full of chattering congregation members who didn't move out of my way, even though I was walking with a cane.

Was your pew comfortable?

The pew was comfortable and there was a padded kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

I was of the understanding that altar candles are only lit for communion services, but that was not the case here. The acolyte came out and lit the candles incorrectly: Gospel (left) before the Epistle (right). Later, a ‘concord of clergy’ puttered down the side aisle dressed in various garb. I thought correct vestments for evensong to be black cassock, surplice, and tippet (black preaching scarf). Some clergy had the cassock and surplice, but every member was wearing a purple stole around their necks, including the archbishop. I thought this was incorrect, but maybe times have changed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Once all the clergy had gathered at the back and got their hierarchic procession in correct order, the service started at 4.38pm with, ‘I invite you to stand.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A service bulletin was provided.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ – and very loud too. The volume was appropriate for the final burst of energy for the last verses of good hymns, but that's about it.

Did anything distract you?

The music for this evensong was appalling from start to finish. The Introit was the lovely ‘God be in my head’ by Sir Henry Walford Davies. A choir, trying to perform choral evensong to celebrate the 140 year work and witness of a convent of nuns, should have done the rehearsal to sing this work a cappella. In this instance, it was accompanied by an overpowering diapason chorus from the organ. The versicles and responses were sung to the ferial (or normal setting), again hardly appropriate for choral evensong. There are only three chords to these, and yet the organ blasted through in a most disturbing fashion. For an Anglican choral evensong, I think the Psalm should have been sung to proper Anglican chant, but unfortunately a pseudo-harmonized modern version with refrain was used. But the absolute clunker was the Magnificat in C by Charles Villiers Stanford. For this, the whole choir remained seated and an overly aggressive and out of tune quartet tried to do the job of a full choir. I was gobsmacked that any Anglican organist would ever dare to do this, and I bet Stanford was rolling in his grave! The choir didn’t even stand up to sing the Gloria, which isn’t exactly an over-taxing section. The Nunc Dimittis was not sung to Stanford in C, but rather used the very simple Kelway in D chant. The anthem was a two-verse unison hymn called ‘Hail, Glorious St Patrick’, which I never want to hear again.

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

It should have been good, but it wasn't.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

20 minutes.

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

7 — I was pleased to find out the nun is a Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan, and noticed that their normal blue and white uniforms, on Saturday night, had changed to Irish green!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The homily was interesting. She likened the work and witness of St Patrick to Hannah Grier Coome, the founder of this Anglican order. She showed great courage and determination for the faith, and the sisters have succeeded in providing 140 years of work and witness at St John’s Rehab Hospital, and in running retreats at the convent. She did manage to embarrass the musicians by quoting the hymn, St Patrick’s Breastplate, which certainly should have been sung at this service on his feast day, but wasn’t!

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The intonation of the versicles and responses, and the chanting of some of the collects by the rector. I made the point of going up to him after the service and telling him he had the best voice of the whole afternoon and I could have listened to him all day. The one saving grace of music for the whole afternoon was the organ postlude, the Prelude in F minor (BWV 534) by JS Bach.

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

What is the point of having a service such as this, with representatives from six deanery choirs, when they are not capable of doing anything useful? This, to a former music director and organist, is truly the other place!

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

Fortunately, I had a dinner engagement, so had a good excuse to leave early. Had I stayed, I would have had a very hard time clinching my teeth and not taking a strip out of the organist – a very uncharitable and unchristian attitude to be sure!

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Someone had baked a nice looking cake for the sisters, and it was good to see such a celebratory offering.

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

1 — I had driven 40 minutes across the top of Toronto to get to this service, and I was exceedingly frustrated by practically everything I witnessed.

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

Not after driving 40 minutes, it didn't.

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

I'm still shaking!

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