St Mary and St Martha, Tornonto

St Mary and St Martha, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Mary and St Martha, Toronto
Location: Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 17 March 2024, 10:30am

The building

The church, originally named the Church of the Good Shepherd, began life as a mission among the growing population of settlers in the village of Mount Dennis. Opened and dedicated in 1915, the building was enlarged in 1948, and the Memorial Tower added in 1949. The interior is attractive, with a braced roof, stained glass windows, wooden pews, a curtained reredos behind the altar, and two large TV screens on either side of the chancel steps. A large gym is attached to the church building, with a kitchen and a stage.

The church

The St Mary & St Martha congregation is an amalgamation of four local mission churches: St John’s, Weston; the Church of the Good Shepherd, Mount Dennis; St David’s, Lawrence Avenue; and the Church of the Advent. The first service of the united congregation was held in the former Good Shepherd building in October 2015. The church offers several groups, including a book club, and the Sunday services are streamed via YouTube.

The neighborhood

The church is situated on a very busy intersection in Mount Dennis, west Toronto. The new Mount Dennis Light Rail Transit station, when it opens, is right across the street. The church website notes: ‘Our part of town has been identified as a “priority neighbourhood” by the city. One of the ways we are collaborating with our neighbours to improve life here is in the area of food access. We have an onsite food cupboard to help those with immediate food insecurity needs.’

The cast

The chancel party consisted of a choir of nine singers, the organist, a lay presider and the rector.

What was the name of the service?

Morning Prayer on the Fifth Sunday in Lent.

How full was the building?

The church was comfortably full, with a congregation of around 50.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The very friendly woman at the door said ‘good morning,’ and handed me the bulletin and a sheet of music. She looked a bit quizzical when three minutes later I had to dash past her because I’d left the Mystery Worshiper calling card in the car. I did make her laugh by saying I’d forgotten my wallet and needed to get some money for the collection.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. There was also a padded kneeler which I didn’t use.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The pre-service atmosphere was quiet. The lady sitting in front of me turned around and said good morning, and we chatted again at the end of the service and she invited me to the gym for coffee. The choir was practising in the chancel, with piano accompaniment, as I entered. They finished their practice and sang Happy Birthday for a choir member. The organ played a very pleasant contemplative improvisation before the service – it actually had some form to it, with recognizable motifs, and wasn’t the organist noodling around on two chords. I commented on this to him after the service and got a chuckle and a ‘thanks.’ Though the choir was small, and could only sing in unison, the sopranos had a lovely clear, bell-like quality.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

‘Good morning, everyone. Welcome to St Mary and St Martha.’

What books did the congregation use during the service?

No books were used. Everything was either in the bulletin or on the screens.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ and piano, very competently played, I must add.

Did anything distract you?

The singing voice of a man two pews in front of me. I’ll give him credit for being enthusiastic, but he certainly doesn’t have a place reserved in the heavenly choir!

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

It was a typical Anglican Morning Prayer, with many familiar prayers and collects. The liturgy, by Canadian standards, was a bit odd, but I found out later that it was from Church of England resources. I was all enthusiastic about showing off my pre-teen memorization of the Apostle’s Creed – a creed rarely used these days since most services are communion – but was thwarted in my trip down memory lane due to it being a modern version and I quickly had to look up at the screen.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

18 minutes.

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

6 — The preacher was the Parish Ministry Coordinator, and certainly didn’t dress for the occasion. At the time of the sermon, he walked up the nave from the back, dressed in pants and an open neck, button-down shirt. His voice was clear and the delivery wasn’t bad, though I had the impression he got lost in his notes a few times.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

‘What’s done is done,’ were his first words. He commented on closure being either relief or despair. God has ordered our lives and knows our future. He quoted the collect that ‘we may be governed and preserved by your great goodness.’ He commented on the covenant between God and his people at the time of Moses, and how the covenant had been broken, forcing the people into slavery, until Moses led them out of Egypt. Then Christ was sent to make things new for all people. It was a bit disconcerting that twice in his sermon this young pup of a parish coordinator told all of us more mature types that God knows the exact minute of our death. That was definitely not a happy-clappy comment to end on.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

I wouldn’t say anything was earth shattering, but it was a pleasant worship experience.

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

Sadly I have to refer to the guy’s singing two pews ahead of me.

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

I didn’t have a chance to get out of the pew to look lost, because I was immediately invited for coffee.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There was tea, some sort of juice, and coffee. On another table there was some food, but I didn't partake. I went and sat down next to a very nice lady who fortunately was a choir member. I then spilled my coffee on the floor and she went off to get a cloth. When she came back, I made sure to tell her how nice the choir sounded, and then I fled before I caused any more damage.

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

7 — The service of Morning Prayer was nice to experience after decades without it, and the people were very pleasant.

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 Bach Cantata BWV 106, Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit – ‘God's Time is the Best’ – and that ‘someone’ out there knows the exact second of my death.

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