St Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto (Exterior)

St Simon-the-Apostle, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Simon-the-Apostle
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 3 April 2016, 10:30am

The building

The church building is a large red brick edifice on one of Torontos busiest streets, with several large internal spaces for holding events (parish hall, sitting room, large furnished narthex, etc.). The nave is very attractive indeed, constructed of warm red brick walls, with a half timbered ceiling and a central and two side aisles, filled with worn wooden pews and flanked with much stained glass, both old and new. The sanctuary and choir are separated from the nave by a delicate dark wood rood screen, and their walls and ceilings are painted in the Arts and Crafts style. The reredos features a wood carving of the Last Supper and was given in memory of those who died during the Great War.

The church

Around 1995 the parishioners of St Simons founded the first Out of the Cold programme for the homeless in Toronto. Originally staffed for one night per week by volunteer members of the parish, the facility proved to be needed on a full-week year-round basis.
The parish of San Lorenzo currently utilizes the facilities of St Simons Church Sunday afternoons to provide services in the English language for members of the Filipino Anglican community in Toronto. Numerous other groups utilize the facilities and meeting rooms; see their website for details. Wedding receptions, private parties, municipal community events, and the provision of staging facilities for local movie shoots fill out the schedule in the parish hall.
There are two services each Sunday: an early morning eucharist and a later service alternating among traditional choral eucharist, choral matins and contemporary eucharist.

The neighborhood

The church serves Rosedale and St James Town, which is an interesting combination, as Rosedale is Torontos toniest neighbourhood by far, full of mansions and old money, whereas St James Town is the largest high-rise community in Canada, identified as one of 13 economically deprived neighbourhoods in Toronto. I imagine this makes for a socio-economically diverse congregation.

The cast

The Revd Rylan Montgomery, rector, was the celebrant and homilist.

What was the name of the service?

High Eucharist

How full was the building?

The nave has a capacity of about 400, and there were about 40 congregants in attendance, not including the choir of about a dozen, and four or five acolytes. The congregation were spread out throughout the pews, so that it felt fuller than it was. It was Low Sunday, and so this may have been an unusually small group for the church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. I was greeted in the narthex with a "Good morning" as I walked past, and then was approached before the service whilst seated in my pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

Not particularly. The pew itself was fine, but the distance between pews was quite narrow, meaning that you had to choose between a seat with no kneeler but plenty of legroom (because no pew in front), or with a kneeler but little legroom. I had to be careful to avoid banging my knees against the book holders on the back of the pew in front of me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Other than the choir rehearsal, which took place in the choir stalls, the pre-service atmosphere was very quiet. This may be a direct result of the direction printed in boldface type on the front of the leaflet: Please help preserve a prayerful silence so we may all prepare our hearts to worship.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Alleluia! Christ is risen.

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The books at the pews were only the 1962 Book of Common Prayer and the 1998 Common Praise hymnal (although I did see a stack of copies of the green Book of Alternative Services in one of the back side pews). Only the hymnal was used during the service, though, as the entirety of the service was printed in the leaflet. This was taken largely from the BCP (or perhaps from the traditional language section of the BAS), and also included the scripture readings, and music for those non-hymn sections that the congregation were expected to sing (the psalm and some Merbecke). Although the direction in the leaflet was for the psalm to be sung by all, it was really sung only by the choir (just as well, since the choir didnt quite follow the pointings in the words of the psalm).

What musical instruments were played?

The only musical instrument was the pipe organ, an opus of Casavant Frères Limitée of Saint-Hyacinthe, Québec, with digital augmentations by the Walker Technical Company of Zionsville, Pennsylvania, USA. The organ console is recessed into the floor of the choir, such that from the nave, the organist is hidden (this was a great mystery to me during the rehearsal before the service began).

Did anything distract you?

During the eucharistic prayer, the priest spoke the words of consecration with a different intonation – elongated, and almost chanted. These words were also italicized in the leaflet, and so its clearly intentional and standard at this church, but Ive never seen or heard it done that way before.
The only other thing that was not exactly distracting, but a bit confusing, was the order of receiving communion. During the Agnus Dei, a member of the congregation went up to receive communion with the vested ministers, and I assumed that he would then be administering the chalice. But instead, he and another member of the congregation took what appeared to be both a ciborium and chalice and stood at the end of one of the side aisles. Several members of the congregation lined up in front of these two. But then the choir went and knelt at the altar rail. I thought that perhaps only the choir and ministers were to receive communion at the altar rail, but then some other members of the congregation started heading up the central aisle and through the rood screen, and so I followed suit. I remain baffled as to what the distinction was between receiving communion from the priest at the altar and receiving it from the eucharistic ministers at the side (there is much instruction in the leaflet about receiving communion, but none of it addresses this).

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

High Eucharist is right! The service was very traditional, for the most part using the rubrics and style of the Book of Common Prayer. The epistle was called the epistle, not the second lesson. The order of the service was that of the Book of Alternative Services, though. The prayers of the people, although listed in the leaflet as being call-and-response (Hear us, Lord of Glory), were instead also done in a straight BCP style, with the reader simply reading them from the lectern with no vocal participation from the congregation. This was such a departure from what virtually all North American churches now do that it was quite arresting, and brought my full attention to the dignity and reverence of the prayers.
As for other trappings of the service, there was good music; most of the congregation knelt when given the choice between kneeling and standing; and there were altar bells during the consecration. There was no incense, which was a pity.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

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

9 – Not only was the content of the sermon good, but it was clear that the priest took some care in constructing it. There were some phrases that were almost poetic, and certainly alliterative, such as punished peoples, and when we touch the morbidity of our mortality

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel was John 20:19-31, in which the risen Christ reveals himself to his disciples and then to Thomas. The sermon was essentially a defense of Thomas, whom the priest suggested might be called realistic Thomas instead of doubting Thomas. Thomas is not an unquestioning follower, but one who does the right thing after being convinced, whose going along perhaps has more integrity.
We are reminded that when Jesus says, Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed, hes not talking about the other disciples, who were never asked to believe without seeing. He is talking about us – a post-Ascension people whose seeing can only be spiritual, not physical as it was for the disciples. Jesus is always present to us in the wounded people we encounter and in our own wounds. In the words of Pope Benedict, In her wounds, the Church rejoices.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The stained glass and the wooden carvings are very beautiful. In particular, the very dark carvings of the Last Supper in the reredos were very appealing.

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

At various points throughout the service, I got a decided whiff of mothballs. Its possible that this was connected with one of my fellow congregants, and not the church itself, but it was disconcerting.

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

There was no opportunity for me to do this. Not only did the priest make a general invitation during the announcements to come to the coffee hour after the service, but multiple people spoke to me after the postlude to invite me to attend and to lead me there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Three tables, one with two pots of hot tea, one with a large church-standard coffee percolator, and one with juice of some sort. I had tea, which was quite good. There was a set of ceramic mugs at each of the tables with the hot beverages, and milk or cream to go in them. Each table also had a collection of store-bought baked goods (mini-muffins, cookies, etc.), which were not appealing.

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

9 – If I were looking for a church in Toronto, St Simons would be high on my list. Its liturgy, homiletics, music, and aesthetics are very much to my liking, and they have some (limited) off-street parking, which is rare for a church in downtown Toronto. I think that people who find traditional language or liturgy off-putting would be less comfortable at this church, at least initially. But the warmth of the congregation and the clear commitment to social justice and outreach might bring them around.

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

Yes. A traditional service with great attention to liturgy always makes me glad to be a Christian (and specifically an Anglican), and this church had that in spades. In addition, the sermon was very good.

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

At the end of the service, the priest exhorted us to pray for Christ in friend, and, potentially, in foe, which is of course what we are supposed to do, but its rarely phrased so directly.

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