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

St Simon the Apostle, Toronto, Ontario, Canada


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Mystery Worshipper: LQ
Church: St Simon the Apostle
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Sunday, 10 May 2009, 10:30am

The building

St Simon the Apostle is in the Arts and Crafts style and was inspired by the work of William Morris, the 19th century English champion of Arts and Crafts. Its architect was R. Eden Smith, who also designed Grace Church on-the-Hill (one of the last churches in the diocese with twice-monthly morning prayer) and the Anglo-Catholic shrine of St Thomas's, Huron Street. An impressive rood screen separates the chancel from the nave, and the altar was pulled out from the wall around the late 1980s. The rear of the church is graced with clear pink stained glass windows, and several memorials to departed parishioners are scattered throughout the interior. An apparently recent addition is a small shrine with an icon of Our Lady and the infant Lord, with votive candles.

The church

St Simon the Apostle offers traditional worship, with an excellent choir, in the heart of downtown Toronto. It is one of the parishes of choice for the gay and lesbian community in Toronto, historically concentrated in the nearby Church-Wellesley Village. The executive director of the philanthropic Anglican Foundation of Canada and the Anglican chaplain to the University of Toronto are both honorary assistants at St Simon's. A number of groups are hosted in the facilities, including Scouts and Alcoholics Anonymous.

The neighborhood

St Simon's straddles the districts of Rosedale and St Jamestown, and serves both areas. Rosedale is one of the wealthiest residential areas in Canada, standing in for Boardwalk in the Canadian edition of Monopoly. St Jamestown is a low-income neighbourhood with a great deal of public housing.

The cast

The Revd Andrea Budgey, honorary assistant, sang the service. The Revd Canon Dr David Barker, rector, led the spoken parts and preached both the sermon and the children's address.

What was the name of the service?

Sung Mattins

How full was the building?

The nave was a little under half full. I suspect that the numbers were somewhat depleted due to a benefit for a children's music programme having gone on late into the previous night.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Several people. One woman handed me a leaflet, and two or three other parishioners introduced themselves as I strolled the gauntlet into the main worship space. Finally, the rector intercepted me, and Mother Budgey came over to say hello.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was a perfectly adequate pew with a good kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

It was fairly quiet, but became a bit chattier just before the prelude started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning," followed by a series of announcements. The liturgy itself began with a hymn followed by the sentence: "I am the vine, you are the branches, says the Lord. Those who abide in me, and I in them, bear much fruit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

An all-inclusive leaflet contained everything necessary for full participation. The service was based on the Book of Common Prayer and the hymnal was Common Praise.

What musical instruments were played?

Pipe organ, a Casavant installed in 1962, expertly played.

Did anything distract you?

The interior of the church is fairly visually busy, so there was much to examine during the lessons.

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

This was stiff-upper-lip, but not in an anal-retentive way. The service music was sung by all to Anglican chant and there was plenty of lay participation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

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

9 – Canon Barker preached from the chancel steps without the benefit of notes, and the sermon was liberally biblically cross-referenced.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Jesus commands us to go out and evangelise, yet we have a troubled history in our efforts at evangelism. We must overcome our need to be "in charge" and allow for the power of love and the movement of the Spirit.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The congregational Anglican chant.

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

I thought the choice of Jubilate Deo over the Benedictus unfortunate, and I can't say I'm a fan of children's talks. I also noted the way in which the readings had been doctored for the sake of gender inclusivity, mostly by means of creative pluralisation.

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

Not a chance. The welcome wagon ensured that I made my way to the parish hall, and one lady handed me a carnation for Mothers' Day, though I am decidedly not a mother. (More gender inclusivity?)

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Some very bland supermarket apple juice accompanied a nice tray of cheese and crackers, along with wafer biscuits and chocolates. Coffee was available for those who like that sort of thing.

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

10 – I have decided to make morning prayer at St Simon's a monthly routine.

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

Yes, it was delightful to chant the office with such a friendly bunch.

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

The gift of the carnation.

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