Mystery Worshipper: Pencefn
Church: St Thomas's
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Date of visit: Monday, 14 September 2015, 7:00pm
An Arts & Crafts building dating from 1893, the work of 19th century architect (and parishioner) Eden Smith. The exterior is red brick. An extension was added in 1917 that encompasses the current chancel; the baptistery was added in 1922 as a World War I memorial. The reredos includes hand-carved statues of nine saints. The church's furnishings are quite handsome, including several wood carvings from Oberammergau.
The parish was founded in 1874 and relocated twice before moving to its present location. They have chapters of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and the Society of Mary. The St Agnes Guild studies the Bible in an atmosphere of (quoting from their website) "care and love ... and the very real pleasure of being in each other's company." There is also a 20s and 30s group. Their community food program, called Out of the Heat, supplies fruits and vegetables grown in their own parish garden, which was established in 2006. On Sundays they have said eucharist, sung eucharist and solemn eucharist plus solemn evensong and devotions. Morning prayer, a said eucharist and evening prayer are held each weekday (except no evening prayer on Saturdays).
St Thomas's is on the leafy, peaceful Huron Street, close to the busy Bloor Street.
The names of those who led the service were nowhere evident. Part of the service was led at the high altar by a priest in a cope, whilst other parts from a stall in the choir by a priest clad in cassock and surplice. The sermon was preached by someone identified only as "Fr Ipema" in the service leaflet. He may have been the Revd Theo Ipema, who is not listed among the six priests named on St Thomas's website but whom a bit of research identifies as an honorary assistant at St Mary Magdalene, Toronto.
What was the name of the service?A Service of Evening Prayer in Thanksgiving for the Reign of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
How full was the building?
Approximately one-third full (around 60-80 people).
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone said "Good evening" and presented me with an order of service. No other welcome was extended by anyone.
Was your pew comfortable?
Not really. There was a thin felt runner. However, the wooden pew was not conducive to sitting for very long.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, until the organist began the "Prelude on Rhosymedre", one of Three Preludes Founded on Welsh Hymn Tunes by Ralph Vaughan Williams.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
It was read from the service booklet: "On September 9th of this year, Queen Elizabeth II became the longest reigning monarch in our nations's history and the history of the monarchy in the British Isles, surpassing in length the reign of her own great-great grandmother, Queen Victoria."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything that was needed was in the service booklet handed out upon entry.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ. In 1991 the firm of Guilbaud-Thérien Inc., St-Hyacinthe, Québec, rebuilt the church's original Casavant Frères and SR Warren instruments.
Did anything distract you?
The technique of the thurifer, especially during the Te Deum at the end. Also the server who lit the candles in the side chapel prior to the service but did not appear during the service until called upon to carry a cross to lead the choir out at the end.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Pretty rigid to the format of the Canadian Book of Common Prayer: hymns (including, of course, "God Save the Queen"), lessons, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis, sermon, blessings, etc.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – The preacher began by saying, "I'm not from Canada," and indeed his non-Canadian accent dominated the talk.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The monarch and her duty to the Dominion of Canada.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir did a wonderful job on Sir Hubert Parry's "I Was Glad."
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I thought the concluding Te Deum was a bit over the top for me, including not only the thurifer's technique but also some of the rubrics followed throughout.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Totally ignored. No one approached me as I was taking photographs after the service. It was as though no one cared or I did not exist.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No after-service coffee. There was a reception (supper) in the hall afterward, but no one approached me to invite me to stay.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – The welcome at evensong was non-existent. If this is how they treat visitors at the main morning service, I won't be back.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
The service, yes; the lack of welcome, definitely not!
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
The thurifer's technique.