|394: All Saints by the Sea, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada|
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Mystery Worshipper: Augustine the Aleut.
The church: All Saints by the Sea, Ganges, Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Canada.
The building: A modern building, emphasizing the beautiful and extraordinary wood which fills the Gulf Islands. The interior is fairly plain, with pews angled facing a plain wooden altar. For some reason, a larged carved wooden harp was placed in a rafter above the epistle side. While the harp's presence was unexplained, it seemed to be at home.
The church: Parishioners were of all ages, although leaning toward the retirement set. The Gulf Islands and Vancouver Island attract many retirees on account of their lack of wintry blizzards and peckish polar bears.
The neighbourhood: All Saints is on the outskirts of Ganges, a small village on Salt Spring Island between Vancouver and Victoria. Initially settled by Californian blacks fleeing from bounty hunters after the Dred Scott decision, Salt Spring is now occupied by a mixture of prosperous retirees, superannuated hippies, and younger deadheads.
The cast: The rector, Canon Dr Kim Murray. He operated unselfconsciously, gracefully and effectively while dealing with a fairly serious motor disability. He was backed up by several quietly effective lay eucharistic ministers and three first-class readers.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Every seat was occupied, with almost 100 present.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A pleasant greeter handed me a copy of the leaflet and a booklet with the liturgy used at All Saints. If I had only but known it, there was a rack with available hassocks behind her (of this, more beow).
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, until I came to kneel. The pew was angled and the hinged kneeler had not been trimmed to accomodate the wall; as I was unable to lower it into place, I was plunged between the Scylla of kneeling on a hardwood floor (at my age, dear reader...) or the Charybdis of the traditional shampoo-devotion position. I swung between the two during the service.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good Morning." Everyone said "Good Morning" back. This practice seems to be getting universal.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Aside from the new hymn book, the All Saints leaflet contained a liturgy based on the Iona rite. My previous experience of this rite had been on a retreat on the Isle of Cumbrae many years ago, and it is well-suited to that sort of setting. At that time, I felt it far too truncated for parish use and Sunday in Ganges confirmed that judgement. Many teaching and devotional opportunities are lost, and the parish might want to re-think its decision to use this rite rather than the Book of Alternative Services, or the Prayer Book, or the indigenous-to-British Columbia Kootenay rite.
What musical instruments were played?
A competently played electric organ. The congregation was agreeably enthusiastic in its singing and a very odd setting of Sursum Corda (with echoing chorus) was saved from utter peculiarity by the breath-taking and extraordinarily pure voice of the cantor. I am not certain what to think of the Gloria being sung to the tune of the Skye Boat Song. While parishioners seemed to like it and while they sang it quite lustily, I think I would be driven insane after a few Sundays. But this may be me.
Did anything distract you?
A young couple entered a few minutes late, still damp from the shower and obviously glowing: I fear that I smiled. The peace was exchanged in the most enthusiastic and conversational manner I have ever seen in years of churchgoing. While this appears to delight All Saints parishioners and make them very happy, I could not but help feeling both left out, and very conscious of the disruption this practice engenders. I may be the only person on the planet who feels this way.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The low side of middle-of-the-road, but with less of a specific Anglican flavour than I am used to (although this impression may be due to the epiclesis-less Iona rite). The congregation was informal and relaxed and the priest in alb and stole (no chasuble). The choir was not robed and one of the lectors appeared to be wearing an exercise outfit, but as it was summer and this is a vacation area, this did not feel out of place.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 for lack of focus, and 10 for delivery and impact.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Canon Dr Kim Murray spoke from Luke 10.38ff, the story of Martha and Mary. He began by describing the rector's dilemma of engendering the wrath of the Anglican Church Women or the Contemplative Prayer Group by favouring either Martha or Mary, and then spoke of how Jesus had intended to include Martha in the discussion, and that this was a parable against exclusion. He then launched into a long and irrelevant but moving anecdote about his work with an aboriginal Anglican spiritual leader. As the new BC government has proposed a referendum on a recently-signed treaty, the reference to the visions and experiences which we share was pertinent without being political.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The enthusiastic participation of the parishioners, and the gentle and graceful way the lay eucharistic ministers helped their disabled rector.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The Gloria Skye Boat Song, and the burst of social chatter at the giving of the Peace. Maybe I'm just getting grumpy in my old age. I found a grey hair last week.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I slithered into the coffee zone, looking lost, but wasn't sought out. I did the seeking, and ended up speaking with another visitor.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
For percolated coffee, reasonable and with a bit of a snap. The cinnamon pastry was fine. I was looking forward to a cappucino and a goat cheese omelette later on at a nearby restaurant...
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 Later on that day, I swam in a lake in the woods with some very-tattooed locals and thought about the service that morning. I really try to get something out of Mystery Worshipping and, paddling in the water in one of the most beautiful parts of a beautiful province, I concluded that, while the fault may well be mine, I would not go back easily to that church. Perhaps one needs to be a longterm resident of the Island to feel included in the parish gang, but I suspect that I would park myself in one of the other two points of the parish, or the local Roman Catholic church, and try to find some liturgical coherence.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
As I walked by the cars parked near the church, I noticed a bumper sticker reading: "A lash, a snarl, a whip that stings these are a few of my favourite things." I scurried quickly up the road, fearing to see which of these respectable parishioners might be the car's owner.