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696: St Luke's Cathedral, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada
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St Luke's Cathedral
Mystery Worshipper: Church Lady 2003.
The church: St Luke's Cathedral, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: This is a traditional Anglican structure... boat-shaped on the inside and lots of brick on the outside. It was rebuilt in the 1950s after a devastating fire. A bell tower dominates the west end. Inside are the most beautiful stained glass windows I've ever seen.
The church: This is the Cathedral of the Diocese of Algoma. The Diocese spans most of northern Ontario. St Luke's is also the home parish of Dr Roberta Bondar, Canada's first woman astronaut. The cathedral crest was taken into orbit by Dr Bondar, and this is displayed in the church hallway.
The cast: Celebrant: Dean and Rector, the Very Rev. Garry Dobinson. Honorary Assistant: the Rev. Canon Harry Morrow.
What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist from the Book of Common Prayer, Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.

How full was the building?
The pews were about half-full. Interestingly, though, more people were sitting in the front pews than in the back pews! (I found out why later on). There were almost as many people in the choir as in the congregation.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A friendly yet efficient greeter handed me a bulletin, gave me a warm smile, handshake, and a "good morning." He didn't show me to a seat, but it wasn't hard to find one.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was average, but the kneelers were yummy. Soft and comfy. This was a good thing, because the Canadian Book of Common Prayer liturgy involves a lot of kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was very quiet in terms of human noises. Few if any chatters. The organist was playing a prelude and the bell rang for quite a long time.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the name of Christ I welcome you here this morning. Income tax receipts for 2002 can be found at the back of the church."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer (1962) and the red hymn book. The order of service was printed in the bulletin.

What musical instruments were played?
Just one – the organ. They also have a grand piano but unfortunately no one played it that morning.

Did anything distract you?
On the whole it was a quiet and reverential atmosphere. However, as much as I loved the kneelers, they seemed to come crashing down to the floor an awful lot. When they fall, they make a very loud noise that reverberates in the whole building. It is also quite embarrassing for the person whose kneeler falls! At one point, a kneeler crashed down during a choir anthem and the choir master turned around with a look of annoyance on his face. The microphones crackled quite a bit so hearing what was going on was at times difficult. During the sermon, the woman in front of me starting choking on her sermon mints. Her husband was trying to help her and she kept waving him off. She was okay, so this was kind of amusing.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I would say it was traditional, but not stiff. People really seemed to enjoy being there and there was a palpable attitude of worship (or at least of reverence). The dean was a good communicator and kept things moving at a smooth, orderly pace. This order was best seen in the posture... everyone knelt, sat, and stood on cue. It almost felt military.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes exactly... to the second!

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The dean was personable and engaging... a bit monotone, perhaps, but he certainly kept my attention. There weren't any jokes but he seemed to command respect and attention just by being himself.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He preached on the Gospel text (Mark 1:29-39) and his opening question was: "Do you really believe in Jesus?" He then challenged us to think of our image of God and gave us three images from this story in Mark: Jesus as a friend, as a healer, and as someone "for all people." He said that it is important for us to have a personal relationship with Jesus to sustain our faith during times of doubt.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
At the front of the church there was an impressively large, strikingly beautiful stained glass window. I don't even know what it is picturing because the bits of glass are so small and the design so intricate. The dominant colours of blue and red were lit up with the sun, and it was hard to keep my eyes off it. The focus of the service was clearly at the front of the church... that window, and the music from the intergenerational choir. It has been a long time since I've attended such a traditional, formal service and it was a pleasant change.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Sitting near the back was a mistake. Even with the sound system, it was hard to hear everything that was going on. Also, while I loved listening to the choir (they were excellent), there wasn't much opportunity for the congregation to join in the singing. Except for communion, you might not even have noticed the congregation was there!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone seemed in a pretty big hurry to get out of there. The exit rituals were as orderly and efficient as the rest of the service. I waited in my pew as everyone quickly filed past me to shake the dean's hand and go home. No one said hello. I didn't feel overly offended by this... I wondered if the people at this church come to church mostly to "say hi to God" and are not much into the community aspect of it. Probably that's an unfair judgment, but it's the only way I can explain their lack of connection with me (or with each other, for that matter). Having said that, I probably wouldn't bring a friend to this church if they were looking to find a church home. It would be a good, non-threatening place for someone who wants to hear a bit about God without anyone getting in their face.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Someone mentioned something about coffee "at the church hall," but I didn't know where that was and got lost looking.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – I'm sure this parish meets the spiritual needs of many, but I'm not one of them. It's a nice change, but I don't think I could cope with a steady diet of thee's and thou's from the Book of Common Prayer.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. It was comforting to see such a steady rhythm of liturgy and devotion.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That stained glass window.
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