|908: Cathedral of St John the Baptist, St John's, Newfoundland, Canada|
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Mystery Worshipper: Rossweisse.
The church: Cathedral of St John the Baptist, St John's, Newfoundland, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Canada.
The building: The building is classic Victorian Gothic, nicely proportioned, with a handsome reredos featuring statues of saints. The high altar was still placed against the wall; there were no tables stuck in the middle of things. (It works for me.)
The church: It was difficult to tell much about the church community, as it seemed to me that almost everyone else in the congregation was a visitor, too. The parish is, as noted in a one-size-fits-the-entire-summer bulletin that I found in my pew, "the oldest Anglican parish in the Dominion of Canada, having been founded in 1699." The cathedral gets a notice in tourist guides, in part for a "ghost picture" on view in its museum. Taken right after the building was finished, the photo shows the masons all dressed up
The neighbourhood: The cathedral sits on a hill above the waterfront in this harbour town; we stayed nearby in "St John's first boutique hotel," a collection of newly connected former warehouses. What appears to be a party zone (with many, many bars) lies in between. The business district is also nearby, and there are colourful townhouses in the neighbourhood.
The cast: The Rev. Canon Frank Cluett, celebrant; the Rev. Dr. John Hewson, preacher.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About a quarter full. Commendably, most of the congregation were sitting in the forward pews. This wasn't the main service of the day; the choral eucharist was at 11.00.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher welcomed me and handed me two books (a nouveau prayer book, a hymnal without any music) and a pink sheet with the chant for the psalm on it. People were friendly at the peace, but, mercifully, refrained from turning it into a pre-coffee hour.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was just your basic pew, sturdy and not too bad.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I was running late, and panted in near the end of the voluntary, so I can't speak to that. The cathedral staff does not go out of its way to let the passing stranger know about the service times. I called the number listed in a brochure I picked up at my hotel, but there was no answering machine attached to the number, which rang and rang until I finally gave up. A helpful young woman at the hotel's front desk looked them up to see if there was another number; there was, but it was just the regular office answering machine. Finally, she found their website, which did list service times on a seek-and-ye-shall-find basis.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Book of Alternative Services, and the music-less hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ and well played, too.
Did anything distract you?
When nobody (as far as my ear could detect, and possibly his ear as well) sang along on the service music, Father Hewson turned his lavalier mike back on and freelanced as a cantor. It seemed odd. I also found the Book of Alternative Services confusing; the Canadians have a great many alternatives as to liturgical prayers and whatnot, and none of the choices were indicated in the service leaflet. I finally gave up and just listened, resolving with some difficulty not to worry any more about responses.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was what I'd consider normal on the higher side of dignified Anglican cathedral worship.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
We had two sermons: one for the kidlets, at six minutes; another for the grownups, at thirteen.
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 I liked Father Hewson very much. He was interesting and informative, intellectual without being academic, and seemed to have a reasonably good way with the junior crowd.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
This was the Feast of St Mary the Virgin, and Father preached two very different sermons. The children's homily (for which he plopped down on the steps with the youngsters) was an explanation of the Kalendar. The adult sermon was on icons, Anglican issues with saying the "Hail Mary" (which he does), and the difficulties with the phrase "Mother of God."
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Getting to sing a couple of really good solid hymns in their proper keys, instead of lowered to baritone range a la the Episcopal Church's 1982 Hymnal.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The aforementioned lack of music in the hymnals. I realise that this is standard Brit practice (and apparently the Canadians have not yet asserted themselves on this front), but there is something terribly exclusionary about failing to give people an opportunity to sing along. I knew three of the four hymns (and was able to figure out the other one by the end of the second verse), but the service music was totally hopeless and in the absence of a choir, that means it's a bit of a wasted effort on the organist's part. If nothing else, adding a sheet with the service music to the one with the psalm would be a help.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I sat and listened to the postlude, as is my wont. Several people stopped on their way out the door and complimented me on my singing. The place cleared out pretty fast, although the fact that the 11.00 service loomed might have been a factor.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was nothing.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 I'd have to go to a regular choral service before making any final decisions.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Oh, yes the music may have been a mystery, but it was all good stuff. And both priests seemed to express the joy of salvation.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The unbelievable trial of trying to find out at what times they hold their services.