|1145: Metropolitan United, Toronto, Ontario, Canada|
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| Mystery Worshipper: Trini.
The church: Metropolitan United, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: United Church of Canada.
The building: Set about 20 metres back from Queen Street, the building has not yet been dwarfed by the modern skyscrapers which have moved into its neighbourhood. The church is ornate and well maintained, and has a pale exterior and a rich, dark interior.
The church: At first, I thought there was not much happening here, as most notices on the bulletin board were two to four years old, including the litugical colours for 2001. At the back of the sanctuary, however, there was a fairly recent plaque thanking the church for its participation in the Out of the Cold project, a local organisation that ministers to the homeless. I also read a report that this church helped 99 people move into homes last year. Most of these people suffered from addictions or behavioural problems. Clearly one shouldn't judge a church by its bulletin board.
The neighbourhood: The church is on the western edge of Toronto's financial district. The drawing of their building printed on the front of their order of service shows the Scotia Bank tower in the background. The church leaves its garden open to the public daily, and people make use of it to play chess or read. There are often homeless people sleeping there as well. The intersection where the church is located would be horribly drab and treeless without the church and its garden.
The cast: The preacher was the Rev. Gary Margarrell. The carillonneur was Charlie Hogg and the organist was Ryan Jackson.
The date & time: July 31, 2005, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
There were 150 people spread out in the pews. By my estimation, the church can accommodate more than 600 without using the balcony. This was actually not too bad a turnout for a long weekend in summer.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A smiling woman stationed in the foyer encouraged visitors to sign the register. At the door to the sanctuary, I was handed an order of service with a smile and a friendly "Hello, welcome." About ten minutes before the service began, Rev. Margarrell came through the pews casually greeting the 60 or so early-birds.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews weren't padded but they were comfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
We arrived just as the 30-minute carillon prelude was beginning. The garden's regulars were feeding the pigeons, playing chess and minding their own business. Inside, those sitting near the front prayed quietly and those near the back chatted. There was hearty laughter from time to time. A woman three pews ahead of me showed off her hand-held battery-operated personal fan that sported red and green lights on the blades. Thankfully she put it away when the service began, even though the church is not air-conditioned.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Three or four verses of prose were read, each starting with "This is the time, this is the place."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Voices United and the Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Carillon before the service, and organ during.
Did anything distract you?
A relief of the Last Supper had been carved on the communion table. At first I thought it quite attractive, and commented as such to my companion. However, after looking at it for a while, I became more aware of the hidden fluorsecent bulb that illuminated it, and it became evident that the carving was in fact hideous. But I couldn't take my eyes off it! I was desperate to correct my error in judgment, lest my friend think that I have very poor taste, but I didn't want to whisper as I was trying to set an example of not-whispering for the people behind me who were, of course, whispering a lot.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship was formal but without pomp. The congregation could barely be heard singing the hymns. On the other hand, everyone seemed to enjoy the doxology. No youngsters came forward during the children's time. I'm sure they were all away at cottages with their parents. It's too bad, since Rev. Margarrell had brought a nice big, brown teddy bear for the discussion with the children.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
4 I had a difficult time following the theme of the sermon. Rev. Margarrell discussed the day's Bible reading in a style typical of church discussion groups and was less formal than I am used to on a Sunday morning.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Entitled "God the Wrestler," it was a fairly straightforward talk about the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel and the Gospel story of Christ feeding the multitude. Jacob experienced an intimate encounter with God. The disciples obeyed Jesus even though they would have prefered to send the crowds away. God accepts us just as we are, just as Jacob was chosen as a leader. Quite frankly, I didn't see how the title fit the sermon..
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organ postlude at the end, which resulted in applause from the congregation.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was particularly disappointed that the congregation didn't sing up. I look forward to my voice being drowned out by the voices of others at church. It's the only chance I get to sing loudly while hearing good music. Here, I was forced to whisper the hymns along with the congregation. But it was the incessant whispering behind me that gave me a taste of what would be waiting for me should I end up in hell.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Everyone gathered round a self-service juice table that had been set up. A woman kindly offered me a cup of juice. "Thank you" from me and "You're welcome" from her was the only conversation I had with anyone. I did get a good number of friendly smiles and nods though.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The juice was horrible dry packaged fruit punch mix of the just-add-water variety, served in plastic cups. Thankfully the cups were not very big.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 There was a lot of literature in the foyer about their carillon and the essays are bursting with pride, so much so that I felt that I wanted to be proud of their carillon too! The church gives free organ concerts on a regular basis, sharing their love of music with the community. It seems to be a great place for music-lovers.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, I especially liked Rev. Margarrell's enthusiasm at meeting and mingling with the congregation, even if it didn't rub off on its audience.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Near the front door a sign was tucked away that read "Will and Grace live on Queen Street." It's the sort of sign that I imagine they put out on the sidewalk occasionally, but it seemed a little odd. Was it referring to the popular TV series about the gay lawyer and straight interior designer who started out as temporary roommates but ended up in a more long-lasting arrangement? I didn't see the point, and I've been wondering about it since.