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1002: Trinity-St Paul's United and Bloor St United, Toronto, Canada
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Trinity St Paul's United Church
Trinity-St Paul's United Church
Mystery Worshipper: Trini.
The church: Vigil at Trinity-St Paul's United, followed by a service at Bloor Street United, the Annex, Toronto.
Denomination: United Church of Canada.
The buildings: Both churches have beautiful, late 19th-century stone exteriors. Trinity-St Paul's (on Bloor a block west of Spadina) has a wide and welcoming main entrance, making excellent use of the corner location. Additionally, an accessibility ramp leads to a side door with as many service notices as the front doors, and we mistook this for the main entrance. The sanctuary was dim, despite the large skylight and the sunlight outside. Inside, the dominating features were the pipe organ and the plain wooden cross that would later accompany us to Bloor Street United. The interior of Bloor St United (about five minutes east of Trinity, on Bloor) was stark especially in contrast to Trinity. Large stained-glass windows and the beech-and-plaster decorating kept the sanctuary bright. There was also an organ here, but we could not see the pipes. Instead the focus was a boat-shaped sculpture titled "High Anxiety" suspended between the pulpits. This was a modern piece and I say "boat-shaped" in a fairly loose sense; the hull was suggested by a weave of nylon-like threads. Behind that, a Celtic cross hung on the wall. The windows had mostly modern, geometric designs, but there were also some smaller, more traditional windows. It is clear that someone at this church takes art and décor very seriously and everyone benefits from it.
The churches: There is a large rainbow flag hanging near the entrance of Trinity, and a brief glance at the bulletin board inside shows the church is very much in touch with its community and the world. The largest poster mapped regions currently involved in armed conflict. Several bulletins addressed issues relating to Aboriginals, women, and violence. Not surprisingly, there was an update on the same-sex marriage issue currently raging in Canada. The church is also home to Tafelmusik, an early-music orchestra that uses period instruments. This week, local musicians and politicians are gathering for a fundraiser for the homeless, of which there are many in the area. Bloor St also displayed a Pride flag in their lobby and the offering was collected for the Aboriginal Healing Fund. Upcoming in the church's calendar are fundraising events for the Homelessness Action Group and refugee rights. They also operate a street nursing clinic to attend to the health (and other) needs of the homeless in Toronto.
The neighbourhood: Both churches lie north-west of the University of Toronto. When they were built, they would have been suburban, but now they are city churches. Jane Jacobs lives down the street, and when Starbucks tried to force out a local café, the neighbours rose up and succeeded in keeping Starbucks out. Nearby are second hand bookshops, university pubs, mom-and-pop restaurants (where the owner tells you "good job!" when you eat all your tofu), organic stores and monthly performances of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
The cast: There wasn't an order of service for the prayer vigil at Trinity, so I don't know who led the chants. Michael Bourgeois, who is a member of Trinity, was the preacher for the service at Bloor St. He is an assistant professor of theology at Emmanuel College, which is connected with the University of Toronto. The director of music at Trinity is Brad Ratzlaff, and at Bloor St, David Passmore.
What was the name of the service?
The service was conducted in two parts. We had the Good Friday Vigil at Trinity, and the Good Friday Service at Bloor St. Linking the two was a short procession of the congregation leaving Trinity with the cross and arriving at Bloor St about five minutes later. The order of service indicated that Bathurst United Church was participating as well.

How full was the building?
The vigil grew from less than 20 people at the start to about 50 people by the time we proceeded from the church. This was very sparse in a church that can probably accomodate more than 300 people and that had invited two other congregations, but it wasn't surprising that people opted to skip the vigil. What surprised me was that although we were seated three pews from the back, 60 per cent of the people sat behind us! For the service at Bloor St, the 50 of us joined many more, so the main part of the sanctuary was mostly full. The choirs alone used the balcony.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
At Trinity, we entered by the side door and stood in a small foyer surrounded by church bulletins for a few minutes until someone spotted us in passing. Once we ventured a "hello" she greeted us and very happily answered our questions about how the two-part service would proceed. After we entered the sanctuary, I wandered out to browse the main bulletin board in the main lobby. Standing there I heard someone being instructed to open the main doors as they were still locked and apparently a few people were waiting on the steps. Admittedly, we were 20 minutes early. At Bloor St, the order of service was on a table near the door but there were also a few people handing them out as we entered. I said a quiet good morning as I took mine, but I was greeted with quite a stern look. I still can't figure out whether that was because we were proceeding in silence or not. Given that there was a fair hum of noise from the congregation before the service, it's hard to tell.

Was your pew comfortable?
Both churches had wooden pews, but at Trinity they creaked at every movement, so we all had to make a special effort to be quiet as this was a mostly silent vigil.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Once the doors were open for the vigil, people entered quietly and sat with bowed heads. A couple near us said a quiet but friendly hello to the people in front of them, who replied with large smiles. After the procession, we entered the church and found our seats right away as the cross was carried to the front. There was quiet chatter until the service began.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
At Trinity it was the chant: "Stay with me/ Remain here with me/ Watch and pray." The opening words at Bloor St were spoken: "Today the carpenter's hands are nailed to a cross/ Today, he sets us free, himself imprisoned on a tree./ Today is God's Friday."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pews at both churches held copies of Voices United. Notably, it contained the Lord's prayer in French, Cree (a local Aboriginal language), Korean, Mandarin and several other languages, as well as several "re-interpretations" in English and French. We did not use books during the vigil but we did at the main service. At Bloor St, there was one New Revised Standard Version Bible in our pew and none in the other pews in my line of vision. The order of service expected that there would be pew Bibles although we would only have needed them for following, not reading aloud.

What musical instruments were played?
No instruments were used at the vigil apart from the cantor's clear voice. For the Good Friday Service, there was a pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
The 30 or so people who arrived over the course of the 40 minute vigil were distracting, although they tried their best not to be noticed. The sign at the front, indicating which exit was wheelchair accessible, was stuck on the wall at an angle and I wondered why they hadn't yet replaced the temporary-looking sign with a proper one. The subway rumbles under Bloor St every eight minutes or so. I assume the regulars are used to it and I don't think I noticed it during the sermon. Two cell phones rang during the service, but I was relieved that everyone didn't frown and tut, because I think that adds to the distraction. Near the very end, a child behind us began rustling paper for fun, but seeing that I didn't know a child was there for the whole service, I can't complain.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The vigil was silent prayer, apart from two minutes of chanting every 10 minutes. The mood was very reverent and it was impressively silent, especially compared to the coughing fits that exploded after each movement of Bach's St Matthew's Passion, which I caught the night before. Worship was formal but not stiff at Bloor St, and the choir was outstanding.

Bloor St United Church, Toronto
Bloor St United Church

Exactly how long was the sermon?
23 minutes long. There was no sermon during the vigil; only at the Good Friday Service.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Michael Bourgeois used illustrations and examples effectively and delivered in a steady, clear voice. It was interesting to hear social justice concerns from capital punishment to women in abusive relationships woven into the message.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
To understand the goodness in Christ's death, we must look at his life as a whole. Jesus lived, suffered and died in order to fight evil, prevent suffering and overcome the power of death. The idea that death substitutes for our sin is not universally accepted and can lead to an imbalanced focus on suffering and thus perpetuate current suffering. In this context, abused women have been told that they must "shoulder their burden" as Christ did, or the poor are told to bear their earthly suffering – most often by the rich.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The thoughtful prayer of response at the Good Friday Service which asked questions such as: "Who is crucified today? A women raped in Darfur? A drag queen? Whose clothing is divided today? That of a sweatshop worker?" In general, the emphasis on our role in society and our obligations to others was heavenly.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The severe greeting or lack thereof at Bloor St. I hate being scolded and I keep wondering if the severe look meant I was being scolded for making a sound even when there was a fair bit of noise already – or was it plain unpleasant for no reason?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
To my horror, there were tiny, sticky yellow embroidered flowers available for visitors to wear if they wished. I took one when I entered the church and wondered if visitors actually venture to wear these things when they aren't writing a report. After the service, we were "invited" (by the pamphlet) to depart in silence, so I quietly returned my flower assuming there would be no after service coffee and such for Good Friday. Most people hung around chatting in the lobby for a while and we looked fairly lost, but perhaps since we were flowerless – I wasn't going back to get it again! – nothing happened. As we were walking out, one of us recognized someone and we chatted a bit before leaving.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't any. The order of service indicated there would be a soup and bread supper following an ecumenical stations of the cross procession later in the afternoon.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Trains rumbling below is actually a good sign in my opinion, if you can get used to it. It's a small price for a downtown spot. The emphasis at both churches on helping others in tangible ways appealed to me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, the theme of compassion that ran through it displayed a lot of what Christianity should be about.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The moving chants at the vigil.
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