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  1179: St Thomas, Belleville, Ontario, Canada

St Thomas, Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Mystery Worshipper: Pewgilist.
The church: St Thomas, Belleville, Ontario, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church of Canada.
Comment: We have received a comment about this report.
The building: St Thomas is the very model of Victorian neo-Gothic respectability: a restrained, symmetrical pile of local grey limestone perched atop a hill. But passing through the small, heavy west doors I found myself in an open, airy sanctuary filled with pale oak pews bathed in light coming down from the skylights and bouncing off the white stucco walls. Four huge concrete pillars supported a curved wooden roof and broad steps to my left and right led to a concrete choir loft that extended overhead. It's really quite lovely – 1970s ecclesiastical architecture done more-or-less right for a change. The only traditional notes were the organ pipes and some narrative stained glass.
The church: I imagine that many would find the number of flags unusual: the flags of Canada and the Anglican Church of Canada hung behind the altar; the Compass Rose (Anglican Communion) hung to the left of the sanctuary; the Union Jack and the flags of the armed forces and Ontario flew from the choir loft. Belleville is an old United Empire Loyalist town and there is a large air base near by; Queen and Country are held especially dear here, from what I can tell.
The cast: The rector, the Rev. Peter Joyce, was celebrant and preacher.
The date & time: Thanksgiving Sunday, October 9th 2005, at 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist on Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

How full was the building?
The pews were some two-thirds full and held some 100 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I was greeted inside the door by a teenager who handed me a bulletin. A couple who sat further down said good morning, and the woman in front of me smiled hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
For a near rectilinear, unpadded pew, it was quite comfortable. But the pews were so close together that when I knelt I knocked the kneeler behind me with my feet. I had to wait to kneel until those behind me had already done so.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Most people knelt and prayed briefly once they got into their pews. There was soft chatter and waved greetings all the while.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Friends: the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The pews held the Book of Alternative Services and the newish Common Praise hymnal, both of which we used.

What musical instruments were played?
An organ was played from the gallery at the rear and a smaller electronic organ from the foot of sanctuary steps, where the small children's choir led parts of the ordinary.

Did anything distract you?
I kept puzzling over the discordance between the Victorian exterior and the minimalist interior, and wondering where the seams were. And why.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The tone was just to the upbeat side of middle-of-the-road Canadian Anglican liturgy. Everyone chimed in at a healthy volume for both the hymns – traditional Thanksgiving-type numbers – and the liturgy. I found announcements of page numbers at every step a bit jarring, but then, I always do.

St Thomas, Belleville, Ontario, Canada

Exactly how long was the sermon?
14 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Fr Joyce preached from the centre aisle without notes in a conversational manner and without sacrificing structure or clarity.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Reflecting on the feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospels, Fr Joyce noted that God sometimes challenges us to do things we don't expect to have to do or be able to do. Fr Joyce then asked us to do something we didn't think we'd have to do: take over the sermon and tell what we were thankful for. He brought things to a neat close with thanksgiving for God's sacrifice on the cross.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I knelt in post-communion reverie listening to the John Rutter anthem, with the voices of two small children somehow piping through the sound of choir and organ. Glory to God from generation to generation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was terrified that the rector would turn to me and make me offer thanks in front of dozens of strangers.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't have the chance to hang around looking lost: I was engaged in conversation on the way out by the couple who shared my pew, then greeted by the rector, and then handed over to the organist who explained about the architecture and the fires in 1876 and 1975 (which between them left the walls unable to support a new roof).

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The tea and (slightly weak) coffee were served in a motley collection of ceramic cups; there was juice of some sort for the kids. And there was a nice sponge cake in celebration of a couple's renewal of their wedding vows after 40 years of marriage (which took the place of the creed, more or less).

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – Granted that I encountered a few pet peeves (felt banners; a stinginess with the communion wine), I would most certainly attend this church most of the time if I found myself living in the parish.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
My panic when I realized that the rector, immediately upon announcing that we in the congregation would take over the sermon, was looking expectantly and directly at me.
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