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2046: St Raphael's, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
St Raphael's, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Mystery Worshipper: LQ.
The church: St Raphael's, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Denomination: Old Catholic Church of British Columbia.
The building: St Raphel's is a pretty little white clapboard church, trimmed in bright blue, on a residential street corner. It has a single bell on the roof, like an old-fashioned schoolhouse, topped by a cross. Inside, the chapel is filled with votive artwork, including stations of the cross, paintings, icons, and statues. A traditional high altar, adorned with an electric "big six" set of candles and artificial flowers, stands against the east wall.
The church: St Raphael's began in 1934 as an independent Liberal Catholic community, but separated from that movement in 1975. It continues to use a liturgy similar to the Liberal Catholic "mystical mass", which has a number of distinctive features (see below). The church held probationary membership in the Union of Utrecht (which is in full communion with the Anglican Church) from 2006 to 2007, but left following a difference of opinion. St Raphael's is a parish of the poor: its clergy receive no stipend and rely on self-support and donations. Celibacy is optional. Today the church continues its mission to the needy, providing food handouts for people who come to the door hungry, and funerals for those who have nobody to mourn them. It offers a traditional Catholic community of worship with all the sacraments for all the baptised.
The neighbourhood: The church is in a residential and commercial neighbourhood on the south-east side of Vancouver, steps away from an arterial road lined with specialty shops catering mainly to the local South Asian community. As well as a big Punjabi market, there are shops and homes belonging to Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Filipino-Canadians. The area has also been home to a Mennonite community for generations.
The cast: The Rt Revd Jürgen Schmode, bishop, was the principal celebrant, with the Revd Martin Lotho concelebrating. Bishop Schmode was formerly a pastor in the United Church of Christ in Germany and then the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
The date & time: Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 15 August 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Holy Mass (a low mass).

How full was the building?
The small space was impressively, though not uncomfortably, full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Parishioners outside welcomed us, told us when mass would begin, and invited us to take photographs.

Was your pew comfortable?
Very much so. The kneeler was padded – but not too softly – and at an ideal angle for the back-preserving "Anglican crouch".

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The church began to fill early. The website advertises a recitation of the rosary before mass, but perhaps we arrived too late. Recorded music of a blandly devotional character was playing.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist, published in English and French by the Old Catholic Church in 1983. The Hymn Book of the Anglican Church of Canada and the United Church of Canada (1971), was in the pews, but is not used during the summer.

What musical instruments were played?
Recorded music was provided before and after mass, with a recording of Gregorian chant interspersed with change-ringing during communion.

St Raphael's, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Did anything distract you?
It was hard not to be distracted, in a good way, by the many devotional ornaments in the chancel.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The liturgy was an attenuated version of the Tridentine mass, modified to lay less emphasis on penitential elements and greater on celebratory ones. The Gloria in excelsis Deo is shorter and has distinctive passages about the love between God and humanity. There are fewer variable parts to the mass: general psalms of praise are used at the introit and gradual. The first verse of the hymn "Adore te devote" was said as a memorial acclamation (the better-known Liberal Rite has "O come all ye faithful"). The traditional prayer "I believe, Lord, and I confess", said by communicants in the Orthodox Church, preceded communion, but the Filioque was retained. After saying the Lord's Prayer in English and French, members of the congregation repeated it in their many native tongues one after another. The bishop intincted the host for each communicant, laying it on the tongue as Father Martin stood by holding a paten. The bishop used a crucifix in giving the absolution and final blessing. The Latin dismissal: "Ite, missa est" was given. Regrettably, we did not find ourselves at St Raphael's on a second Sunday of the month, when the service of Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament in its expanded Liberal Catholic form follows mass.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
5 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The bishop pointed to the children in the congregation, and noted that they are especially welcome and he was not worried they would drown out his impressive bass-baritone voice.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We all do well to look to the example of children, who simply know on faith that they belong to God and that the Church will be there to care for them. Their trust in God is a model for us. As it was a hot day, the bishop concluded by announcing that we would say just a decade of the rosary in commemoration of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which feast day it was.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The joyful recitation of the Hail Mary during the rosary.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I was sorry that the sprinkling of holy water at the beginning of mass was done with a stationary backward glance. I did not get "hit."

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The congregation queued up behind the recessional to greet the clergy.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Loaves of bread were distributed, that none go hungry during the week.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I would certainly want to visit some of the many other church attractions in Vancouver if I lived here, but I imagine that I would keep coming back.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
It certainly did. As we departed, a member of my party remarked that it would be in communities like St Raphael's that the church will survive.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The spontaneous enthusiasm of the rosary.
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