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of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada
© Gary J. Wood and used under license
The church: Church
of the Redeemer, Toronto, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican Church
of Canada, Diocese
The building: Completed in 1879, it is in the Gothic Revival style. A major
renovation project was launched in the early 1980s, financed
by proceeds from the sale of church lands to a hotel chain.
There are three large stained-glass windows behind the altar
depicting key moments in the life of Jesus and his disciples.
The church: The church is lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender friendly. It
also has an "open door" policy: passers-by can stop in for
prayer or a quiet moment of contemplation – an especially
useful provision given the building's location at a busy downtown
The neighbourhood: The church is situated at the corner of Bloor Street and Avenue
Road, sandwiched between the University of Toronto and the
posh Yorkville shopping district, and just a stone's throw
away from Queen's Park. It is also just a short walk from
any of three subway stations: St George, Bay, and Museum.
The cast: The Revd Canon Andrew J. Asbil, incumbent.
The date & time: Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012, 6:00pm.
What was the
name of the service?
Sung Eucharist with Imposition of Ashes.
How full was the building?
About half full, or around 150 people, comprising a mix of
university students, young professionals, middle-agers, and
grey hairs (the capacity is 300). The dress was mostly casual,
except for a few "suits" who probably came straight
Did anyone welcome you
I was silently handed a service leaflet and the Book of Common Praise by a greeter as I walked
in. Later, as we exited the church, Canon Asbil personally
thanked everyone for coming and shook everyone's hand. I also
shook hands with five or six people during the passing of
the peace, but no one in the congregation tried to make conversation
with me then or at any other point.
Was your pew
The front part of the church had pews, and several rows of
wooden chairs were added in the back, some cushioned and some
not. I'm not sure whether these chairs are normally out or
if they were added as additional seating for the Ash Wednesday
service. The chairs were fine, but there was nowhere to kneel
during the prayer. Most people just bowed their heads.
How would you
describe the pre-service
Still as the night. Most people were sitting by themselves, silently
meditating or looking over the order of service. The few who came with
someone else were whispering quiet conversations to their friend or
partner beside them. There was no pre-service music.
What were the
exact opening words of the
"The Lord be with you."
What books did
the congregation use during the
A leaflet containing the order of service, based on the Book of Alternative Services, and
the Book of Common Praise.
instruments were played?
There were both an organist and a choir.
Smack in the middle of the service, a middle-aged woman with
flaming red hair and large costume jewelry walked in late
and headed straight down the centre aisle to a pew at the
front of the church. Three or four people also ducked out
right after taking their communion. I can only hope that these
are the "Christmas and Easter only" type of church-goers,
rather than their regulars.
Was the worship
stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
We sang traditional Anglican liturgy from the Book of Common Praise, led by the choir and
accompanied on organ. The choir was quite good, especially
the soloists, but the organist was almost resistant to playing
the music in time, which was confusing when I was trying to
sing along with the hymns. Since it was an Ash Wednesday service,
the congregation approached the altar rail not once but twice:
the first time to receive the Sign of the Cross marked with
black ashes on each person's forehead, and the second time
to take communion. On a personal note, one of the hymns was
"When I survey the wondrous cross," which was sung to the
tune of Rockingham, but I much prefer the Lowell Mason
long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10,
how good was the preacher?
7 – The sermon was necessarily broad, given that it
was an Ash Wednesday service. Canon Asbil's voice was almost
completely flat, but somehow it didn't make my mind wander;
rather, it drew me in and helped me to focus on his message,
rather than his delivery.
In a nutshell, what
was the sermon about?
Canon Asbil started with a personal anecdote about watching
divers practicing their technique at a pool. He used this
story as an entry-point for talking about spiritual discipline
during Lent. There was no one take-home point from his sermon,
but rather a broad array of points about the importance of
Lent. Lent as a call to self-examination, penitence, prayer,
fasting, and alms-giving. The sermon emphasized the importance
of discipline through the Lenten season and the need to support
each other as a community during this time.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Taking communion to the sound of the choir singing "Jesus,
remember me." The hymn itself is quite simple, but the choir
gave a beautiful rendering that helped me to reflect on the
meaning of the ritual.
And which part
was like being in... er... the other place?
The communion wine was taken from a common cup; no individual plastic
cups were offered. Just the thought of all the lips that have touched
that cup makes me shudder.
when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Canon Asbil greeted everyone personally on the way out. He
thanked me for coming to the service but didn't try to make
any conversation beyond that. Several groups of regulars were
chatting with each other at the back of the church, but no
one came to talk to me. Most people just headed straight out
the door, since there was no after-service coffee, and it
was dinnertime by then anyway.
How would you
describe the after-service
There was none.
How would you
feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 =
6 – Personally, I found the formality of the service
too emotionally distancing for me to want to make this my
regular church. However, Canon Asbil was a great draw. He's
a compelling speaker, and I would be interested to hear him
again in a regular weekly sermon, which would perhaps be more
focused in content.
Did the service
make you feel glad to be a
Sure. Not in any particular way, but I'm also just glad when
a church doesn't do or say anything horribly offensive. The
community seemed very open and inclusive.
What one thing
will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Walking out of the church onto Bloor Street and seeing other
people with a cross of ashes on their forehead. It made me
feel that the Christian community is not just limited to the
walls of the church, but in the rest of our lives as well.
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