The congregation worships in Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, a simple limestone-clad building with a narrow spire, set slightly skew to the road oriented due east on a roughly east-west road, I guess. The interior is simple but lovely: cinderblock walls painted in creams and grey, with pews, ceiling, altar, and reredos of pale wood. Remarkably to this non-Lutheran the altar (not used by the home congregation) is flush against the east wall and features an aumbry (is it for the reserved Sacrament?). And there is a full communion rail, and a rather ornate hanging sanctuary lamp. All in all, a rather perfect setting for a traditionalist parish such as St Mary's.
The Independent Anglican Church, which has seven or so parishes in Canada and the United States, was founded here in Hamilton in 1934 after a conflict between the diocese and a high-church parish that led to the creation of an independent congregation. This parish is likewise rather high on the candle, though the denomination (quoting from its website) is "ready and willing to accept wide variations in the style of worship." The raison d'etre and common bond in the IAC today seems to be an adherence to the Prayer Book and King James Bible. The master of music, William Renwick, a professor of music at McMaster University in Hamilton, studies and performs both Gregorian and Sarum chant, both of which feature in many services at St Mary's.
The church is in the west end of Hamilton, a city on the shores of Lake Ontario about halfway between Toronto and Buffalo, New York. It sits on a busy commercial road at a nexus of a Jewish neighbourhood, a near-ghetto of student housing for McMaster University, and the once exclusive (quite literally) neighbourhood of Westdale.
The celebrant and preacher was the Revd Brian Curry, priest assistant. He was joined by a deacon whose name I have forgotten, I am sorry to say. Dr Renwick played the organ; the choir today consisted only of Mrs Renwick and their daughter.
What was the name of the service?Holy Eucharist.
How full was the building?
Nothing like full: there were a dozen of us in pews that would seat 150 or so.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A parishioner who had come in just ahead of me said hello, shook my hand, and helped me to a prayer book and bulletin from a table.
Was your pew comfortable?
The standard-issue wooden pew was perfectly comfortable. And the vinyl kneeler was more than usually plump and comfy, which may be because the host congregation doesnt use them.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
There was no conversation, just the soft thump of kneelers going down and back up as people knelt to pray after coming in.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
Something very like: "I welcome you this morning as we remember the conversion of St Paul." I was caught by surprise by this greeting from the rear of the sanctuary just before the opening hymn, and I found myself standing and singing before I could grab pen and paper.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
We used the Book of Common Prayer According to the Use of the Independent Anglican Church in the Dominion of Canada, a 1990 publication that seems to be based on the 1918 Anglican Church of Canada BCP (not quite the same as the 1959 BCP with which I grew up). The bulletin contained the texts of the hymns taken from (it read) the "AHB", which I understood to be the Anglican Hymn Book.
What musical instruments were played?
Dr Renwick played the organ in the rear loft. A drum kit near the altar was modestly veiled behind a folding screen and mercifully silent.
Did anything distract you?
Im really quite fond of the Book of Common Prayer and sigh with more than mere nostalgic relief when I find myself in a Prayer Book service. But I felt just slightly off balance now and again as I recited parts of the service from memory and found myself saying the wrong thing or flipping to the wrong section. It ends up that the "good old BCP" of my youth is not quite the last word in conservatism: this BCP retains some phrases and words that date to earlier versions. I actually borrowed a copy for further research.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The ritual was on the Catholic-but-understated side of high church Anglican: we were sprinkled with an aspergillum and there was some crossing and bowing in the pews, but no incense or grand gestures.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Curry's sermon was clear, concise, cogent. I realize that anything this side of a standing ovation is considered damning these days, so I feel that I must make it clear than I consider a 5 to mean average and a 7 to be comfortably above average.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Curry talked about the conversion of St Paul: the religious credentials of Saul of Tarsus; his persecution (even terrorism, we might say) of the early followers of The Way; his astonishing experience on the Damascus road. Paul was very religious, but he did not know the love of God. The question we will be asked on judgment day is not, "Did you go to church?" but "Did you meet Jesus?"
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Participating in a sung liturgy with no interruption for the passing of the peace.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
My goodness, but Thomas Cranmer (may he rest in peace) was wordy, wasnt he? It's easy to forget how Prayer Book services rather drone on at points.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Hanging about looking lost was not an option. Father Curry came up to introduce himself as I gathered my things after the postlude (a jaunty bit of Buxtehude). Then I fell to chatting with a parishioner and was escorted to coffee in the parish hall.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Perfectly good coffee was served in cups and saucers, with coffee cake and some other small munchies.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – I considered a 10. This little congregation seems rather tailored to my own particular set of preferences and prejudices. And its not three blocks from home. And they meet at 12.30. I only hesitated over that number because I wonder if one should be trying to find a pew quite so comfortable, making sure that it checks off all of the little boxes of likes and frowny bits.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
With the qualification that I barely feel able to call myself a Christian these days yes. Certainly the service gave me Anglican warm fuzzies.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
I hope very much that I will remember to return the copy of their interesting variant of the Prayer Book that they let me borrow.