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612: St Mark's, Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
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St Mark's, Vancouver
Mystery Worshipper: Iconoclast.
The church: St Mark's, Kitsilano, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Denomination: Anglican.
The building: A nice modern building, spacious and airy, with much of it hidden by trees and shrubs.
The church: It's difficult to judge from my limited contact, but the church shares a building with Trinity United Church. They have several shared services each year and a meal programme.
The neighbourhood: It seemed to be your typical Vancouver suburb.
The cast: Rev. Paulina Lee did the lot.
What was the name of the service?
Christmas Morning Celebration of Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
I counted 27 adults and nine children. There was seating for 80 or so, in a room with space for a whole lot more. It all felt unbelievably empty for Christmas morning. Maybe this is normal for Canada – there had been other services on Christmas Eve which may have been better attended. Or maybe the minister of the sharing church is more popular. Who knows?

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, there seemed to be no one designated to greet people. There were one or two folk who sort of smiled but no attempt was made to welcome me or my family; and nothing in the peace either. We helped ourselves to hymn and service books and service sheets, hoping we had the right equipment to get through the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a large upholstered chair with arms, and definitely the most comfortable church seating I've experienced.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It all seemed very informal, and a long way from quiet and reverential. There was lots of general milling around by people, who all seemed to know each other. Small children seemed very welcome, there was a table beside the chairs where they could sit and read, draw or do puzzles, and they wandered around throughout. People were late in arriving, and the service started late.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
We began with an unannounced hymn: "Good Christians all, rejoice". The first spoken words of the service were "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ..."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Common Praise, Anglican Church of Canada Book of Alternative Services, and the service sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
A grand piano.

Did anything distract you?
There were an awful lot of distractions – children running around and making noise, people arriving late giving rise to interesting interactions and movement, and family arguments conducted mainly by body language and facial expression. Fascinating stuff, but not quite what I thought I was there for.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High Church (bells – no smells worse luck) in some ways, but informal in atmosphere. I was surprised by the lack of procession at the beginning. Music included some Iona-type liturgy and a Taize chant.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
15 minutes exactly

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – There was no PA system and the preacher was softly spoken with quite a touch of Chinese accent; coupled with the general hubbub this made it very difficult to hear. She came across as sincere and trying hard.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Looking forward to things at Christmas. Our fascination with Christmas lights points to our inner longing for light on our journeys, which matches God's yearning to meet with us. I think that was the gist of it.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I daresay the general hubbub might be more like what we get in heaven than we expect but otherwise, no.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The worst part was being pretty much ignored. There was a Christmas lunch after the service which was obviously going to include a number, perhaps a large number, of people who weren't at the service – I suspect people who were lonely, homeless, and otherwise in need – which may have preoccupied the members of the church. Because of the small numbers of people who clearly mainly knew each other, it must have been obvious to the "in crowd" who the visitors were, but there was little if any attempt to make us welcome. Also, when it came to time for the communion, all were invited to participate, which was great, but there was no offer of a blessing for anyone who didn't want to, so the communicants all stood in an exclusive circle while the rest just sat in their seats. Hellishly exclusive, I thought.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood around until my family wanted to leave, and felt like an unwanted spare part.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I think there was only the lunch, for which we were not staying. No sign of anything else – understandably.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
1 – Maybe I've been a bit hard because I expect if you are a regular, this could be a lively and friendly church. I loved the informal arrangement (seats in a circle) and comfortable chairs; the building felt and looked great, and I liked the way the children felt at home, but I'm not sure I could cope with that level of distraction on a regular basis. I have the feeling that there is a lot of unrealised potential there and at present I think I'm too lazy to want to get in there and do the hard graft which is needed.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
On balance, no, because of the lack of welcome. Surely one of our primary callings as Christians is to offer a warm welcome and hospitality?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The extraordinary family dramas which I observed.
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