Special celebration: 1867 Service at St. James Anglican Church

MORRISBURG – Canada turns 150 years old on July 1, 2017.

On Sunday, July 2, the Anglican Parish of South Dundas will hold a special event at St. James Church in Morrisburg at 10 a.m., recreating a religious service just as it might have occurred on the eve of Confederation, in 1867.

The idea to hold an 1867 service as part of the celebration of Canada 150 originally came from the Rev. Jon Martin of St. James. He turned for help in planning such a unique event to the Rev. Peter Cazaly, who served for many years as historian at Upper Canada Village.

Using Christ Church in the Village, which has been restored to the pre-Confederation time period, as one guide, Cazaly has put together a service that will reflect the tastes and attitudes of churchgoers at the time of Confederation.

In 1867, Cazaly explained, outward displays of ceremony and ritual were very much discouraged in a service. Simplicity and a lack of ornamentation in the Village’s small Anglican Church often surprises visitors.

By contrast, St. James, where the 1867 service will be recreated on July 2, was built in the 1890s. With its Gothic architecture, richly decorated interior, its stained glass windows and brass, St. James does seem a sharp contrast to the Village church.

However, this demonstrates clearly how tastes in religious design and decoration in the “established church” had undergone a marked change in Canada in barely 30 years.

As part of a return to the rituals of 1867, the communion table for the July 2 service at St. James (not an altar!) will be covered in a simple white cloth, with no candles or flowers, no large cross and no coloured hangings or decorations. Devout Anglicans of the 19th century would have found such trappings “too Catholic,” Cazaly explained. Communion at the time would have been a baked flatbread, in a round loaf, and the red wine would likely have been a claret or burgundy, both served to parishioners kneeling around the table.

At the 2017 service, “We won’t ask people to kneel on a board floor,” Cazaly said.

Modern Anglican churches, like most Christian churches, use pipe organs, pianos and many other instruments as a regular part of services. There are often soloists, choirs or praise bands included in the worship. Not in 1867.

“The only music at the service would be two or three hymns, mostly Psalms written in metric verse and sung to tunes people already knew,” Cazaly explained. Sometimes one person with a pitch pipe was all the accompaniment the congregation received.

Musicians and instruments did once take part in early 1800s services, but that was halted. It seems that such musicians fell out of favour “because they were often hung over from Saturday night and behaved badly in church,” Cazaly said.

As in 1867, the July 2 service will be taken from the Book of Common Prayer, which was actually only replaced by the Book of Alternate Services in the 1980s. In 1867, Holy Communion took place after Morning Prayer because people who “felt unworthy” were expected to leave before Communion.

“The prayer book contained dire warnings about receiving the sacrament in a state of sin, or unrepentant. The minister could refuse to give the sacrament to anyone he deemed unfit.”

The normal sermon on a Sunday generally ran to more than 40 minutes. However Rev. Martin and Rev. Cazaly, who will both be dressed in the vestments of 1867, have promised that the July 2 sermon will “mercifully…not be 40 minutes long.”

Cazaly will be delivering an actual sermon, written in 1866, by a minister in this area. “It will give a glimpse of the style of language and the theology of the time period.”

The clergy and some members of the congregation will be dressed in the style of 1867 at this service. Visitors and guests are also invited to attend in the costumes of the day if they wish.

Everyone is very welcome to join the parish at this special worship service at St. James Anglican Church in Morrisburg, 10 a.m., July 2, 2017. For information (613-543-3904). Don’t miss this opportunity to explore an aspect of Canada’s rich heritage, and to relive a moment in our nation’s past.