St Aidan's, Williston Park, New York, USA

St Aidan's, Williston Park, New York, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Aidan's
Location: Williston Park, New York, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 29 August 2010, 12:00pm

The building

It's a cavernous but not unattractive space, built in 1961 when the parish outgrew its former building. The street frontage is an impressive neoclassical statement that reminded me of the old arch that once graced the entrance to London's Euston Station. Inside, the broad nave has a high curved ceiling with square supporting columns creating narrow aisles on each side marking. The interior is T shaped, with seating in both transepts facing the central sanctuary. It's light and airy but with a distractingly echoey acoustic.

The church

St Aidan's is a large, thriving parish with active social ministries and extensive lay involvement. Nothing extraordinary, but plenty of good stuff.

The neighborhood

Williston Park is a village about 20 miles east of New York City, in Long Island's Nassau County. It's a prosperous Long Island suburb, the kind of place for which "nice" is the perfect epithet.

The cast

The Revd Kevin Dillon, associate pastor, celebrated mass, assisted by the Revd Mr Francis Love, deacon. There were lectors and a cantor whose names I didn't get.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

Perhaps 85 per cent full – a few people chose to stand rather than ask others to shuffle along their pews. Given the size of the church, that probably means 500-600 people.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but there was nothing unfriendly in that.

Was your pew comfortable?

It was fine – a traditional pew with a fold down kneeler under the pew in front.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

There was an air of reverence, but it wasn't quiet, not least because of the steady stream of new arrivals before and after the start of the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome. Today we celebrate the 22nd Sunday in ordinary time."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

There was a missalette with the order of service and the readings, though few people used it as most appeared to know the service by heart. There was also a hymnal – again not widely used as few people joined in the hymns.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ – probably electronic but I wouldn't swear to it.

Did anything distract you?

The lector had to thumb through the missal to locate the first reading. This took some time and allowed the mind to wander. I couldn't help smiling at Father Dillon's broad Long Island accent and his occasional squeaks as he began a sentence.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Mainstream Roman Catholic – contemporary liturgical music and hymns that hardly anyone joined in singing; liturgy at a brisk canter with negligible wandering from the script.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

9 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

4 – Father Dillon was born and raised in the parish, and that clearly informs his preaching style in more ways than just his accent.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The wrong kind of pride – self-aggrandizing pride – can come between us and God. (The gospel was Jesus' advice to take the lowliest place at table when invited to dinner.) There is good pride: pride in one's children, one's workmanship, and so on. But bad pride promotes us above God. And surprising things can be acts of humility.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

At the end of the service there were commissioning prayers for children and teachers returning for school, which as a parent I took as a moving reminder of God's presence in everything we do.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The lack of congregational participation in the service – to which the parish is clearly reconciled, as we didn't sing all the verses of any of the hymns and there were far fewer hymnals than people in the pews. And the procession to the exit that began after the communion and was all but complete by the time we'd sung the first (and only, though there were four verses in the hymnal) verse of the final hymn.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

Not a lot – I'd stayed in my pew through the last hymn, so the tide of people was ebbing away by the time I got to the door. No one spoke to me, but no one really stopped to chat at all so it didn't feel as if I was being excluded. Clearly everyone felt that leaving was the appropriate thing to do.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

There are no refreshments.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

4 – Based purely on my experience of this service. I am told by friends who live in the parish that St Aidan's is an active church that encourages involvement in its work in the community. But in isolation, as spiritual refreshment this service was rather dry.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

Yes. As an Anglican, I am always uplifted when I visit a Roman Catholic church by the thought that we're part of a cloud of witness much bigger than any one denomination.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Father Dillon's delivery – relaxed, friendly, at home, and more than a little camp.

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