St Paul's Chapel, Wall Street, New York

St Paul's Chapel, Wall Street, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Brother Juniper
Church: St Paul's Chapel
Location: Wall Street, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Wednesday, 28 December 2005, 12:00am

The building

The interior and exterior are of classic 18th century design, rather elegant, though the interior currently is filled with posters, banners and exhibits related to the World Trade Centre disaster of 2001. The building is surrounded by a burial ground of 18th century vintage.

The church

The history of the church, which spans from when George Washington was a parishioner to when it was a refuge at the time of 9/11, is especially intriguing, and details are provided, together with audio and visual presentations, on the St Paul's website. Currently, as was evident from the literature in the church and announcements, they are emphasising being a "community of faith and reconciliation." St Paul's is a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails, dedicated to global reconciliation.

The neighborhood

Wall Street is the centre of New York's financial district.

The cast

The Revd Park Bodie was the celebrant. A religious Sister led the prayer service for peace which preceded the eucharist.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist and Anointing with Oil for Healing. This was preceded by the daily prayers for peace

How full was the building?

The building was quite full with visitors. I would estimate that a third of them actually participated in the eucharist.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No. This was a weekday service, very crowded with tourists, and I was the odd one out in that I immediately settled myself in a pew.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes, quite standard.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

The atmosphere was fairly hectic, largely with people viewing the various exhibits and artefacts about 9/11. Yet it was deeply impressive on another level. I am not one for banners and the like, and frankly shall admit that I thought the presence of these destroyed the effect of architectural elegance. I could not fail to be moved, nonetheless, by the sense of memory, even awe, at how St Paul's clearly has been a haven for the area since it sheltered the rescue workers on the day the World Trade Centre collapsed. Much as the sadness of the memory of violence and death remained, the atmosphere of dedication and love prevailed.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Welcome to St Paul's chapel."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Book of Common Prayer, 1979. There was a separate leaflet with a collection of prayers for peace. Though only the Christian prayer was recited in common, the collection, assembled during the ecumenical conference at Assisi, included prayers from all major faiths.

What musical instruments were played?

None – there was no music at this service, though I have heard that the quality of the music ministry here is quite good.

Did anything distract you?

The banners, US flags, and huge arrangements of greenery in the windows (all but the last undoubtedly big attractions for the most!) seemed tacky to my snobbish little soul.

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

It was quiet, dignified and simple – a good example of "Prayer Book Catholic" in my estimation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

5 minutes.

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

9 – The sermon was brief but quite powerful in concept. Naturally, the treatment of how violence and destruction resulted from Herod's greed for power had a special impact at Ground Zero, though the sermon made no reference to that event.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Much of our own violence and greed stems from looking for personal power, and believing that others control us. Mention was made of the importance of gratitude, contentment and divine providence.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The litany for social justice and peace prayers brought me to tears. This, coupled with our being able to go for anointing afterward (and being asked for what we wished healing), gave me a lovely sense of the peace and love of Christ, and how people do long for this.

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

The queue for the loo, of which I was in desperate need, extended I believe to somewhere west of Chicago.

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

It really made little difference. A group of young people who clearly were lost beyond the norm took the guards' attention.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Not applicable.

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

6 – I was quite pleased with the service, and may visit again, but I don't think I could take having those flags and banners (or the contemporary music which I understand is part of the repertoire) before me every Sunday.

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

Very much so. There was a sense of intercessory prayer (obvious in some who were praying intensely, and in the litany) which gave a powerful sense of Christ's love in the midst of an area which was the site of horrid destruction.

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

How our greed, like Herod's, contributes to the violence of the world – for which the Incarnation is a remedy.

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