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159: Most Precious Blood, Astoria, New York City
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Most Precious Blood, Astoria, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: Nice Jewish Boy (well, 50 per cent Jewish).
The church: Most Precious Blood Roman Catholic Church, Astoria, New York, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic.
The building: MPB is a modern yet dignified church that was given a favorable write-up in the American Institute of Architects' Guide to New York City. The church conveys a sense of strength, but is also warm and inviting. The inside is another matter...
The neighbourhood: Astoria has the largest Greek population outside of Athens. Within two blocks of MPB I found shops offering food from Greece, Colombia, Brazil, Italy, Croatia, India and Ireland. There's also an incredibly funky little joint called the Cafe Bar that reminds me of what Greenwich Village
The cast: The priest's name was not mentioned.
What was the name of the service?

How full was the building?

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. Even the ushers ignored me. I didn't take it personally, since that seems to be the norm in Catholic churches in these parts.

Was your pew comfortable?
Basic wooden pew with kneeler. Fairly comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet. Most people came in family groups, so there were lots of kids around. The music minister gave a brief plea for everybody to join in a new hymn they were doing, since his mother would be in the congregation that day, and he wanted to make Mom happy.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
"Breaking Bread Jubilee 2000" paperback hymnal/missal.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
Quite a bit. Visual distractions: the whole interior. It represents a hodge-podge of styles, emphasizing Art Deco, that looks like it was put together by a team of first year design students who thought they were being eclectic. It's not exactly conducive to serenity and contemplation. Auditory: the sound system. Imagine this: choir and organ way in the back, priest way up front, trying to sing along with the hymns through his microphone. PA speakers are located all over the joint. The end result was a pretty comical demonstration of the laws of acoustics.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very informal. This is a mostly blue-collar parish.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. This sermon was organized, while still informal and chatty.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Holiness is hard work. There are no easy solutions. The priest also told a moving tale of a teenage boy who had been contemplating suicide, only to be dissuaded by the helpfulness of a classmate who came to his aid when some other boys were taunting him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sincerity of the priest and some of the older parishioners.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
All those different musical notes bouncing around like popcorn in a popper.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody said anything. This is par for the course in Catholic churches in this area.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee. No donuts. The Diocese of Brooklyn seems to have an unofficial policy against such wicked, Protestant practices.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4, though it is one of the livelier Catholic parishes I've been to.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
That story about the teenager. Sometimes we need to be reminded of how random acts of kindness can make huge differences for people who we really do not know are in serious emotional pain.
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