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343: St Peter's, Manhattan, New York City
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St Peter's, Manhattan, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: Thames Swimmer.
The church: St Peter's, Manhattan, New York City.
Denomination: Lutheran.
The building: The building is a fairly modern replacement for an older one demolished to make way for the Citicorp Center. It's much higher and more triangular than most newer church construction, but the acoustics are fabulous. The sanctuary, however, is laid out in a traditional way, located at the end rather than in the center of the space. The chairs in the sanctuary look very precarious indeed. Movable pews in the worship area lend versatility to the space.
The church: The church supports and houses the famous Jazz Vespers, which happen each Sunday afternoon. They are known as an inclusive and catholic communion of diverse people and communities, and have been a center of neighbourhood activism for decades. The service I attended was a special joint service between the Lutherans Concerned and Integrity USA organisations, both of which work in their respective denominations for justice for lesbian and gay people.
The neighbourhood: The Citicorp Centre is a daunting neighbor, but the angular and pointy roof of the church is a more than adequate offset to it. Many of the rich and famous live or work in the neighborhood.
The cast: The preacher was Rev. Robert A. Rimbo, Bishop, Southeast Michigan Synod, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The president was Rev. Michael W. Hopkins, President of Integrity USA.
What was the name of the service?
Eucharist on the Eve of Pride Sunday, the Third Sunday after Pentecost.

How full was the building?
About half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As I am a member of Integrity and a former New Yorker, there were loads of people who recognised me and hugged and generally made much of me, as they thought I was in London that weekend.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was very comfortable, with excitingly multicoloured pew cushions.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was reflective, with many sitting in their pews and praying silently and others buzzing with pre-service preparation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A bespoke service leaflet and With One Voice, a Lutheran hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?
The only distraction was the building itself, as I had never attended there when I lived in New York. Its angularity and great ascending height draw the eyes away from the sanctuary sometimes.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was catholic as only the Anglicans and Lutherans can provide. It was very participative as well; people sang and spoke loudly and firmly, which is a great change from the Church of England, where participation is sometimes lukewarm and hymns are not so much sung as whispered.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – Bishop Rimbo is physically very active as a preacher. His hands, head and body were all thrown into his work along with his voice, which crackled with humour and force. Even John Wesley would have listened raptly during this sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The Gospel reading was John chapter 9, the man born blind. The Pharisees continually asked 20 Questions of the blind man who had been healed and his parents – the wrong questions. No one thanked God for this miracle. Jesus healed him then disappeared, just as he has done for us after Ascension and before the Second Coming. The question the Pharisees should have asked and did not is: What if this act was of God and we believe it isn't? Many in the Church are so afraid of being wrong that they closet themselves away from the light in darkness. Lesbians and gay men have remained in the Church despite religious pharisaism and have helped Bishop Rimbo to ask the right questions. Such as: What if God created people lesbian and gay and I exclude them?

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sermon. Normally at these type of services the celebrant is a straight bishop or priest and the preacher is a lesbian or gay man who is there to help inform the celebrant. However, this sermon was awesome. I was rapt! He is without a doubt the best preacher I have ever heard.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I must say that reading the entire Gospel (John 9:1-41) was a bit tedious, but the rest of the service was heavenly.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I couldn't do that, as too many people knew me and I was not allowed to look lost.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Coffee, cakes and a very sticky but lovely pecan pie were on offer. Plastic cups, but heavenly coffee.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If St Peter's is as inclusive and welcoming as this on a regular Sunday, I would have no qualms about joining. Especially if they could get Bishop Rimbo to preach occasionally.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Although I am always glad to be a Christian, this type of service makes me especially glad that I have become an Anglican, that we are in communion with the Lutherans, and that we are privileged to worship as lesbians and gay men together at this special time.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon, obviously!
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