|370: St Bartholomew's, New York City, USA|
|Other reports | Comment on this report|
Mystery Worshipper: Broadsea 23.
The church: St Bartholomew's, New York City, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: The present St Bartholomew's was built in 1918 and is a New York City landmark: domed Romanesque exterior (with Stanford White portal) and a spacious, mosaic-filled, Byzantine-style interior.
The church: The congregation was rent asunder in the 1980s due to a divisive dispute regarding whether to allow the building of a commercial office tower over the parish house, which would have been lucrative but unaesthetic. By the time the court ruled against it, many parishioners had left and the place was in disarray. The current rector jump-started the church via ambitious outreach, and the place is now a hive of activity and has been enormously successful in attracting a wide range of new people. It welcomes everyone but at the same time is a solid, spiritually-focused parish.
The neighbourhood: Midtown Manhattan, near Grand Central Station, and is mostly commercial: banks, brokerages, offices, etc. The church is the only low-rise break in a sea of tall office buildings.
The cast: Celebrant: Rev. William (Bill) Tully, Rector. Guest preacher: Rev. Barbara C. Crafton, Rector of St Clement's Episcopal Church (New York City).
What was the name of the service?
"Come As You Are Eucharist", or "Worship at 7pm."
How full was the building?
People filled the large choir and a good portion of the church. I'd say more than 150 were present very good for a Sunday-evening service that also was the fourth Eucharist of the day.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
The rector (in casual trousers and shirt, no collar or vestments) welcomed people on the front steps. Greeters and ushers did the same, both in the narthex and in the church proper, while handing out service leaflets. All seemed sincere and friendly, not perfunctory or unctuous.
Was your pew comfortable?
I didn't notice, so it wasn't an issue.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Some low-key music (piano and drums) as people greeted each other and settled in. It was friendly, but also reverent. The phrase "quiet expectation" comes to mind.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
The rector said we'd sing the first hymn (Seek Ye First) "straight," not as a round.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Service leaflet, with all text and music printed therein.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, drums, and maybe a bass.
Did anything distract you?
An infant cried briefly during the sermon, but that was all.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Casual, but very straightforward and sincere; people smiled and seemed comfortable. If it were really happy-clappy, I wouldn't have stayed.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 Excellent. She had a relaxed, conversational style that made heavenly things seem accessible, used humor and dry wit engagingly, and was completely at ease speaking from the sanctuary steps.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
God is always with us, and when this life ends, we'll go "home" and realize that this life was just one small basket contained in a larger basket, which is the Kingdom of God.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The communion, when everyone ambled in genial disorder around the altar area and crossing, where clergy and chalice-bearers were stationed. It looked like a large family gathering, and everyone seemed glad to be there.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The microphone used during the prayers of the people could have used some help. At that point in the service, most of us were gathered around or near the altar, but the reader's voice projected far out into the part of the church where no one was. It detracted a bit from the intimacy, and was also hard to hear.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I knew some people there, so was approached immediately. However, my party included some people who knew absolutely no one. They were not only approached, but ended up in lively conversations.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Some very rich brownie-type cakes, and adequate coffee and tea in styrofoam cups. These were placed on a table at the crossing when the service was over, so coffee hour took place literally at the foot of the altar. People chatted and seemed reluctant to leave.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 I usually cringe at contemporary services and prefer something more formal. However, the spirit here transcended style issues; this was earnest worship. Most of the music consisted of singable standard hymns instead of that horrible, treacly, too-personal stuff that often pops up in contemporary services. One of my companions hadn't received communion for months, due to nasty experiences with churches in general, but was moved to receive at this service.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The wonderful disorderly order at communion, when people clambered around the altar area and crossing to reach clergy and chalice-bearers. And the peace, which was exchanged at the end of the eucharist, rather than in the middle, and ended things nicely.