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677: St Thomas, New York City
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St Thomas' Fifth Avenue, NYC
Mystery Worshipper: Succentor.
The church: St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, New York City.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: This is a magnificent, lofty, vaulted church with a stunning stone reredos, located at a vantage point on Fifth Avenue. The church has the air of a British cathedral, with the dignity and splendour to match.
The neighbourhood: The church is surrounded by the magnificent architecture of New York City, and is close to a splendid red brick Presbterian church and the majestic St Patrick's Roman Catholic cathedral.
The cast: Rev. Andrew C. Mead, Rector.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn eucharist of the nativity (really a high mass), preceded by music for organ, trumpet and strings.

How full was the building?
The building was bulging at the seams. It was the most full I have ever seen a church.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were welcomed by the man on the door, as he took our tickets and gave us a lavish service brochure.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a standard, uncomfortable pew, sadly. I have a back problem, so even a couch is uncomfortable after a while, but Succentor 2 was fidgeting after about 20 minutes. The church was extremely hot, which didn't help.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
It was akin to a theatre filling up. There were people milling around "being seen" (and heard). The evening-dressed ushers dishing out orders of service contributed to the pre-theatre atmosphere.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The service was preceded by the rector entering the pulpit to say, "Welcome to St Thomas Church." After a lengthy welcome, he beetled off to slip into something more sumptuous.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The lavish order of service brochure contained all we needed.

What musical instruments were played?
Stunning organ together with a small orchestra. The choir of St Thomas were absolutely wonderful. Even though I am an old chorister of a British cathedral, I have to say that they were the finest choir I have ever heard.

Did anything distract you?
The orchestra were parked between the choir stalls, so I found it difficult to see all of the goings-on in the chancel. I was also distracted by the three young men next to us looking up the naughty bits of the Old Testament and sniggering at them.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was extremely formal anglo-catholic, so very dignified and beautiful. Almost perfect in my opinion. The great procession at the beginning of the service was so beautifully executed that it had my hair standing on end.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – The rector preached clearly and eloquently and with great enthusiasm.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
I'm afraid that I was so rapt by what he was saying, I forgot to make notes. However, it was about the incarnation of Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The liturgy was amazing, the gold tat worn by the clergy was beautiful, the atmosphere was incredible, but for me, the best part was the first blast of the enchamade trumpets at the west end to herald "O come, all ye faithful". A moment I will never forget. Also being sent out into the night at the end of the service with the organ thundering in my ears and discovering that it was snowing heavily. A beautiful and emotional moment. Sheer Christmas joy.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Literally, the almost stifling heat of the place. I have never been in such a warm church.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing – we were all swept out on a tide of joyful people at the end of the two hour service. The deacon wished us a merry Christmas.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – If I lived in New York and not London, then I would make haste.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes very much so.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
All of it – but mostly that incredible organ.
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