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Church, New York City
Church, New York City.
The cornerstone was laid on November 15, 1931, for this stunning
Byzantine-Romanesque church, the work of Ralph Adams Cram, the
prolific architect of ecclesiastical and collegiate structures.
It replaces an earlier church at a different location. The well-proportioned
exterior leads one to believe that the building might be a synagogue.
The interior glitters with tiles, mosaics and marble. There
are icons aplenty, some from the personal collection of Czar
Nicholas II. One scarcely knows where to look. But the eye is
inevitably drawn to the apse, featuring a mosaic of Christ enthroned,
attended by the four evangelists.
Christ Church was the home of the nationally syndicated radio
program National Radio Pulpit, hosted by the church's
pastor, Dr Ralph Washington Sockman, which aired every Sunday
morning from 1928 to 1962. The plain-speaking Dr Sockman received
thousands of fan letters every week from his faithful listeners.
The church's present senior minister, the Revd Stephen Bauman,
carries on the tradition with a daily inspirational message
broadcast early each morning by a local radio station. Christ
Church is also known for its many outreaches to the community
and its social and spiritual activities for all age groups.
The church manages Christ Church Day School, a non-sectarian
nursery school, one of the first such institutions in New York.
There are two worship services each Sunday, plus a youth service,
as well as children's and adult religious education.
Christ Church sits on Park Avenue at East 60th Street in one
of the wealthiest neighborhoods of Manhattan, where chic, prestigious
apartment buildings and hotels share space with upscale shops,
fancy restaurants and modern office towers.
The Revd Jenny Phillips, minister for younger adults, and the
Revd Cathy Gilliard, minister for Christian nurture, led the
service. Preaching was the Revd William Payne.
The date & time:
Ascension Sunday, May 16, 2010, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Mostly full. Not very many young people, though. The range of
ages seemed to be from the late 30s through middle age and up.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher with a smile held the door open for me and handed me
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. Wooden pews with cushions.
How would you describe the pre-service
What were the exact opening words of the
"Good morning. Please rise."
What books did the congregation use during the
United Methodist Hymnal; The Faith We Sing, Pew Edition;
The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version. There was
also an attendance registration booklet.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano and choir, enhanced by the church's great acoustics.
Did anything distract you?
I found the decor, splendid as it was, to be a distraction.
I also noted the contrast between the style of worship and what
I was used to back home.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Serious, dry, as if the congregation was not connected. I sensed
a lack of fellowship and active participation in the service
by the congregation. Dr Sockman, back in his day, was known
to have raised many a Methodist eyebrow with his flair for liturgy.
The service was not heavy on ceremony, but I found it ritualistic
nevertheless. No candles, but the altar party entered and exited
behind a processional cross. The clergy and choir were robed.
Prayers were recited with bowed heads. No communion at today's
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 I wasn't sure the sermon had actually begun, as Mr
Payne segued directly into it from the announcements. I also
thought it was a bit heavy on references to mysticism.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
He took as his text the words to a hymn he had written in collaboration
with Steve Pilkington, the church's director of music: "Christ
triumphant high above, throned in glory and in love." The
ancients spoke of the three tiers: heaven, the material world
and the underworld. But we know that heaven is not "up
there" it is not a geographic entity. The mysteries
of our faith cannot be explained, try as we might. The stories
passed down to us, if read literally, strain our belief, but
the truths they convey lie beyond our understanding. Faith is
a willingness to believe what we cannot comprehend. Christ lived,
he died, and he was experienced by many beyond the grave. And
then he was gone! But he didn't abandon us he empowered
us! His ascension marked a transition from the disciples' following
Jesus around to obeying Jesus' commission to go and teach all
nations. It transformed a ragtag, cowardly band into persons
of remarkable strength and conviction, whose faith has changed
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
The great acoustics of the sanctuary and how good the choir
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
But I thought the music was dark and depressing, sort of the
kind that you would expect in a horror film.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I stood for about 10 minutes and then walked around some, but
no one engaged me in any form of conversation.
How would you describe the after-service
Coffee had been announced, but directions were not given. I
didn't know my way around the building, and no one bothered
to tell me where to go for coffee.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 Perhaps if there were no other churches in New York,
I might consider going there. But it really isn't my cup of
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Not at all. It was too depressing.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The sermon being so different from what I have heard before,
as if stuck between magic and faith.
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