|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
|2162: St Lydia's,
The Dinner Church, New York City
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
The church: St
Lydia's, The Dinner Church, New York City.
On their website they say they are part of the Emergent Church
movement, coming out of the Anglican/Lutheran tradition.
The building: They
meet in the basement of Trinity Lower East Side, a member of
the Evangelical Lutheran Church, but they are a distinct entity
and independent of the ELC. Trinity has been at this site since
1863, although the original Victorian church was demolished
in 1975 and replaced in 1996 by the current brick structure
that blends in well with the old tenement houses that are its
The church: They
call themselves a "dinner church." Quoting from their
website, they "gather every Sunday evening to cook and
share a sacred meal, just as the first followers of Jesus did."
I don't think that they do any outreach yet, as they're so new
and quite small in size. The community coordinator did mention
an outing to worship at a neighboring church. And they had lots
of activities planned during Lent, including a Palm Sunday procession
through the neighborhood and an Easter vigil service at the
labyrinth at Union Square.
The neighborhood: Trinity
is located on Tompkins Square Park in the Alphabet City section
of Manhattan's East Village, so called because the streets are
named Avenue A, Avenue B, etc. Throughout the late 19th and
early 20th centuries, Tompkins Square was the site of numerous
demonstrations and protests, some put down rather violently
by the police. The park was designed by master builder Robert
Moses in 1936; some say that Moses' plan was deliberately intended
to divide and manage crowds. In 1966, the Indian mystic Abhay
Charanaravinda Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada began to sing
and preach beneath an elm tree in the park, spawning a movement
that was to become known throughout the world as Hare Krishna.
By the 1980s the area had become a haven for heroin addicts,
the homeless, and some of the more dispossessed New Yorkers.
In 1991 the park was closed for over a year for renovations,
thus effectively getting rid of the homeless, and today Alphabet
City is one of New York's more fashionable and "terminally hip"
neighborhoods. The park's former homeless encampments have been
replaced by two children's playgrounds, a dog run, and a trendy,
upscale hamburger stand near the Hare Krishna elm.
The cast: Amy
Scott, pastoral minister and founder, preached the sermon. Rachel
Pollack, community coordinator, was a reader and played the
shruti box. Elyce (whose last name I didn't catch), a vicar
with the United Church of Christ, presided over the consecration
The date & time: Sunday,
April 11, 2011, 7.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 20. There was room for four or five more. Most of the congregants were in their mid-20s to early 30s, but there were a few middle-agers.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was greeted by the pastor as soon as I walked in. The conversation at the dinner table was very welcoming, friendly and light-hearted.
Was your pew comfortable?
No pews, just padded metal folding chairs around folding tables,
covered with blue-checked tablecloths and a centerpiece of candles.
How would you describe the pre-service
Very busy. I arrived just at 7.00, so I missed out on the cooking
and table set-up. I was shown where to get a name tag and where
to stow my coat and bag. Everyone else was either cooking or
setting up for the service.
What were the exact opening words of the
What books did the congregation use during the
A well-worn Bible. I didn't notice what edition.
What musical instruments were played?
An Indian instrument, the shruti box, a small wooden box with
a system of bellows, similar to a harmonium but smaller and
without a keyboard. It provided the drone for the chants and
Did anything distract you?
A few were eating during the gospel readings and also the sermon,
and I kept wondering whether that was disrespectful or not.
It is a dinner church, after all, so I guessed not, but I did
find my mind wandering to dinner theater in the 1970s. I had
always imagined that the tables were cleared by the time the
curtain came up.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Neither adjective really works here, because the service seemed
so idiosyncratic at once formal and charismatic. It began
with a chanted/sung Kyrie accompanied by the shruti box.
There was a candle lighting ceremony where we lit each others'
candles and then placed them in a holder in the center of the
table. Elyce blessed large loaves of bread using words found
Didache, an ancient text known to the Church Fathers
but lost until 1873. We broke off pieces from the loaf and gave
them to our seatmates, after which we ate dinner. After dinner
the gospel was read and the sermon preached. Next came a call
for narratives from one's own experience that related to the
sermon. Several people told stories they deemed relevant. A
poem, a hymn and some prayers followed. Then our cups (whatever
we happened to be drinking) were blessed, again using words
from the Didache. Finally the dishes were collected
and cleaned up, and we sang a final hymn, wished each other
peace, and received a blessing.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
6 Amy Scott had prepared notes but seemed not to need
them. She was very conversational, and I found her tone quite
effective in such an intimate space.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
It was a meditation on the anointing of Jesus with nard at Bethany,
Mark 14:3-9. She began with an experiential narrative about
her sick pet rabbit named Peter. Although she knew he was dying,
she had spent more money than she should on antibiotics, which
ultimately didn't work to save him. She read this against the
episode in Mark as an extravagant example of a type of "reckless
love." And, she argued, it is with precisely this sort of recklessness
that God loves us all.
Which part of the service was like being in
Seeing young people earnestly grappling with liturgy in a serious way and actively engaging the really big questions that it raises.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At one point the dinner conversation turned to what people did
for a living. One woman announced what she did, and a palpable
hush fell over the table, as if this were a murder mystery dinner
and the body had just been found. And hers was a perfectly respectable
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
I struck up a conversation with Rachel Pollack, who kept trying
to figure out how I found out about the church. I told her a
friend had e-mailed me a link to their website and said I should
check it out, but she kept wanting to know more about my friend,
and if my friend attended services there regularly. I began
to feel somewhat uncomfortable. It seemed as if she was really
saying,"We don't get many outsiders like you, so why are you
here?" It sure felt that way. She also said, "You're Episcopalian"
a statement of fact more than a question. How did she
know? Were my secret Episcopalian underpants showing? What gives?
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The dinner itself was a vegetarian one hot orzo salad with spinach and feta in a lemon vinaigrette. There was red wine, sparkling grape juice and water. The food was really good.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 I found the whole air of old-fashioned pie-eyed can-do
oddly compelling. It reminded me of the early Mickey Rooney/Judy
Garland films bubbling with palpable enthusiasm and possibility,
really charming, and even a little odd. That said, I do find
consecrated dinner rolls a tad confusing. There was a moment
in the service where I felt like a dad crashing the youngsters'
party. That is probably a danger in such an experientially driven
liturgy. Differences may be encouraged, but they may unintentionally
exclude. All in all, I found the project really interesting.
I would like to go back at some point to see what the youngsters
are up to.
Did the service make you
feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. How could it not?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Everyone working together to clean up. It was like a well-oiled
and happy machine. Oh, and it may be un-Christian of me to say
it, but the "dead bunny" sermon.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.