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of the Holy Communion, Paterson, New Jersey, USA
Worshipper: Altar Ego.
Church of the Holy Communion, Paterson, New Jersey, USA.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
The building was opened for worship in February 1873. It was
built of blue trap-rock stones from the quarry of John Ryle,
Paterson pioneer silk manufacturer. The roof is of slate. There
is a bell tower at the west front end corner. On the inside
there are six stained glass windows. The three on the left,
depicting various saints, are executed in a rather "Catholic
high church" style. The three on the right, illustrating
various scenes from the life of Christ, are, you could say,
in a "Protestant low church" style. There is a beautifully
carved eagle lectern – I have seen many of these, some
which look like a dodo bird or a parrot with an exaggerated
beak. But this is a true eagle lectern in all its glory and
majesty. The left transept features a Lady chapel, and the right
transept holds an altar to St John the Beloved. There is also
a hanging rood of Christ the King at the main crossing. There
are further carvings on the high altar and reredos. Over the
years the building was twice abandoned while workmen tried to
save it from tumbling into an adjacent railroad cut. The congregation
had to vacate the building in the early 20th century due to
foreclosure on debt, but after four decades of worshipping in
a cheap makeshift structure they were able to repurchase the
The congregation was formed in 1856 and is the second oldest
Episcopal parish in the city of Paterson. The parish has had
a unique history of trouble and triumph through the years. Once
there were five Episcopal parishes in Paterson; today only the
first two original parishes remain. At present, the church faces
the plight of urban decline: high crime, high property taxes,
high unemployment, with parishioners moving out or passing away
with nobody to replace them.
Paterson is a city in northeastern New Jersey. It is located
on the Passaic River at the site of the Great Falls, one of
the United States' largest waterfalls. In the last decade of
the 18th century, the famed engineer Pierre Charles L'Enfant,
who had drawn the plans for Washington, DC, proposed a system
of harnessing the falls to supply power for industrial use.
A modified version of L'Enfant's plan was eventually adopted,
and the city of Paterson quickly became a major manufacturer
of silk, textiles, firearms, railroad locomotives and other
products. By the mid 19th century the silk industry dominated,
and Paterson became known as the Silk City of the World. The
silk mill workers attended the Church of the Holy Communion
and the silk mill owners attended St Paulís Church (Episcopal)
several blocks away. Today, the silk industry is long gone,
along with most other manufacturing jobs. There is high crime
in the area around the church. Gangs of angry young men, and
even young girls, with hatred in their hearts and guns in their
pockets, walk the streets looking for their next victim. Derelicts
hang out on street corners drinking cheap wine out of brown
paper bags. Prostitutes peddle their wares and do their thing
in between parked cars. It is not a safe area to be in during
the day, let alone at night.
The Revd Gary Blumer, interim rector, was the preacher and celebrant
of the liturgy. Stephen Hall, senior warden, served as a lector
and canopy bearer during the procession. A gentleman whose name
was not listed in the service booklet served as thurifer, lector
and acolyte. Cynthia Archer was the organist.
The date & time:
Feast of Corpus Christi, Thursday, June 23, 2011, 7.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass and Sermon with Solemn Procession of the Blessed
Sacrament and Solemn Benediction.
How full was the building?
In the congregation there were only three men and nine women.
Everyone, I guess, was over 50.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As I was taking pictures before the service, a lady parishioner
greeted me from the pews. Then the senior warden said hello
as he was passing by. He and I had a brief chat about the church
building and the challenges of maintaining it.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were quite comfortable, but somewhat austere in appearance,
with flat backs and flat seats. They probably date back from
the 1800s. There were no curvatures in the wood to contour to
the position of the body. There were also wooden dividers in
the middle of all the pews.
How would you describe
the pre-service atmosphere?
The church was quiet with only a couple of people in the pews, which gave me the opportunity to take some pictures of the church.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
There was a red booklet with a black plastic binder that was
made especially for this service, it being the feast of title.
It contained the complete liturgy with all the hymns, along
with a history of the parish. In the pews was the Book of
Common Prayer, the Hymnal 1982, and The Holy
Bible, Revised Standard Version.
What musical instruments were played?
Only the pipe organ was played.
Did anything distract
During the censing of the gospel book, which took place in the
middle of the nave, I couldnít help but enjoy the smell of the
incense, which had a somewhat spicy anise aroma to it. It reminded
me of the black incense that is sometimes used in the Greek
church, although it was not quite as strong.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Definitely high church! Very warm overtones with no stuffiness
or pomposity. There was no deacon or subdeacon, and the lone
server did the best he could. The priest faced the people. The
sequence hymn was "Spirit Divine," no. 510 in the
Hymnal 1982, not the traditional Lauda Sion.
The priest chanted the gospel and other parts of the liturgy
with all the talent that God had given him. There were
bells and smells. During the procession, the server doubled
as the thurifer. All in all, everyone participated as fully
as they could. It was not nosebleed high cathedral worship in
the flesh, but maybe it was in the spirit.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
5 Father Blumer spoke from a very well prepared text.
However, he spoke softly in a very low voice that might put
some people to sleep, especially after a hard dayís work. Maybe
if he had a microphone that could be turned up just a wee bit,
it might have improved his presentation.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
Father Blumer started out by talking about the opening hymn
of the service, "Faith of our Fathers," and noted
several facts about the life of its author, Frederick William
Faber, who was quite an interesting fellow. He discussed the
evolution of faith within the Episcopal Church, which, he said,
now sees itself more as a part of the one holy catholic and
apostolic church, in keeping with the "Faith of our Fathers,"
rather than as just being another Protestant denomination with
its own beliefs. He went on to describe the living faith that
Christ imparted unto the Church from himself after his resurrection,
when he manifested himself to his disciples in a new Body and
was known to them in the breaking of bread. It is this faith
and eucharistic action that has been passed on to us and continues,
even to this day, until the day when the Lord will return.
Which part of the service was like being in
Just before the Corpus Christi procession started, the senior
warden came up to me, wearing his insignia maroon jacket, and
asked me if I would help carry the canopy in the procession.
I was very surprised, since I was a stranger to the congregation,
to be called upon to perform such a duty, which I considered
to be a great honor. During the final part of the procession,
as we were walking toward the high altar, we stopped briefly
to rest. It was then, when I glanced behind me briefly, that
I realized that there was only one gentleman, in the back, carrying
both of the poles of the canopy! It was a good feeling of accomplishment
to know that despite the lack of people needed to fulfill the
necessary roles, stranger and parishioners alike worked together
to make sure that the job got done as grandly as grand could
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the final hymn I started to feel a little anxious, knowing
that I would have to drive through several Paterson neighborhoods
before getting out of town. It was now night, and unfortunately
I donít drive an armor plated tank. But with the grace of God
I made it through the procession, so maybe I could make it through
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As I was leaving, both Father Blumer and his assistant shook
my hand, thanked me for coming, and wished my well.
How would you describe the after-service
There was an after service reception in the undercroft, but
I did not attend. I just wanted to jump in my car, lock my doors,
drive full speed ahead, and get out of Paterson. If I could
make it out alive, then I could live to make it to another service
in this church at another time. Maybe again next year?
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Unfortunately there are many theological and disciplinary
differences that I have with the Episcopal Church that would
prevent me from joining this parish, despite all the things
I share in common. However, I think this is a fine church, and
there are many opportunities to serve where one can be useful
to the parish and to the community.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, it most certainly did.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I will remember the plight of this church, its declining membership
and its overpowering neighborhood. I hope this church will survive,
unlike its namesake, the Church of the Holy Communion in New
York City. That church was sold by the Episcopal Diocese of
New York and was converted into a night club called the Limelight,
which was known as a notorious drug haven before it finally
closed. The building now houses an upscale shopping mall. May
this parish see many more days and years to come.
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