|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.
|2257: St Andrew's,
New York City
© Lukascb and used under license
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
St Andrew's, New York City.
of New York. The church is staffed by priests of the Congregation
of the Blessed Sacrament.
Dating from 1939, replacing an earlier 1819 structure, it is
the only building in New York City by the famous Boston firm
Maginnis & Walsh, who designed the National Shrine of the Immaculate
Conception in Washington, DC, as well as St Catherine of Genoa,
Somerville, Massachusetts (perhaps their masterpiece). St Andrew's
is one of the best examples of Colonial Revival architecture
in the city. It is pleasingly proportioned, with the facade
flanked by statues of St Andrew and St Peter, and a trio of
high-relief angels above the portico. I did have a chuckle to
find that the statues had been wired with electricity to ward
off pigeons. The interior is very, very interesting, as most
of the ground floor and much of the second floor gallery are
paneled in mahogany, as if it were an ecclesiastical Art Deco
ocean liner. A very "serious" interior – imposing, if
not a little somber. There is an enormous intricately carved
mahogany baldacchino over the altar, and the ornate altar rails
survive Vatican II. A life-size crucifix with Corpus stands
in place of the reredos.
St Andrew's is the church of the law courts, as it is flanked
on three sides by judicial buildings: City Hall, the New York
City Police Department headquarters, the US Attorney's office,
the Thurgood Marshal Federal Court Building, and the New York
State Supreme Court. It carries on an active weekday ministry,
with three masses throughout the day, eucharistic adoration,
the rosary said twice daily, and three masses on Sunday. The
church has been staffed by the Blessed Sacrament Fathers continuously
This is Foley Square, instantly recognizable by anyone who has
watched the TV series Law & Order in its many incarnations,
as it features prominently in almost every episode. Foley Square
replaced the notorious slum Five Points at the turn of the 20th
century, an effort spearheaded by the pioneer social reformer
Jacob Riis. It has been reshaped over the years, with the most
recent renovation in the early 1990s, which led to the discovery
of what has become the African Burial Ground National Monument.
Historians argue that as many as 20,000 people of color were
buried at the site, and it is one of the largest urban archaeological
projects in the US.
The Revd James Hayes, SSS, celebrant. There was an unnamed acolyte/reader
The date & time:
October 9, 2011, 12:00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church could have held many, many more people than the 45
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, surprisingly so, since it was an uncushioned wooden pew
with a kneeler. The angle of the back was just right, which
made it very sittable. Not that I wanted to linger – read on!
I must also add that the original mahogany pews are really beautiful.
How would you describe the pre-service
The guitarist was practicing something jazzy a la "The Girl
from Ipanema" sotto voce, so there was the element of a hotel
cocktail lounge. Sadly, this jazzy piece wasn't played during
the service. There was also a pregnant woman in the pew directly
in front of me taking big, noisy, swigs from a Diet Coke, which
seemed wrong for a variety of reasons. And she continued to
drink throughout the service.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Thank you for coming" repeated three times.
What books did the congregation use during the
Word & Song.
What musical instruments
Guitar, with a trio of singers. A pipe organ, an opus of Ernest
M. Skinner & Son dating from 1939, has been unplayable for
years. The mass setting was 1970s singing nun style.
Did anything distract
Oh, so many distractions! Where to begin? Besides the woman
drinking Diet Coke, I found my eye drawn constantly to the baldacchino
It was really monumental and grand. But I also couldn't stop
myself from looking at the gallery. Someone had decided to hammer
a row of six (three on each side) white plastic desk fans into
the mahogany wainscoting of the second-floor gallery, which
not only looked ghastly, but have rendered this otherwise priceless
woodwork worthless. Also, as it turned out, the triple greeting
mentioned above was not the only thing said in threes –
the celebrant made such a habit of it that I began to anticipate
his triplets and was not disappointed.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Happy clappy, I suppose, but sort of hard to say. My friend
who attended with me rather ungenerously but accurately described
it as "happy cracky." As the altar party processed in, the celebrant
"high fived" people he recognized. During the responsorial psalm,
he tapped the altar in time to the music. At the consecration,
he called everyone up from their seats to the altar. During
the peace, he insisted that everyone introduce themselves and
give a two sentence bio of what they felt was critical for everyone
to know about them.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
2 While "Father Jim" (as he insisted he be
called) definitely gets points for knowing everyone in the congregation,
his delivery of the sermon was very much like the conduct of
the rest of the mass: a bit wild, very high-energy, and individual.
He delivered his sermon from the floor in a call-and-response
fashion, asking questions of members of the congregation as
a way to illustrate his points. It sometimes took several rounds
of questions to get the response he was looking for, and it
was very clear that it was extemporaneous.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
He was attempting to flesh out Matthew 22:1-14, the parable
of the wedding banquet, but he glossed over the line, "Many
are called, but few are chosen," choosing instead to focus on
the "Many are called" part. He argued that God calls
us in many different ways, and that through training and dedication
we can hone our calling into a vocation. It is this discipline
that brings us closer to God.
Which part of the service was like being in
Oh gosh, I really hope heaven is nothing like this!
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Much like the processional, the recessional turned into an extended
meet and greet – that is, until Father Jim got to our
pew, where he stopped and glared at us for what seemed an eternity
but was probably only a minute. I'm not sure what that was about,
but it seemed threatening. I did wonder if he was going to hit
me. And afterward my friend told me she thought the same thing!
Was it because we chose to stay in our seats and not gather
around the altar for communion? I sort of think it was.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
At the end of the mass, but before the dismissal, instead of
announcements, Father Jim exhorted us to "Bundle up! Bundle
up! Bundle up!" as "Indian Summer will not last throughout the
week" and it is "important to be prepared for the worst." We
were eager to flee as quickly as possible. The priest refused
to greet us on the way out, ignoring us as we said good-bye.
Not that we were itching for an introduction. It hastened our
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
There wasn't one, and I'm kind of bummed there wasn't. If the
mass was any indication, I imagine the coffee hour would be
utterly Loony Tunes too.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 Hell would have to have a very, very hard freeze.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
No, but it did give me a greater appreciation for a thoughtful,
reasoned approach to liturgy.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
"Bundle up!" has been my earworm, and I just can't get it out
of my head.
|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.