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|2518: St Johnís,
Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA
St Johnís, Cold Spring Harbor, New York, USA.
The Episcopal Church, Diocese of Long Island.
The building: The
building is a Federal-style, white clapboard church of the almost
iconic New England variety a simple box with a small
bell tower, two rooms deep. It was originally a family chapel,
the family being that of one Major Thomas Jones, a Northern
Irish immigrant to colonial America who acquired immense wealth
and power (Jones Beach, a popular summer recreation spot on
the south shore of the island, is named after him). The small
porch-like narthex opens to a larger sanctuary, with windows
and doors arranged in strict symmetry. The six windows that
flank the sanctuary are Palladian and all are memorials to various
members of the Jones family. Three of the windows sport mid
to early-Victorian stained glass; the other three are Tiffany
and among the most spectacular I have ever seen. The interior
is very bright and white, with symmetrical white and black pews
relieved by brightly colored cushions. Marble memorials to even
more members of the Jones family dot the sanctuary walls and
are its only decoration. The building, both inside and out,
looks to have had a very recent renovation, which I found to
be incredibly sensitive, modifying the original 1835 building
much in the spirit of the Federal style. A nearby rectory, formerly
the colonial farmhouse of the wait for it Jones
family, dates from the early 18th century.
The church: Family
chapels are rare in American church history, but such was the
case with St Johnís. Not a family church any longer (indeed,
none of the congregation's 400 or so families is named Jones),
it now has a very active ministry in the community, much of
which is detailed on their website. One thing I found unique
is the churchís farm project. They have a large, dedicated plot
of land where they are growing produce to be given away to the
needy. Last year they gave away more than 300 pounds of freshly
The neighborhood: The
hamlet of Cold Spring Harbor (not to be confused with Cold Spring,
which is a village in upstate New York) sits on the north shore
of Long Island, about 30 miles east of New York City. It was
named for the naturally occurring fresh water springs that dot
the area. The surrounding environs drip money and prestige like
caves drip lime water. Unlike most of Long Island, the area
features rolling hills and woodland, which made it attractive
to New Yorkís wealthiest citizens for summer estates. With the
arrival of the railroads, robber barons and industrialists built
summer homes in the area. The estate of Louis Comfort Tiffany,
famed Art-Noveau designer of stained glass windows and lamps,
glass mosaics, blown glass, ceramics and jewelry, was nearby.
The local cemetery was laid out by Frederick Law Olmstead, the
architect of New York Cityís Central Park. The Cold Spring Harbor
Laboratory, headed by James Watson, the co-discoverer of the
structure of DNA, has 40 buildings on 95 acres of the western
shore of the harbor. Established originally as the Carnegie
Institution of Washington in the 19th century, the laboratory
was in the vanguard of the wholly discredited eugenics movement.
The lab has since apologized for its past and is currently a
leader in genetic and cancer research and is the areaís largest
employer. The church sits at the top of a small hill, next to
an enormous pond, in an incredibly picturesque setting.
The cast: The
Revd David Ware, rector, officiated; The Revd Luke Fodor, curate,
The date & time: Third
Sunday in Lent, March 3, 2013, 10.00am.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist: Rite II.
How full was the building?
Practically heaving. The sanctuary was totally full, and from
what we could hear, the balcony above us was too. We estimated
that there were more than 130 present, which quite filled up
the small space.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No. An usher handed us service leaflets when we arrived, but didnít speak to us.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, surprisingly so, since older churches donít usually accommodate modern, larger derrieres. The pews have black bands on top of a white base and all of the books in the pews were bound in black. My friend pointed out how striking they looked against the black and white pews. This did strike us as purposeful; someone must have thought about how books and pews were more than just seats and texts, but could function as a real architectural and decorative feature.
How would you describe the pre-service
This was a crowd that had a lot to say to each other. It was pretty loud. We were also struck at how attractive everyone was young and old. It was as if we were plopped in the middle of an advertisement for Ralph Lauren come to life.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."
What books did the congregation use during the
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal 1982
were in the pews and both books were used during the service.
A service leaflet provided only the order, text of the collect
of the day, and readings. Iíve gotten so used to having everything
printed out, it was nice to actually go back to the Prayer Book.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and small choir. There was one bass/baritone with an exceptional
voice who definitely made sure he was heard! The organist struggled
a bit on the Bach postlude, but for non-professionals, the choir
did a bang-up job on the communion anthem, Adoramus Te, Christe
by Jacobus Clemens non Papa.
Did anything distract you?
I was trying to figure out where the old ended and the new began on the renovation. It was very well done, integrated almost seamlessly, so it was well nigh impossible. I was very impressed with how thoughtfully it had been achieved.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Perhaps dignified simplicity says it best. And it made me more
than a little nostalgic, as it was a style of worship that I
thought had entirely disappeared, and very like what I remember
from my youth growing up in the Deep South (even down to the
confusion over when to sit, stand and kneel!). The priests wore
simple albs and stoles. No smells, bells or reverencing of any
kind. The doxology was sung to Old Hundredth and the
hymn at the dismissal was "Lord dismiss us with thy blessing"
(which I am betting is the same every week, as it was in my
church growing up). Children were dismissed to Sunday school
at the beginning of the sermon, with the preacher offering up
a short mini-sermon to the children before they left. Communion
was received kneeling at the rail. Everyone sang and looked
to be engaged in the service, and that was nice to see.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 The sermon was excellent well reasoned with
an interesting take on the dayís readings and the delivery
was equally good. The Revd Mr Fodor, who looks like the comedian
and political satirist Stephen Colbert, had to have been speaking
from notes, but his delivery was so polished it appeared to
be off-the-cuff. He was also very enthusiastic. and both my
friend and I found his enthusiasm infectious. You could tell
he was having a good time. My only complaint was that he sometimes
spoke a little too quickly for us, and both my friend and I
mistook something he said that led to some head scratching,
until we hashed it out together after the service.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
His text was the reading for the day, Luke 13:1-9, the parable
of the barren fig tree. He began with a story about a leopard
who was envious of the neighborhoodís best garden, which belonged
to a rabbit. The rabbit credited his success to a "family
secret" and reluctantly agreed to share it with the leopard.
And he promptly did so, in the form of a wheelbarrow full of
the, erm, "family secret" all ready to be spread around.
(He was speaking quickly and both my friend and I heard "leper"
rather than "leopard". And for the life of me I couldnít
figure out why a leper was having an anthropomorphic discussion
on gardening with a rabbit.) He then got to the meat of his
argument, filling in different ways to look at the parable,
arguing that it raises more questions than it answers. He thought
that the ambiguity was a way to ask us to examine ourselves
and our work. Are we like the fig tree that takes up space,
not producing or producing not enough? What could be our "family
secret", to make us more productive? And what are we actually
producing? Do we give back enough to our community? He then
tied this to the various outreaches of the church, especially
the gardening project to feed the hungry.
Which part of the service was like being in
Lots and lots, to be honest. The enthusiastic preaching and active participation were nice. It was also good how nostalgic the service made me feel. There is also one Tiffany window of an angel holding a bouquet of Easter lilies that is sublime, and my eye went back to her repeatedly.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I wouldnít say it was the warmest welcome Iíve ever received.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
We didnít have time to look lost. Everyone sat quietly until
the postlude was over. The moment it finished, a young lad of,
Iíd say, seven or eight years of age started singing God
Bless America at the top of his lungs. He only managed to
get out the first few bars before his horrified mother stifled
him. He was obviously delighted with his mischief, and my friend
and I were too. Then a very formidable society matron sitting
in the pew in front of us turned around, as a battleship turns
around in the water to face down an enemy frigate, and offered
a very formal how-do-you-do, asking where we were from. She
directed us to the coffee hour in the parish hall.
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
The coffee hour was actually a bit of a zoo, with kids running
around at play. But the coffee was hot and strong and there
was an assortment of cookies and homemade muffins on offer.
Nobody engaged us, and we wandered around for a bit before deciding
to head on back to our train.
How would you feel about
making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I donít live in the area, so itís not a real possibility.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The young boy singing God Bless America.
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