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2981: Holy Trinity, New York City
Holy Trinity, New York (Exterior)
Mystery Worshipper: Procopius.
The church: Holy Trinity, New York City.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York.
The building: A Victorian Gothic masterpiece. It was built of terra cotta at a time when that material was just becoming popular. The tower is topped by a veritable crowd of terra cotta sculpture: finials, fleurs de lis, gables, turrets, and 15 gargoyles. Intriguingly, for New York City, the church has a fair amount of land, with a fenced in yard and a few buildings on the land. The inside is warm but a little dark, but with some bright stained glass throughout and especially up at the altar. The windows, by the English Victorian designer Henry Holiday, depict various members of the Rhinelander family, who gave the land for the church. The windows are the only complete set of Holiday windows in existence, and even so, the west window is actually the work of his daughter, who completed it after her father's death using his designs. A set of icons of the Passion of Christ had been set up around the church for the Lenten season.
The church: Their ministries are well described on their website and include adult spiritual formation, children's Sunday school, a peace and restorative justice ministry, and cursillo, among others. They sponsor the Triangle Theater, which produces staged readings and full productions of classic and contemporary plays. They have weekday morning prayer plus three Sunday eucharists, including a contemporary service in the evening.
The neighborhood: This church is on East 88th Street between First and Second Avenues in the Yorkville district of Manhattan's Upper East Side. The congregation reflects the community surrounding it: a diverse group of people – some young, some old, many small children, different races and ethnicities.
The cast: The rector, the Revd John F. Beddingfield, who is brand new to the church, led the service.
The date & time: Second Sunday in Lent, February 21, 2016, 10.30am.

What was the name of the service?
Choral Eucharist, Rite II.

How full was the building?
Fairly empty at the beginning of the service, but people trickled in and by the sermon it was probably about two-thirds full. Few people were dressed up – most were wearing nice but weekend casual clothes.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. During the peace everyone moved around to greet everyone else. The woman behind me was very friendly, exclaiming how cold it was in the church even on such a warm day. After the service, one man stopped to welcome me and encourage me to come to the new member events.

Was your pew comfortable?
I had the pew to myself – it was cushioned and comfortable, but I was especially impressed by the sturdy leather cushions for kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A few people in the back were chatting quietly when I came in, and acolytes were preparing the altar, but for the most part the building was fairly quiet. Some people were praying toward the front, but for the most part people were trickling in before the service up through the gospel.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Because it was the second Sunday in Lent, we recited part of the Great Litany at the beginning. The priest began, "O God the Father, creator of heaven and earth," and the congregation replied, "Have mercy upon us" after each address.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the Hymnal 1982 and the Prayer Book 1979 (through the service leaflet) were used. In addition, there were also Lift Every Voice and Sing in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ was used for the service along with a choir. According to the church website, this is a Rieger and Schlicker pipe organ and the church seems very proud of it. It seems that music is very important to this congregation.

Did anything distract you?
It was so cold in church – even with my jacket on! It was an exceptionally warm February day but still the church was freezing! In addition, there is one part of the church that, rather than pews, has a rug, rocking chair and some toys for children to play with while their parents worship. One little boy was babbling throughout the service, running around with a play stroller with loud wheels on the hard, tiled floor. I think it is important to have children in church, and I think it is fine to have toys available to keep children busy during the service; however, I thought this was a particularly disruptive toy to have.

Holy Trinity, New York (Window)

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The worship at this church was fairly broad church – neither high nor low, although I think perhaps looking toward becoming more high church. Rite II, but traditional. We sang traditional Anglican hymns, but the choir also sang the African-American spiritual “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” This seems like a fairly casual congregation – earnest in their worship.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – I enjoyed the rector
's style – fairly casual but still organized, going from something he had written up. I appreciated the stories he used to make his points, connecting them back to what we had heard in the readings.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
“Thanks be to God for the gift of choosing” is a good way to sum up the sermon. The city of Jerusalem chose to side against God, but Jesus chose to stay and finish his work. In Lent, we all have the choice to follow Christ or not. God chose us, and the choice we make is not which god we will worship, but how we are going to accept God’s grace and light.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The choir, especially during the offertory and psalm, were really great. I really loved their “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” The rector pointed out that during Lent, icons depicting the Passion of Christ would be up on the walls in the aisles surrounding the church. I think this is a great way to point toward heaven and to contemplate the Christian narrative. The church should consider keeping icons up all year round!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
During the first reading, I heard a crashing noise, and then, during the announcements, the rector apologized and said a piece of plaster had fallen out of the ceiling! But this was not so much reminiscent of “the other place" as of the Apocalypse – “There shall not be left here one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down.” Perhaps a good thing to keep in mind for Lent. Additionally, while I thought Holy Trinity was a beautiful building, I thought the contemporary altar vestments did not fit the setting, adding disjunction in the decorative program of the church. Likewise, I was taken a back that the eucharistic wine was a Sauternes-type gold colored wine. I have never experienced non-red wine at church before, and I thought it took away from the power of the eucharist.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A member of the congregation came up to me right after the service to talk to me about being a newcomer to the church. He was very kind and interested in who I was as well.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I followed some other parishioners over to the parish hall only to find that we were locked out of the after-service coffee! A small crowd gathered while one woman went to see if we could be let in! Eventually the doors opened and there was typical coffee and some small baked goods out for everyone.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – I don't live here, but it's a beautiful church and I found the worship experience reverential and meaningful.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, with the exception of a few hiccups in the eucharist and church building, I felt like this was a community wanting to come together to worship and love each other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The friendliness of the congregation and music, but also the white wine at communion!

 
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