St Teresa, Woodside, New York

St Teresa, Woodside, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Teresa
Location: Woodside, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 4 March 2018, 10:00am

The building

Built in 1952, the church is a mostly-yellow brick structure. Before that time, mass was held in the basement of a neighboring church, and later in a small chapel some distance away. Today's campus also includes a rectory and what was at one time a parochial school. Inside one finds many modern stained glass windows with pictures of saints, including St Patrick (not surprising, given the ethnic composition of the area at the time the church was built), and many statues, mostly of the Virgin Mary. It being Lent, I thought that there would be more fixtures covered with purple, but all I noted was a large, simple wooden cross with a purple cloth over it. Like in many churches in the area, the high altar almost completely fills a niche in the sanctuary in which it is located. The smaller versus populum altar is on a platform that extends into the seating area. There is a permanent wheelchair ramp on the side of the building, and I noticed a person in the congregation using a wheelchair. I wear hearing aids, and, due to the acoustics in the place, I had to tweak mine for a while in order to be able to hear the priest.

The church

The faith community itself goes back to the 1920s, which is when the area experienced a great period of growth, including an influx of Catholics, many of them Irish. Today St Teresa's serves a very multi-ethnic community. Its parish publications are in both English and Spanish, and it holds masses and other activities in the latter language.

The neighborhood

Woodside is a neighborhood in the borough of Queens, in the City of New York, just about in the geographic center of the borough. Unlike other boroughs, Queens neighborhoods generally include their name in their postal address. As one travels along the Long Island Expressway, one cannot help but notice Calvary Cemetery, one of the oldest and largest in the United States and also one of the busiest. It is where the burial scene of Vito Corleone in The Godfather was filmed; indeed, the earthly remains of several organized crime figures rest here, as do those of numerous politicians. The area immediately surrounding the church campus is quiet and leafy, lined mostly with row houses and apartment buildings housing a mixture of working and middle class people, many immigrants from places ranging from Mexico to Tibet. If one walks a few blocks north, there are many small ethnic stores, as well as signs of gentrification. You can find a small Romanian Orthodox and a Korean church nearby. The larger community is sometimes known as "South of the Boulevard" by locals, to differentiate it from the more affluent section north of Queens Boulevard. However, barriers between the two areas seem to be blurring.

The cast

No names were given for anyone. The music minister who assisted at the mass was not the new person, a woman, mentioned in the church bulletin – he was most definitely a man. The priest was an older gent with white hair. He was assisted by two readers, a music minister, and a eucharistic minister who also made some of the announcements. Sitting in the front row were three women in white robes whose role was not clear to me. Two of them did nothing during the entire service.

What was the name of the service?


How full was the building?

About three-quarters full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

No, but I came in the side entrance.

Was your pew comfortable?

Yes. Standard modern wooden pew. There was a kneeler; however, due to my back condition, I didn't use it.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Fairly chatty. There were quite a few kids.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A set of paperbacks entitled United in Christ. One was a hymnal, the other what is commonly called a "missalette" printed on newsprint and intended for use only for a limited period of time. Both books were bilingual – English and Spanish. I've found these missalettes hard to follow.

What musical instruments were played?

An organ, located in the rear. I could not see the organ console from where I sat, but I believe the unnamed music minister accompanied himself as he sang. He played well and has a good, deep voice. As is typical in Catholic churches in this area, the music minister did just about all of the singing. Many in the congregation did not even look at their hymnals. I believe that this is because English is a second language for so many of them.

Did anything distract you?

As mentioned, the sound system was not optimal for a hearing aid user! I also kept wondering just what those three women in white robes were supposed to do! During communion one of them took some of the remaining elements and brought them to the back of the altar, but none assisted in the Sacrament. A separate eucharistic minister, who did not wear a robe, ministered the bread. We did not receive under the species of wine.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

Reverent but down-to-earth Catholic, in the manner you'll encounter throughout much of the Diocese of Brooklyn. People dressed casually, but took things very seriously.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

8 – The priest projected well and kept things fairly simple, which was appropriate, given the level of English proficiency of many in the pews. He was informal.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The significance of blood in the history of God's relationship with his people. He spoke of the Passover, and ended with the shedding of Christ's blood. (This was a bit ironic, since no wine was ministered with communion.)

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Seeing so many people, of all ages and backgrounds, many who have had hard lives, praying together with great sincerity. During the announcements, the eucharistic minister came up to the pulpit and gave an impassioned plea for everyone to participate in the upcoming blood drive. She spoke of the spirit of giving and sacrifice during Lent, and how Christ himself gave his blood. At the end, people applauded! It was the first time I have ever heard that after announcements in a Catholic church!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

The noise in my hearing aids! Seriously, there are wireless systems for persons who are hard of hearing that many churches use. I wish more would.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

People left very quickly. A Spanish mass was about to begin.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

As we say in Queens, "Are you kiddin'?" That's just not done in Catholic churches 'round here!

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

7 – It's a nice church, but I'd like one with more activities.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

Those three women sitting there.

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