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144: Sunnyside Reformed, New York City
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Sunnyside Reformed Church, Sunnyside, New York
Mystery Worshipper: Nice Jewish Boy.
The church: Sunnyside Reformed Church, Sunnyside, New York.
Denomination: Reformed Church in America, descendants of the original Dutch Reformed Church.
The building: The original church was built in 1896 and apparently was an attractive brick structure. Since then it has been expanded, and the current sanctuary is modern and not nearly as attractive. The carpeting was in serious need of replacement.
The neighbourhood: Sunnyside is one of those great New York City neighborhoods with something for everybody. It's an eclectic mixture of old time blue-collar workers, recent immigrants from Asia and former Manhattanites looking for reasonable rents and some living space. There are some real Irish pubs and great Indian restaurants.
The cast: Rev. Lois Stewart, a guest preacher. The congregation is actively seeking a new minister, and she comes occasionally. Her regular gig is as chaplain at Kennedy Airport, which sounds like a pretty interesting assignment.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Worship.

How full was the building?
A few dozen people were there. The cold weather may have lowered attendance a bit.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Someone said "hello" when I came in.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a fairly comfortable wooden pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty quiet. At one point the choir came out and practised a bit. Most of the people seemed to know each other.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
There was a simple booklet, the United Methodist Hymnal and the Bible. I found a Reformed Church psalter and worship book in the pew, but it was not used during this service.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and piano.

Did anything distract you?

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Informal and friendly – not what I would have expected from Calvinists! The minister, a passionate African-American woman, was quite animated and evangelically-oriented, although not in the "REPENT SINNERS!" manner.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
30 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8. I would have given Rev. Stewart a 9 if she were only a bit more succinct! She gets an 11 for effort and enthusiasm, though.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The importance of holding fast to what God wants from us, even in the face of societal pressures.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
A soloist sang a piece from Handel's Messiah. Wow!

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing, really, except all the empty spaces in the pews.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I said a few words to the minister. It seems like everybody wanted to greet her, so we didn't get a chance to chat much.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I had to run, so I didn't get a chance to sample the food and drink. The coffee sure smelled good, though.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6. I grew up in a rather liberal Catholic/Jewish household, and felt a bit uncomfortable with the evangelical feel of this place. They were sincere and dedicated, but there is something to be said for the contemplative, ritual-oriented approach of the Catholics and Orthodox.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, absolutely. I also was happy to hear the choir do "Be Not Afraid" (a Jesuit hymn). The ecumenical spirit is alive and well.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Rev Stewart's enthusiasm and passion.
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