|185: St Paul's, Rochester, New York|
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Mystery Worshipper: Judith.
The church: St Paul's, Rochester, New York.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Yellowish stone, a sort of plain Gothic, built in 1897. The interior is well-proportioned and pleasant, with a lovely mosaic reredos and some glorious Tiffany stained-glass windows. The window of the Good Samaritan was particularly affecting, showing a Christ-like figure embracing a bruised and nearly unconscious man; the effect is of great love, almost but not quite erotic. The windows seem to have been installed in two waves: the Tiffany windows from around 1900, and medieval-style windows by Connick Brothers from 1957 and later. Bright blue needlepoint kneelers make for a Compleat Episcopalian experience.
The neighbourhood: This is one of the fanciest neighborhoods Rochester has to offer. The church sits amid large, elegant houses built in the late 19th century, with colorful gardens and well-kept lawns. Across the street is a museum that was formerly the home of George Eastman (as in "Eastman Kodak"). Mr Eastman worshipped at the church and today parishioners use the museum's parking lot on Sundays. More distant structures include other churches and a synagogue, a science museum, an art museum, some darling shops and restaurants, and the University of Rochester. Not too shabby, believe me.
The cast: Associate Rector Rev Sandra C. Arington, celebrant. Rev Frederic W. Reynolds, the Rector, preacher.
What was the name of the service?
The Third Sunday of Easter, Holy Eucharist, Rite II, 10:00 am.
How full was the building?
About half-full between 150 and 200 people, by my guess.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Oh, yes. A gentleman with the intriguing name of "Dan Radio" handed me a program with a cheerful greeting. He then helped me find a restroom, which is about as personal as I care to get on first acquaintance.
Was your pew comfortable?
Reasonably so, though I got twitchy towards the end.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Chatty and social, though they quieted down a bit during the prelude.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Alleluia! Christ is risen!"
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Book of Common Prayer, hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, and played well.
Did anything distract you?
Not really, though I enjoyed looking at the windows.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Straight up and low down, in the best American Rite II tradition. No surprises. Well, the Gloria, but more on that later.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9. It would be a 10, but there's a point taken away for not going far enough with an interesting line of thought.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We are the only religion that believes in the resurrection of the body. Indeed, the day's Gospel makes it clear that Christ went to great trouble to prove he had a physical body and was not a ghost. But we have drifted away from the concept of a unity of body and spirit towards a duality that the spirit and body are separate. We forget there is a type of wisdom the body has that we need. Thus we must remain open to the miracles of the resurrected body.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Walking through the choir during communion I was surrounded by angelic voices singing a favorite hymn.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Oh dear. I suppose if I were a parish member the announcements would have seemed far more interesting than they were, but as it was there did seem to be a great many more of them than might have been strictly necessary.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I didn't hang around looking lost, I hung around listening to the postlude, along with the choir and a number of other parishioners. Daniel Harrington, the assistant organist, played J.S. Bach's "Toccata and Fugue in D Minor" brilliantly. It was well worth listening to, believe me, and we all burst into spontaneous applause when he finished. If he's just the assistant, the first-string player must have three hands.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Aimed more at nourishing the spirit than the body. Well, OK, pathetic. Just coffee, punch, and a small plate of strange-looking cookies by the time I got there. It was a rather warm day, around 75F (24C for those of you to the north and Across the Pond), so I had a glass of ordinary red Hawaiian-style punch. I noticed it was over quickly, no doubt because of the lack of hors d'ouevres at lunchtime.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10, if they'd allow me to bring more food to the coffee hour. It would also depend if I could get used to the Gloria.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, except for the Gloria and other service music, which apparently was composed by the choirmaster or someone else in the congregation (hand-written music sheets were pasted inside the front cover of the BCP). Rochester has a very fine music school, courtesy of Mr Eastman, so I expect the city has more composers than it can comfortably absorb and this was one of their products.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Mr Radio's cheerful assistance!