|352: St Bartholomew's, New York City|
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Mystery Worshipper: Nice Jewish Boy (well, 50 per cent Jewish).
The church: St Bartholomew's, Park Avenue, New York City.
Denomination: Episcopal Church USA.
The building: St Bart's is a fascinating blend of architectural styles that somehow works. In addition to the main church, with its famous dome, the complex includes a chapel and a parish house that houses a variety of activities and services, including a small shelter for the homeless. There is also a restaurant called the Cafe St Bart's.
The church: This church hosts services every day of the year, geared towards the eclectic needs and interests of New Yorkers. It is well known for being "gay-friendly" and open to seekers of all persuasions. Their music program is incredible. In the past St Bart's had a bit of a reputation for snobbishness. But I was pleased to see none of that during my recent visit.
The neighbourhood: The stretch of Park Avenue where St Bart's is located consists chiefly of tall, cold steel and glass skyscrapers inhabited by corporate offices. In the midst of this ugliness even an atheist would appreciate a church.
The cast: Rev. Mary E. Haddad celebrated; Rev. Dacon J.D. Clarke preached; Rev. Jay Sidebotham (vicar) made the announcements.
What was the name of the service?
7.00pm "Come As You Are" Eucharist.
How full was the building?
There were about 80 to 90 people present in a church that holds well over 1,200.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher on the outside steps handed me a program and said, "Welcome to St Bart's."
Was your pew comfortable?
The pew was fairly comfortable, with a comfy cushion. From the offertory on, everybody stood in a circle around the altar.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
I got there just as things were starting, so I missed that.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Pre-printed booklet with readings and song lyrics.
What musical instruments were played?
Piano, upright bass, guitar and drums. The bassist was frequently downright funky. The famous St Bart's organ was also used at one point.
Did anything distract you?
The sound of traffic and sirens outside, as well as (strange as it sounds) Rev. Clarke's right shoulder. More on this in the section on the sermon.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
I have not seen such informality in a worship service since my days as a camp counselor at the height of the Catholic "folk mass" movement. To appreciate the significance of this, please remember that St Bart's has a very High Anglican feel about it, so the contrast was incredible. None of the clergy wore robes (indeed, all were in short sleeves). The music was mostly contemporary praise material, played enthusiastically by the small ensemble. Unfortunately, either most of the congregants did not know the material, or didn't feel in a singing mood.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 Where do I begin? First, he relied heavily upon notes, and paused whenever he turned the pages. But most annoying was how he stood. Rev. Clarke stationed himself near the altar rail and spent most of his time speaking to the people at the altar, with his right shoulder facing the large number of folks in the pews. Now and then he would glance over his shoulder towards us, but would quickly revert to preaching to the choir.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A comment on the Gospel reading, comparing Christian outreach to farming. It was not well put together. He also spent a lot of time listing all the activities which St Bart's offers which would have been better saved for the announcements section. I have a hunch that Rev. Clarke is new to preaching, and trust that he will polish his technique with practice.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beauty of the church and the enthusiasm of some of the youth group members.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was no Old Testement reading or epistle. If the church is serious about reaching out to all people, they should not exclude readings from the same scriptures which Jesus read. Also, some of those "praise" song lyrics were... uh... a bit hokey.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
A few people said hello.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Decent coffee, with some desserts. The coffee hour was held in the sanctuary itself.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 This evening service has possibilities, especially for young people. I would probably alternate it with the more traditional morning services.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. But if I had brought some non-Christian friends I might have been embarrassed by some of the hymn lyrics, such as, "Oh, Jesus, come and fill your lambs." Huh?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The last line in the booklet, which read: "The worship is over. The service begins."