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446: Christ Church United Methodist, New York City
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Christ Church United Methodist, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: Broker.
The church: Christ Church United Methodist, Park Avenue and 60th Street, New York City.
Denomination: United Methodist.
The building: Beautiful Orthodox-style church building with a lovely rose stained glass window in front. Inside the Orthodox motif continued with beautiful mosaics. Two features particuliarly struck me as perhaps unique in American Methodism. First, behind the platform and altar was a lovely choir screen. No Methodist choir, in my experience, would let itself be cut off from the congregation by a screen. Second, above the choir screen on the back wall was a half dome without the typical cross, but rather a mosaic in the Orthodox style of Christ seated on his throne in glory, presumably judging the quick and the dead.
The church: Given the location, and judging from the building and the congregation, this church has money.
The neighbourhood: Christ Church (as they call themselves, minimizing the United Methodist) has a prime location in the most famous and wealthiest urban neighborhood in America – the upper east side of Manhattan.
The cast: Rev. Javier A. Viera.
What was the name of the service?
9.00am Worship Service.

How full was the building?
The service was held in a side chapel. There were 20 in the congregation, of whom at least four were on the church staff.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
We were not greeted before the service, but just picked up the bulletin and sat down.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. We sat in chairs, not in the pews.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
"Quiet and reverential" is a close description. It was alright, but I was a little surprised by the lack of greetings and conversation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Grace and peace to you."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The service was contained in the bulletin, except for the hymns which were found in the Methodist Hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
I was distracted by my chagrin when I figured out that the service I was attending was not a standard one hour service, but rather a short form communion service. I thought that a church in this location would need two regular worship services on the second Sunday of Advent. I also kept wondering if the preacher ever preached a series of sermons on the most prominent image in the church – Christ in judgment, separating the sheep from the goats. It would really be an unusual Methodist church if he did.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
This Methodist church struck me as an Episcopalian wantabee operation – very high church, formal, liturgistic. When we "passed the peace," whispering to each other, I knew that this church is the opposite of "happy clappy".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
The service was a short form communion service. The homily lasted seven minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – The celebrant was the associate minister, a young man who looked like he just graduated from high school, except for his robe which lent him a dignity beyond his years. His short homily was excellent and well done. I would have liked to have heard him deliver the standard 20 minute sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He described a recent trip to several book stores looking for a book as a gift for his young nephews, which would describe in language appropriate for children the real story of Christmas. He found excellent books for children describing Kwanzaa and Hanukkah, but no good one about Christmas. He then briefly summarized the story of Christmas and said that we needed to share it better.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I liked the sermon a lot. The singing in that space with two or three of their music staff in the congregation was wonderful.

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

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service we were approached by a gentleman who greeted us. He turned out to be the senior minister. We had a nice, if brief, conversation.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
After the conversation with the senior minister, we left to get about our business of tourism.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Christ Church has a magnificant structure. The acoustics in the building are wonderful. The choir (which we heard in a later program) is superb. Their high church style isn't me, but I could live with it.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The preacher's homily and that image of Christ on his throne in judgment.
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