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522: St Thomas, Manhattan, New York City
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St Thomas, NYC
Mystery Worshipper: Corpus Cani.
The church: St Thomas, 5th Avenue, Manhattan, New York City.
Denomination: Episcopalian Church in the USA.
The building: Twentieth century mock Gothic in grey stone. Very large and attractive internally, although maybe the lighting scheme could be re-thought.
The church: Probably one of the wealthiest outside the Vatican.
The neighbourhood: Just down the road from Central Park and the priciest housing in New York. Lots of shops, skyscrapers and tourists by the million – a very affluent area.
The cast: The rector, Rev. Andrew C. Mead and two assistant clergy from a list of four. The vicar of Tewkesbury Abbey, UK, Rev. Canon Michael Tavinor, was preaching. The Choir of the Abbey School, Tewkesbury, were singing and there were hordes of servers mincing.
What was the name of the service?
Festal Eucharist for Low Sunday – a High Mass.

How full was the building?
Fit to burst.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A team of welcomers sporting swanky buttonholes handed out service sheets and greeted us as we entered. I can't honestly say that it was an especially welcoming welcome – I felt rather as if I were there under sufferance and they were being polite because that's the "done thing."

Was your pew comfortable?
A very comfy cushion and hassock, but the pews are quite close together. Tricky for the taller kneeler.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Organ music – half the congregation enjoying a quiet chat, the other half glaring at them disapprovingly.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
A processional hymn for Easter, followed by the collect for purity, recited by the celebrant alone.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed sheet with reference to the Prayer Book and hymns from the standard ECUSA hymnal.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ and the splendid choir.

Did anything distract you?
A heavily pregnant lady walked down the nave before the Gospel and walked back afterwards for no apparent reason. Most puzzling. Also, the thurifer. A coloured gentleman of enormous stature – have never seen a thurible handled by somebody so tall before and he did it very well!

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Suitably smoky, but in that ECUSA way. They do things that they feel they should do, but it feels rather as if that is the only reason they're doing it. "I know, let's cense the altar, that would be novel..." The singing of Haydn's St Nicholas Mass made the service.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
13 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – A perfect blend of sound theology and amusing asides, all delivered clearly and concisely.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A comparison of the massacre in Tewkesbury Abbey in the War of the Roses and the attack on the World Trade Centre last year. Such acts despoil our world but we can overcome the taint of evil by prayer and through grace.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Byrd's Ave Verum during the communion. Simply too exquisitely divine.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Both occasions were due to my desperately trying to suppress hysterics. A hymn to a tune called St Kevin by Sir Arthur Sullivan. I'd never heard it before and could scarcely control my merriment and ending mass with such a ludicrous piece of operetta – it was an absolute scream! Also, the Abbey School chorister who set off in the retiring procession with no hymn book and walked the length of the church holding his hands out as if he were cradling a book, whilst mouthing along to the hymn. What a hoot – he has a great future in comedy!

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Carried along by the crowd to the living room and dining room to join in fellowship at a coffee hour.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
You think I bothered with coffee when there were champagne and bloody Maries on offer?

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – Not living in New York is something of a drawback and the splendid choir was only visiting, although St Thomas does have an excellent choir of its own. I'm sure I'd end up worshipping here when I really ought to find somewhere that I'd find more me.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, but with reservations – this is a thriving Church community whose worship might be spiritually nourishing to those with a different slant on liturgy. I guess I just found the whole thing a bit pretentious.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Champagne before lunch!
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