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569: St Mary the Virgin, New York City
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St Mary the Virgin, New York
Mystery Worshipper: nobleoz.
The church: St Mary the Virgin, Times Square, New York City.
Denomination: Episcopalian.
The building: This is the famous "Smoky Mary's". It is a huge and beautiful French Gothic church, with a high ceiling painted blue with stars. The church was restored in the 1990s.
The church: This used to be the flagship Anglo-catholic church in the USA. They still present high standard liturgy, but the congregation does not reflect the Times Square neighbourhood that it used to.
The neighbourhood: Right on Times Square.
The cast: Officiant: Fr Ross Smith, an assistant priest. Preacher: Fr Matthew Weiler, the curate.
What was the name of the service?
Evensong and Benediction for the 7th Sunday of Eastertide.

How full was the building?
Only 19 persons in a building that holds over 500. I gather this service has been experimental since Epiphany, and will not continue into the summer.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
I had to get attention from the usher. He then smiled and gave me the service-sheet, without saying a word.

Was your pew comfortable?
Quite okay. The kneeler was a bit hard.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverent. A woman chatted to someone she knew as she walked down the aisle

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"O Queen of Heaven be joyful." The service began with the Regina Coeli – but the words were not the version I knew.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Everything, including plainsong music, was in the service-sheet.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ. It didn't seem to be the main organ.

Did anything distract you?
A very good-looking woman sang quite loudly in front of me. This made it difficult for me to sing, as I was having trouble getting the tunes. I was also distracted by a number of tourists wandering around the church, having no thought that a service was taking place.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
High and dry Anglo-Catholic. I found the music unfamiliar and impossible to sing – even though I regularly attend this service in other churches. The ceremonial was correct, but seemed a bit remote to us plebs in the pews.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
18 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
3 – He preached a typical seminarian-type sermon – lots of facts and references to himself. It was far too long for the small congregation, and the type of service.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
He began by referring to how difficult the book of Revelation was. We then got a tour of the whole book, with lots of explanations, but not much theologising of the meaning. Some points were okay – but it was not very cohesive.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The organ music was excellent. And the beautiful sanctuary was stunning when set up for Benediction.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The wandering tourists. I couldn't understand why someone didn't ask them to stay at the back or join in the service. I also found the hymn tunes frustrating – none were familiar, especially at Benediction. Why can't they follow the English custom of using familiar tunes for the two hymns?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
No-one attempted to speak to me. Two clergy at the door were not interested in saying more than "Good evening." Because the service went far longer than I expected I left after a minute.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none. A pity, as it would have made venturing out to the service worth-while.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
2 – There are other Anglo-Catholic churches in NYC that have good music, without the formal stiff-upper-lip of Smoky Mary's.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Not really. It was more an ordeal than worship.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
How beautiful the restored St Mary's is.
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