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624: The Church of the Ascension, New York City
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The Church of the Ascension, Fifth Avenue at Tenth Street, New York, New York
Mystery Worshipper: Sumlit.
The church: The Church of the Ascension, New York City.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: One of the earliest churches designed by English-born architect Richard Upjohn. Built in 1840-41, this 19th century American Gothic stone church was the first church built on Fifth Avenue. The painting of The Ascension of Our Lord above the main altar is the work of John La Farge and dominates the interior.
The church: The parish is diverse and ministers to not only its members but also to the neighboring community through its cooperation with other parishes in the soup kitchen. It has a campus ministry at New York University to its south.
The neighbourhood: Greenwich Village in lower Manhattan was once known as an artists' colony. It now has a varied and interesting cosmopolitan mix and is a very pleasant neighborhood. If I were to live in the city, this is one place to consider at the top of the list.
The cast: Rev. Andrew Foster, Rector, Celebrant; Rev. Winnie Vargese, Deacon; Rev. J. Barrington, Curate, Preacher; Dr. Dennis Keene, Organist; two unnamed acolytes.
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist Rite II of the Holy Angels.

How full was the building?
About one-third full. But remember that this was a mid-week worship – not the regular Sunday morning worship.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
As we arrived at the door, the rector was warmly greeting the arriving worshippers with a welcome, a smile, and a handshake. Quite unlike many places' welcomes. All the while the tower bells were pealing their welcome. As we listened through the open door, we could hear the organ voluntary in the distance.

Was your pew comfortable?
It was a box pew, comfortable and the kneelers were adequate. An usher seated us, handed us the order of service, and closed the door of the pew.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
The congregation was enraptured by the organist's playing of the Durufle Variations on "Veni Creator". They also remained in their pews for the voluntary after the eucharist. Musical fireworks!

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Hymnal, Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?

Did anything distract you?
The sirens of police or fire vehicles going down Fifth Avenue – just a part of being in New York.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Relaxed, but very well prepared, not fussy, but that well defined Anglican "decently and in order".

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – If all preachers could preach as Father Bates did, churches would be packed. If I could have given a higher number than 10, I would have.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Angels are the mesengers of God and we must listen to them. They do not always appear to us as we might expect.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Really the entirety of the service. The congregational singing of the hymns was wonderful, and participation was hearty without being overbearing. Just a wonderful service.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a bit of trouble with the microphones and speakers. The traffic noise which is simply unavoidable in New York.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, the rector gave a short overview of the history of the parish, including a description of some of the outstanding architectural features of the building. The organist then gave a thoroughly wonderful talk about the long and outstanding musical tradition at the Ascension.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Since it was the Fall Open House for the church club on New York, there was a party in the parish hall. The food and drink were both ample and delicious. Members of the Ascension warmly greeted and conversed with church club members. The president of the church club thanked all from the Ascension who had contributed to this wonderful evening.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 – No doubt about it if I were a resident of New York.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Most definitely! And it made me glad to be among so many others who seemed to feel the same way.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The joy of worshipping in a community which took worship seriously and did it joyfully. I shall also remember the enthusiasm with which the clergy sang the hymns.
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