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705: Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York
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Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York
Mystery Worshipper: Ralegh.
The church: Cathedral of the Incarnation, Garden City, New York.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA
The building: The cathedral is an imposing building: black with a high main tower and dozens of finials on the tower and along the roof. It is a classic example of Gothic architecture, built in 1876 as a memorial to Alexander Stewart, the founder of Garden City. The cathedral is listed on the National and New York Registers of Historic Places.
The church: The church is the cathedral of the Diocese of Long Island. It operates a nursery school and describes itself as family-friendly. The service I attended was apparently the service for families, as the children did the readings and the prayers of the people, as well as participating in the sermon.
The neighbourhood: Garden City is a planned community founded by Alexander Stewart in 1869. The centerpiece is the Garden City Hotel, a grand hotel built by Stewart, topped by a cupola visible throughout the city. This is a generally well-to-do community, very pretty and well-maintained.
The cast: Rev. Clevenger filled in for the bishop. Sermon: Ruth-Ann Collins. Deacon: Rev. Rose Marie Martino. Organist: Lawrence M. Tremsky. Someone also provided sign language interpretation for the deaf.
What was the name of the service?
Holy Eucharist, Rite 2.

How full was the building?
I'd say about 40 per cent full. Every pew seemed to have people with a fair amount of space between each group.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A man standing at the door said, "Welcome." Then a woman was standing in the narthex, and she handed me a service pamphlet and smiled.

Was your pew comfortable?
Simple wooden pew, but with comfy cushions on the seat. Individual kneelers, which, as my companion pointed out, were double cushions. No complaints here.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and reverential. This was a Family Eucharist, so there were a few children wandering about, but they were pretty well behaved.

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?
The pamphlet provided directions to proper pages of the Book of Common Prayer and the 1982 Hymnal. I spent a lot of time shifting from book to pamphlet to book and back.

What musical instruments were played?
A large pipe organ.

Did anything distract you?
A few breakouts of crying from babies scattered about the church. The children of the vacation Bible school were wearing homemade togas, which I didn't recognize as such at first, so I spent some time trying to figure out just what they were wearing and why.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very formal, with a large procession including crucifer, torchbearers, the choir, and various official-looking folk. No incense, but otherwise generally ritualistic and serious. Except for the sermon.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
8 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Ruth-Ann Collins, who gave the sermon, is the director of Christian formation and youth ministry for the cathedral. She brought up the Bible school and conducted the sermon as a question-and-answer lesson with the children. She managed to go from working with the children to speaking with the congregation quite smoothly.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
We make choices all of the time, and one is whether to follow Christ. Once Christ returned to heaven, the disciples had the same choice. They chose to continue to live according to Christ's teachings even though he was no longer with them. Jesus has promised us eternal life, but only if we believe in him.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
I have always enjoyed the singing of the Lord's Prayer during the eucharist service. There was something about the acoutistics of the cathedral's vaulted ceiling that made me feel the sound was lifting me heavenwards.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
I'm going to sound particularly curmudgeonly here, but I'll say it anyway. While it is always a pleasure to have children in church, in this service the children did the readings and the prayers of the people. The first lesson (Joshua 24:1-2a; 14-25) was particularly long, and the reader was having difficulties. As he struggled on, all sense and meaning were lost, and I became concerned solely with his coming to the conclusion. The second lesson went a bit smoother, as it was shorter and the reader was a bit more confident. The prayers of the people also proved difficult for its reader. The children sang beautifully at the end of the sermon, but I would appreciate having adults or strong readers handling the lessons.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The celebrant shook my hand warmly as I made my way to the back of the church. I stood about for five minutes, trying my best to look lost, but no one else came up to me. I eventually found my own way to the coffee, which was outside on this beautiful day.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, but juice and ice tea were served, along with lots of cake, fruit and cookies. Really an impressive spread. This was all held on the lawn where there were chairs set up in a half circle surrounding the Bible school group, which was going to host some sort of festival. Tents were scattered about the grounds. The invitation, tucked within the service pamphlet, indicated that this area was a recreation of "Jerusalem City." I had people waiting, however, so I left before the festival began.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 – The service style was a reasonable fit with me (although I do prefer Rite 1), but I think I'd go to a service other than the family service most Sundays, being a curmudgeon without children. I was also a bit put off by the fact that no one came up to me after the service or at the coffee.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes, compared to many churches I've been to, this one seemed to have a good-sized congregation with people from different backgrounds, races and ethnicities. The children seemed to enjoy showing off to their parents during the sermon and the singing.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The vaulted ceiling and stained glass windows. My own church is rather small, and I don't get around to churches this large very often.
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