|847: St Thomas, New York City, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Sumtil.
The church: St Thomas, Fifth Avenue, New York City, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A magnificent Gothic building, built in the early 20th century. It is recognized as one of the finest 20th century Gothic churches. The reredos is probably the crowning glory of this building.
The church: One of the largest parishes (numerically) in the USA. The sense of community is derived largely by participating in study groups and service organizations within the parish.
The neighbourhood: Expensive. Park Avenue is two blocks east. Fifth, Madison, and Park Avenues probably contain the most exclusive retail stores to be found anywhere in the world.
The cast: Rev. Andrew Mead, OBE, rector and celebrant; Rev. Canon Harry Krauss, vicar; Rev. Park Bodie, sacrist; Rev. Charles Wallace, chaplain; Rt Rev. Richard F. Grein, Bishop of New York, preacher; Rev. Canon John Andrew, OBE, rector emeritus; numerous acolytes, vergers, the world renowned choir, the organist, the associate organist and assistant organist.
What was the name of the service?
The Great Vigil and Solemn Eucharist of Easter at 5.30pm on Easter Even, 10 April 2004.
How full was the building?
Two-thirds to three-quarters full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
Members of the corps of ushers in black tie greeted the worshippers with a warm "Good evening" as they distributed the order of service, a printed booklet of 12 pages.
Was your pew comfortable?
It was not overly comfortable nor uncomfortable. One might call it a typical church pew with individual kneelers.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Very quiet and reverential. The church was in almost total darkness in anticipation of the return of light and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. There were hushed and whispered greetings among friends.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Dear friends in Christ: On this most holy night..."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
The order of service contained the entire liturgy.There was no need to use either the Prayer Book or the hymnal.
What musical instruments were played?
The great organ in the quire and the gallery organ.
Did anything distract you?
Tourists coming in from Fifth Avenue are a constant distraction because they must be told that they cannot wander around. The occasional camera flash-gun, and the rumble of the E Train which passes along under 53rd Street.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was the best in the Anglican tradition of "decently and in order." A proper mix of choir and congregational singing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Bishop Grein's style is to preach to the congregation, not at them. He uses humor to emphasize his points.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The community of saints and the resurrection. The litany of the saints had been sung in procession following the lighting of the new fire and the blessing of the water.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Just about the entire service. It was well prepared. All the participants and officiants knew what to do and how to do it. It flowed beautifully.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
At St Thomas, the announcement of the Gospel reading is spoken, but the choir responds by singing, "Glory be to thee, O Lord." Following the Gospel, the choir again sings its response. One would expect that there be consistency: either all sung or all spoken. At least we were not subjected to that terrible American custom of singing, "Praise God from whom all blessing flow" at the presentation of the gifts.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
There was no coffee hour or reception. It would have been inappropriate on Easter Even. However, many entered the quire to hear the volunary, Toccata from Symphonie V by Widor, splendidly played by the associate organist. Friends greeted each other following the service.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 It is simply too far from home.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Following the Easter acclamation, the rubric says, "The organ plays and bells are rung." That is an understatement for what was to follow in response. What a fanfare from the organs, what pealing from the handbells in the Quire and the tower bell! Joy never to be forgotten!