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1110: Marble Collegiate, New York City, USA
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1169: Marble Collegiate, New York City, New York
Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe.
The church: Marble Collegiate, New York City, USA.
Denomination: Reformed Church in America (formerly known as Dutch Reformed).
The building: Located at Fifth Avenue and West 29th Street in Manhattan's Murray Hill district, the church is a Romanesque building constructed of marble (hence the name) and was completed in 1851. The interior is done in gold, cream, brown and burgundy, and resembles a theater, with a proscenium arch over the stage and balconies lining the auditorium. Organ pipes fill the rear balcony and flank both sides of the stage. Pastel-colored stained glass windows, some from the studios of Tiffany, depict scenes from the Bible in a strikingly realistic manner.
The church: Founded in 1628 as the Collegiate Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, Marble Collegiate is the oldest Protestant organization in North America. From the 1930s for a period of over 50 years, its pastor was Dr Norman Vincent Peale, one of the better known religious figures in America of the 20th century. Dr Peale's book, The Power of Positive Thinking, has sold over 20 million copies in 42 languages. His radio program, The Art of Living, was one of the first ever religious broadcasts and aired weekly for 54 years. Dr Peale played an active role at Marble until his death on Christmas Eve 1993, at the age of 95. The church sponsors dozens of groups, including gay and lesbian fellowship, marrieds, men's ministry, senior adults, women's ministry, young adults, and career and life empowerment. It also offers programs in grief support, notably for parents and siblings who have experienced the death of a child, and in divorce recovery.
The neighborhood: Murray Hill stretches along Manhattan's East Side from Grand Central Station down to East 23rd Street. Originally the site of the posh mansions of New York's wealthiest citizens, the neighborhood is an architectural wonderland. Flanked by the shadows of the Empire State Building on its right at 34th Street and the Flatiron Building on its left at 23rd Street, the church sits amid stately old residential hotels and ornate manufacturing lofts, relics of the early 20th century.
The cast: Rev. Dr Arthur Caliandro, pastor; Rev. Dr William R. Lutz; Rev. Wayne Antworth.
What was the name of the service?
Sunday Service.

How full was the building?
The church holds about 750 people and was packed full, including the balconies. An overflow crowd filled an adjacent room. The congregation was mostly young adult to middle aged, and appeared quite conservative.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. A gentleman held the door open for me, smiled, shook my hand, and wished me a good morning. A lady handed me a service leaflet, smiled, bade me welcome, and asked me if I was visiting and from where.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. The pews were lined with cushions and were separated from the aisle by little doors, ostensibly to keep stray animals out (when the church was built in 1851, it sat in the middle of open pastures). A comfortable pew was most appreciated, as we sat for the entire service, except when we stood to sing.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A quiet buzz of conversation. Ushers conducted worshippers to their seats, thus reinforcing the theater image. A few minutes before the service began, the organist offered a prelude while the ministers took their place on stage and the choir filed up to the balcony. The ministers were vested in black Geneva gowns and green stoles; the choir in burgundy robes with white collars.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
The pastor said, "One day Jesus was walking along the road and he heard someone shout, 'Lord, have mercy.' Let us now ask God to show us mercy."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Rejoice in the Lord, the hymnal of the Reformed Church; service leaflet.

What musical instruments were played?
A pipe organ, well tuned and skillfully played. A 60 voice choir led the congregational singing and offered several anthems. Piano, bass guitar, and drum were also used during one of the anthems.

Did anything distract you?
With a church that full of people, they could have used some incense, if you follow my drift. Also, the party occupying the pew in front of me kept up their chatter well into the organist's prelude and even during some of the hymns.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a hymn sandwich. The musical part of the sandwich consisted of traditional, familiar hymns, as well as anthems. The spoken part was comprised of scriptural readings, prayers, sermonettes, and in one case a dialog on stewardship between the pastor and a member of the congregation, done every bit like a talk show, complete with applause from the audience. I thought the prayers and sermonettes tended to be long-winded.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
6 – The pastor, Dr Caliandro, established good rapport with the congregation and included numerous personal anecdotes in his talk, but I thought the sermon was a little short on spirituality, despite the reference to 1 Corinthians.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Dr Caliandro spoke on patience. Our patience is taxed every day. Being patient is being kind to ourselves. St Paul in 1 Corinthians said that love is patient, love is kind. The secret of patience is to study the natural rhythms of life and to get in sync – just "be" without having to "be somewhere." We can't control events, and to attempt to do so just makes things worse. Remember how patient God is with us.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The music was heavenly. With one exception noted below, the choir sang splendidly and the congregational singing was spirited.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
One anthem that the choir offered was a Gospel swing tune. However, the choir, instead of swaying to the music as one would expect, remained stiff as posts, and the soloist lacked the lung capacity to do justice to his part.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
As the organist began his postlude, everyone left rather hastily. I was surprised to see that Dr Caliandro had managed to hot-foot it to the rear of the church during the concluding hymn and was present to shake everyone's hand as they left.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
I couldn't imagine how coffee could be served to 750 people, and so I didn't linger.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
4 – It's not for this old Episcopalian. I missed the familiar Sunday mass, with its wide and varied readings from scripture, the pomp and ceremony, and holy communion.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
I have to say no. I found the service uninspiring and even boring.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The warm welcome, with ushers conducting people to their seats.
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