|980: Trinity Wall Street, New York City, USA|
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Mystery Worshipper: Amanda B. Reckondwythe, accompanied by Ultraspike.
The church: Trinity Wall Street, New York City, New York, USA.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Trinity Church is the dark, tall-spired edifice that can be seen sitting in the shadows at the head of Wall Street in almost every photograph of that famous street. There have been three Trinity Church buildings. The original structure was erected with financial assistance from the pirate William Kidd (aka Captain Kidd) and was burned in 1776. The second Trinity Church had to be demolished after being weakened by heavy snows during the winter of 1838-39. The present church, a large brownstone structure in the Gothic Revival style, was consecrated on Ascension Day 1846. In the churchyard can be found the graves of several American icons, including Alexander Hamilton, William Bradford, Robert Fulton and Albert Gallatin. The nave is long, narrow and tall, with light brown walls and cocoa brown columns and ribbing, the natural color of brownstone. Colorful stained glass adorns the sanctuary. A white marble reredos over the high altar depicts the last supper and crucifixion, with the 12 apostles standing on either side of the centerpiece. An ornate organ case in the rear gallery houses the church's old pipe organ, which was severely damaged by ash and soot during 9/11 and has been replaced by a digital electronic instrument.
The church: King William III established Trinity Parish in 1697, by a charter that specified an annual rent due the Crown of one peppercorn. On the occasion of a visit by Queen Elizabeth II on July 9, 1976, the church presented Her Majesty with a back rent of 279 peppercorns. Trinity Church has been instrumental in the religious life of New York City and the nation. It has founded, endowed, or aided more than 1,700 churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions. With extensive real estate holdings, it is thought to be the wealthiest parish in the United States. Wall Street's commuters know Trinity as a quiet place to rest, pray, worship, or enjoy a noonday concert. The church's website features a live feed of Sunday services, as well as archived feeds of past services and sermons.
The neighbourhood: Originally the site of a wall built to protect New Amsterdam against possible attacks from the uncharted north, Wall Street is the heart of the financial universe. The street and its environs are home to the New York Stock Exchange and many of the world's leading brokerage houses and accounting firms. The narrow, slightly crooked lane begins at Broadway, where Trinity Church looms over the intersection, and extends to the East River. Lined by skyscrapers, Wall Street receives only a few minutes of sunlight every day. Since the tragic events of 9/11, most vehicular traffic has been banned from Wall Street, and the street is in the process of being converted into a pedestrian mall.
The cast: The Rev. Dr James H. Cooper, rector, was the preacher. The Rev. Gayanne Silver was the celebrant, assisted by the Rev. Milton G. Williams Jr. This was Mother Silver's last day at Trinity Church. Also assisting in the service were Ms Olivia George, epistoller, Ms Deborah Hope, lector, and Ms Dolores Osborne, intercessor. The organist and choir director was Owen Burdick, Ph.D.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
The church probably holds about 400 people, and it appeared to be two-thirds to three-quarters full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
There were ushers at the door handing out service leaflets, but no more than a perfunctory greeting was offered. The rector, Father Cooper, did say during his announcements that he hoped visitors would consider making Trinity their regular church.
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, although the kneelers were the little cushion type, which I find uncomfortable.
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet, for a change I hate the loud visiting that usually precedes a service. Just before the service began, the choir wandered in and the church bells were tolled. For his prelude, the organist improvised on Slane, which was to be the processional hymn.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Good morning to those of you who have come to worship with us, and to those worshiping with us on the web," spoken by the rector. The entrance procession was lengthy, and the organist had to stretch the three verses of Slane with quite a lot of twiddly bits in between.
What books did the congregation use during the service?
1979 Prayer Book, 1981 Hymnal, service leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
The digital electronic organ, beautifully voiced and expertly played. The choir consisted of 24 singers, vested in alb and cincture, who sang impeccably.
Did anything distract you?
The rector is a dead ringer for the actor Tony Perkins. The gentleman in front of me was filming the service on his cell phone until an usher caught him and made him put it away. One of the choir members wore a hairdo that reminded me of a fright wig. An occasional fire engine screamed by outside, and an occasional subway train rumbled deep beneath the church, but we New Yorkers are used to that sort of thing.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
It was a typical, dignified, prayerful Episcopalian Rite II service.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 Father Cooper did not mount the pulpit, but rather spoke from the sanctuary steps, to which he was conducted by the verger. His delivery was engaging and animated, as if he were having a somewhat lively conversation with each of us. I can't say I followed his argument very well, but I did like his style.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father Cooper preached on the Gospel of the day (Luke 16:1-13, the parable of the wicked steward). The parable is difficult to understand, but seems to compare our anxiety over earthly things, which are transitory, with the never-ending love of God. Just as the wicked steward (or manager, as the word is now translated) tricked his rich master into seeming generous, Jesus wants us to be shrewd about life in heaven. We should take the energy we spend on earthly things and focus it instead on eternal things. Good works are nothing without love.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The altar party knew how to bow whenever anyone handed anything to anyone else, the act was preceded and followed by a bow. The psalm was chanted to "simplified Anglican chant" the pointing indicated by boldface type that corresponded to quarter-notes on the staff. I had never seen this before and found it extraordinarily easy to follow. The choir sang splendidly, including an anthem by Howells that belied the presumption most choristers hold that Howells was out to trick singers into thinking they don't know how to count. Most church organists would kill for a choir like that! Mother Silver chanted the sursum corda and preface in a grandmotherly mezzo soprano voice, and delightfully in tune, albeit with a heavy New York accent.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The contemporary Lord's Prayer was used. The Lord's Prayer is so well known by all Christians, and the traditional text so deeply ingrained in all of us, that surely this is one sacred text that needn't lend itself to reworking.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
The crowd sort of carried everyone along as they went out to coffee.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
A special buffet luncheon of cold meats and cheeses, bread, macaroni salad, hot pasta, fried rice and Chinese noodles had been prepared in honor of Mother Silver's last day at Trinity. Everything was delicious. There was also a fruit punch in which blocks of frozen sherbet were floating. I did not sample the coffee, but those in our party who did said it was too strong. A cake was waiting to be cut, but we did not linger for that.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 Well, if I lived in lower Manhattan I would be tempted. It's a lovely church and a very dignified service. Although the church attracts large numbers of tourists, there is also a core congregation of "regulars" who appeared to be friendly, welcoming, and caring.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The gentleman filming the service on his cell phone.