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||1352: St Luke in the Fields, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: Frideswide.
The church: St Luke in the Fields, New York City, New York.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: A simple neoclassical brick building consecrated in
1822 and rebuilt in the 1980s after a fire, but retaining the elegant and
simple older style. The tall arched windows are glazed with yellowish, wavy
bulls-eye glass; the interior is cream and brown. Contrasting with the studied
classic simplicity of the rest of the church is a many-colored mosaic cross
in the floor of the church entrance.
The church: The parish was established in 1820, one of the founding
wardens being Clement Clarke Moore, who penned "A Visit from St Nicholas,"
better known as 'The Night Before Christmas." A chapel of nearby Trinity
Church from 1891 until 1976, St Luke's became known as a bastion of the
Anglo-Catholic tradition. Today they conduct an outreach particularly to
people with HIV/AIDS and to lesbian, gay and bisexual teenagers. They maintain
an intense music program encompassing both a professional adult choir and
a challenging children's choir. There is also an associated school, St Luke's
School. St Luke's owns the entire block on which it sits this includes
the church, parish house, school, several brownstones, and a lovingly tended
The neighborhood: Greenwich Village or, more exactly, the West Village.
This was once a gritty area of warehouses cut off from the Hudson River
by the elevated West Side Highway. But the highway collapsed in 1973 (ironically
under the weight of a cement truck traveling to a repair site) following
years of inadequate maintenance, and the entire structure was demolished
and the ground underneath turned into parkland. Today most of the old warehouses
have been renovated into toney apartment lofts, many with shops on the ground
floor, and one can walk through the park all the way down to the southern
tip of Manhattan. The area is a mix of poor and not-so-poor, gay and straight
couples. The narrow streets criss-cross each other at odd angles, forming
surprising little squares and triangles that have been turned into miniature
The cast: Celebrant: the Rev. Mary Foulke, senior associate. Deacon
and preacher: the Rev. Caroline Stacey, rector. Organist: David Schuler,
director of music. Cantor: Cindy Brome. There was also a subdeacon, thurifer,
crucifer, two torchbearers and four chalicers to round out the sanctuary
party; and three more people from the congregation to read the lesson, epistle,
and prayers of intercession.
The date & time: Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 23, 2006, 10.30am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Just about exactly half full, with people in every pew.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
A "hello" from each of the two ushers at the door, who were handing
out the service leaflet (of which more anon).
Was your pew comfortable?
Yes. The wooden pew had no cushion or curves, but was perfectly proportioned.
The kneeler was a different story: the shelf on the pew in front prevented
one from being able to kneel upright with one's knees wholly on the kneeler,
thus forcing the choice between barely supported knees or the infamous Episcopal
How would you describe the pre-service
Surprisingly chatty, filled with the friendly buzz of people happy to see each other.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the
1982 Hymnal and the service/announcements leaflet: 16 pages on
letter-sized paper. The leaflet included almost all the text of the service
that would ordinarily be in the Book of Common Prayer, including
all the congregational responses and almost all of the service music. Half
of the leaflet was the service and the other half was a welcoming note,
calendar, prayer list, announcements, and ways to participate at St. Luke's.
The 1979 Prayer Book and Songs of Wonder, Love, and Praise
were in the pew racks, but not used.
What musical instruments were played?
Did anything distract you?
The noise of a myriad of small fans placed in the open windows and on the floor.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
Formal but not rigid.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Mother Stacey read her sermon in a completely natural speaking tone, a delight to listen to.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
In the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus tells the disciples, "You
give them something to eat." Whose responsibility is it to feed the
people? What are the disciples responsible for when the task is impossible?
The Holy Spirit opens our eyes to God. Turn to Jesus to make what little
we can offer, enough.
Which part of the service was like being in
When we chanted the Lord's Prayer I felt wrapped in a cocoon of sound. The
congregation were confident singers, and in particular during the Lord's
Prayer the unaccompanied singing of the congregation reverberated throughout
the church and through me.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The otherwise delightfully complete service leaflet was missing the sung
part for some of the congregational responses. In contrast to the pleasure
of knowing what to sing everywhere else, it was unnerving to come upon these
spots worrying whether I'd be able to join in or not. In a similar vein,
the Anglican chant was notated in a manner different from what I'm used
to, but with no indication of how to interpret the notation. It took me
half the psalm, nervously trying to follow along with everyone else without
sounding too lost, to figure out the notation. (Ironically, it turns out
to be easier than the one I'm familiar with.)
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I wandered around looking at the church, then stood in line waiting to greet
the rector. The rector chatted briefly but pleasantly (who are you, where
are you from, what are you doing in New York). I then back-tracked to the
parish hall to coffee hour. At the door to the parish hall, a man asked
me, "What do you think Jesus would have to say to the comfortably well
off?" We talked for a while, and he thought I was a theology student (well chuffed, me!), and then I had a long, interesting
conversation with someone inside the parish hall about gardens in New York
City. Finally, before leaving, I conversed briefly with someone about the
financial challenges facing St Luke in the Fields. As I left, I noticed
a woman sitting at a table on which several stacks of brochures had been
arranged. I lingered at the table for several minutes collecting brochures,
but was completely ignored by the woman until I asked her a question.
How would you describe the after-service
Dry store-bought cookies, which I skipped, and moist store-bought cake,
which I ate. I don't normally drink coffee or tea, so although I can attest
they were present, I can't say how they were. I looked long and hard for
a jug of lemonade or water but found none.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 Active, engaged, friendly (I take the brochure lady to be an anomaly),
good music, good preaching, what more could one ask? No stained glass windows,
alas, hence no 10.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I felt very much at home, yet reminded not to be merely comfortable
when going forth into the world "to love and serve the Lord."
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The service/announcement leaflet.
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