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  1364: St Ignatius of Antioch, New York City, New York

St Ignatius of Antioch, New York City

Mystery Worshipper: Fishngrl.
The church: St Ignatius of Antioch, New York City, New York.
Denomination: Episcopal Church in the USA.
The building: Dating from 1902, this is a relatively small-scale Gothic building of stone and asphalt, designed by Charles Coolidge Haight, who also designed the lovely little chapel of St Cornelius on Governor's Island in New York Harbor, the General Theological Seminary, and several other buildings that, alas, no longer stand. Much of the decoration of the interior is attributed to Ralph Adams Cram, known in his day as the high priest of American neo-Gothic – this makes sense, as the interior looks exactly as one would expect a Gothic interior to be. One's attention is drawn to the marble altar and ornate baptistery as well as to some marvelous statues of the Blessed Virgin, St Ignatius, St Michael, and assorted angels. There is also some lovely stained glass, including a window depicting St Ignatius being tormented by lions (which, the rector is known to have remarked, look more like overgrown pussycats than ferocious beasts). By daylight, with the lights turned off, the church can seem a bit austere even though the stained glass windows are dazzling by sunlight. But the service I attended was held at night, and it seemed as though the artificial lighting brought out all the beauty and simplicity of the medieval atmosphere. The effect was most striking and seemed just right.
The church: St Ignatius parish was founded in 1871 by a group devoted to the concept of the catholicity of the Church, the centrality of the historic episcopate, and the Anglo-Catholic movement. The congregation worshipped in a variety of temporary locations at first, but eventually felt the need for a place of their own. The Bishop of New York at the time, Bishop Potter, expressed his disapproval of Catholic ritual by absenting himself from the present building's formal opening, allowing instead the Bishop of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, to preside. Over the years St Ignatius has established itself as a bastion of fine Anglo-Catholic worship and outstanding music. They are also known for their work among the homeless and the needy, sponsoring a soup kitchen, a shelter for men recovering from addiction, a home visitation program for the sick, a home energy assistance program, and other such ministries.
The neighborhood: This is Manhattan's Upper West Side, an area of stately old apartment buildings and townhouses, elegant shops co-existing with 99-cent bargain stores, and trendy restaurants alongside fast food joints – in short, not as grand as those areas near Central Park, although hardly poor. I'm always fascinated by how much New York reminds me of the Middle Ages. I noticed a number of homeless people out on the sidewalk. St Ignatius is one of several Manhattan churches that allow people to set up camp for the night on the porch steps, where the police cannot roust them. The service ended at a rather late hour, and the steps were filling up well. This, and the medieval atmosphere within, reminded me of the function large cathedrals served in the olden days, as shelter to the unfortunate. It was a bit disconcerting, and I was grateful to have a friend escort me to the bus stop (but I felt the usual middle-class guilt about feeling uncomfortable).
The cast: Mass was celebrated in the presence of the Rt Rev. Catherine S. Roskam, Bishop Suffragan of New York, with the Rev. Roger M.C. Gentile, associate clergy, serving as chaplain to the bishop. The Rev. H. Gaylord Hitchcock, Jr., rector, was the celebrant. The Rev. Alan L. Chisolm, director of the Psychotherapy and Spirituality Institute at St Bartholomew's Church, was the preacher. There were also a deacon and subdeacon, thurifer and boat bearer, a multitude of acolytes, several torchbearers, two crucifers, two vergers (with wands), etc., etc. I counted 25 people in the procession.
The date & time: The Feast of St Michael and All Angels, September 29, 2006, 7.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Solemn Mass, followed by a farewell reception for Father Hitchcock, who was retiring after serving 10 years as rector of St Ignatius.

How full was the building?
About three-quarters full. I guess there were about 175 people altogether, including clergy and altar servers.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. An usher greeted me quietly, handed me a hymnal and service leaflet, and, upon request, directed me to the ladies' room. Which deserves a special mention – they must store the incense in here, because it's the nicest-smelling bathroom I've ever been in. We let Bishop Roskam cut in line in front of us, so maybe that's why it smelled so good!

Was your pew comfortable?
It was an unpadded wooden pew, with a board in back that left part of the back open. Comfortable enough for a short person, but I would think that it would be hard going (pun intended) for someone any taller. There was a separate padded faux leather hassock-type kneeler. The comfort of the pew proved to be immaterial, though, as much of our time was spent either standing or kneeling.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Reverent and quiet. People did straggle in well after the service started, but I attribute this to the fact that there were traffic snafus that evening in Manhattan.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Let us go forth in peace," chanted at the procession, before the station at the rood.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
1940 Hymnal and a booklet containing the complete text of the mass. I believe that may have been taken from Rite I in the 1979 Prayer Book.

What musical instruments were played?
A fine pipe organ (according to the parish website, a 1966 Casavant Frères). The choir was marvelous and sang motets by Marcel Dupré and Roland de Lassus.

Did anything distract you?
The soliloquy inside my head. I spent a good part of the service wondering what the altar party was doing. I am familiar with Anglo-Catholic worship, and my own parish is rather on the spiky side itself, but this was Rite I as never before experienced! My thoughts tended to be along the lines of: "So that's a humeral veil, and that other thing must be a maniple." and "Who are those guys and what are they doing? It looks like a chorus line up there!" There was a certain amount of whispering and moving around among the altar party. The deacon seemed a little unsure of himself, and the master of ceremonies kept making subtle gestures with her head to indicate what he should do next. At one point I thought she was about to elbow him in the ribs! I consider all of the above a pleasant distraction, altogether a fine lesson on liturgical tat.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
On the candle scale, while St Ignatius is no St Clement's Philadelphia, the service was proud and spiky "smells and bells" and very Anglo-Catholic, with the altar party processing all around the church, a station at the rood, and lots and lots of Latin, great-smelling incense and fanciness. I did enjoy it, and it kept me on my toes. At the peace ceremony, I found out the meaning of the term "liturgical embrace" – less touchy than an air kiss but more familiar than a handshake.

St Ignatius of Antioch, New York City

Exactly how long was the sermon?
Just about 10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
7 – Father Chisolm, according to the service leaflet, has known Father Hitchcock for many years, and was invited to preach on the occasion of Father Hitchcock's retirement. He read a concise sermon and presented it well.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Father spoke on how we need to find God in our anger and intense feelings, and how we should grow into ambivalent compassion and concern, rather than giving into anger, particularly at terrorism (this was only a few weeks after the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon). He wished Father Hitchcock the best in this new phase of his life, but did not dwell particularly on his service to the church.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The liturgy and the atmosphere, full of smoke, reverent and serious (but not stuffy or unfriendly) Anglo-Catholic pomp and circumstance.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was a good bit of traffic noise outside, and it saddened me to think of the homeless people who had to wait for us to leave before they could settle down in the doorways.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
I was swept down to the undercroft along with the rest of the crowd, following the smell of roast ham, for a reception to honor the rector.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
As it was a Friday, the bishop gave us a dispensation to enjoy the ham and other meat in honor of Michaelmas. There was also chicken salad, sushi, bread and cheese, a variety of desserts, and punch (both alcoholic and sans alcohol). There was quite a crowd, both of parishioners and friends of the rector visiting from elsewhere, and everyone was very sociable. Several gifts were presented to the rector, and he spoke (somewhat interminably, it seemed) about his many fond memories of the parish.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – I enjoyed the service very much, even thought Rite I with all its formality is not my favorite worship style. The mass was lovely, the music very well done, and the people were welcoming. I think that if one were looking for a church that emphasized Rite I with humeral veils, birettas, maniples, etc., one would be right at home at St Ignatius.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Absolutely. I enjoyed the service very much and was glad to have the opportunity to experience a feast day there.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The medieval feel to the atmosphere and the liturgy – and that aromatic bathroom.
 
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