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1689: St Luke in the Fields, New York City
St Luke in the Fields, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: Clandestine Christian.
The church: St Luke in the Fields, New York City.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York.
The building: St Luke in the Fields was the subject of an earlier Mystery Worship report and is well described there. Since then there have been no substantial changes to the building that I could see.
The church: St Luke's celebrates three eucharists plus a healing service each Sunday, and once each weekday evening. They also conduct ongoing discussion groups, prayer groups, Bible studies and other courses. Their professional choir is famous; there are regular concerts with lectures on the music. There is also a thrift shop in addition to the school and the HIV/lesbian-gay-bisexual-transsexual youth outreach ministries.
The neighborhood: The church stands just south of the intersection of Christopher and Hudson Streets. This is the part of New York's Greenwich Village known as the West Village. It is lovely, historical, full of famous cafés, restaurants, jazz clubs and taverns. The West Village features quiet, narrow, tree-lined residential streets, courtyards and gardens, and has historically been (and still is) home to many important literary and artistic figures. Bleecker Street, Christopher Street, the Stonewall Inn (birthplace of the gay movement), New York University, many interesting shops and parks – all can be found in this most celebrated part of Manhattan. Please refer to the earlier report mentioned above for other interesting facts about the area.
The cast: The Revd Mary Foulke, senior associate, was the celebrant, and the Revd Hugh M. Grant, curate, preached. Presiding at the organ was David Schuler, director of music.
The date & time: 4 January 2009, 11.15am.

What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist.

How full was the building?
Three-quarters to seven-eights full. The congregation were mainly ages 30-60, casually dressed, and completely gay-friendly.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes, I was handed a service booklet and welcomed.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, it was comfortable enough. The pews are wooden, without cushions, but still comfortable, and there are fold-out padded kneelers. Above the book holders there is a flat surface on which one might leave an open hymnal, reading glasses, and even take notes or fill out welcome cards. A nice feature, I thought.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet, with some low talking.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit" was chanted by the celebrant.

What books did the congregation use during the service?
The Prayer Book 1979, the Hymnal 1982, and Wonder, Love and Praise. But the service booklet – 24 pages long – had everything we needed as well as information about all the parish's activities and ministries.

What musical instruments were played?
Pipe organ, installed in 1986 by the Canadian firm Casavant Freres, Limitee, St-Hyacinthe, Quebec.

Did anything distract you?
The sun coming through the windows was quite beautiful. At one point it was almost blinding and threw part of the room into darkness – I found myself taken by that and lost where I was during the service.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Very high but not stiff, with much chant, incense, bells, and glorious music. The gospel was chanted and the alleluia was plainsong mode IV, but most of the prayers and responses used contemporary language. The congregational singing was the strongest of any church I've been at. Everything suitable for singing was sung, and I felt as if I were singing with a huge choir. In many churches I've attended, the congregation hardly sings at all – in this church, almost everyone sings and sounds good. The service booklet devoted two pages to the names of those in need of prayer, and so we were spared the long litany of names.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Grant seems to be a low-key, rather scholarly preacher. Concise but thought-provoking sermon.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
As the Magi followed stars to Jesus and avoided Herod on their return, we also can follow the light and avoid the darkness of evil.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The sunlight and music, thoughts from the sermon.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The distraction of the sunlight was a bit disconcerting and I also smeared chocolate on my service leaflet (see below).

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Coffee hour had been announced, but no one came up to me to show me where it was being held. Finally I had to ask someone. People were very friendly once I got there.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There were cookies, tea, coffee – it was those cookies that I somehow got smeared on my service leaflet and felt like a pig. They were homemade chunky cookies that were probably some of the best I've had.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
8 – It was a lovely service and I would like to return. The music is outstanding and there is a very positive and enthusiastic feeling one gets from the congregation. Everyone is super friendly and there is a helpful booklet welcoming newcomers, but I do think people should take a bit of care to welcome someone personally who might feel a bit lost.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
Yes. This seems to be a congregation that is very active and involved and where members know each other.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I really hate to say the cookies ... but I certainly also remember points of the homily and the the sunlight and music effect.
 
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