|Comment on this report, or find other reports.
|Our Mystery Worshippers are volunteers who warm church pews for us around the world. If you'd like to become a Mystery Worshipper, start here.
|Find out how to reproduce this report in your church magazine or website.
|1847: St Peter's,
Manhattan, New York
Manhattan, New York.
Church in America, Metropolitan
New York Synod.
A strikingly modern structure, described on the parish's webpage
as "a bold architectural statement" and "a counterthrust to
the glossy opulence of Park Avenue." The sanctuary area is simply
adorned with a wooden altar, pulpit, and three chairs for celebrant,
deacon, and subdeacon. Above the cross behind the altar are
windows; the worship space is below ground level and the windows
give a view to the streets of New York above.
There is an extraordinary breadth to the activities of this
congregation. They are quite well known for their music program,
both classical and jazz, with a Tuesday evening concert series,
a Sunday evening jazz service, and a "Midtown Jazz at Midday"
concert series on Wednesdays at 1.00pm. There are also a wide
range of educational activities (children's Sunday school, adult
forum, a book discussion group), social justice outreaches (including
a ministry to the homeless and an AIDS ministry), and liturgical
ministries (including communion bread bakers). They also have
a 24-year tradition of sharing an annual service of remembrance
of the Holocaust (Yom HaShoah) with Central Synagogue. There
are two English masses and one Spanish mass each Sunday, as
well as an afternoon jazz service that is either mass or vespers.
There are daily masses Monday through Friday (with a second
celebration on Wednesday evenings). In addition to their senior
pastor, there are four associate or assistant pastors, including
a pastor to the international community and a pastor for pastoral
counseling. Another of their associate pastors is an African-American
woman ordained in the United Church of Christ, a full-communion
partner of the ELCA.
St Peter's is on Lexington Avenue at East 54th Street, a mixed
use section of midtown Manhattan. It is surrounded by hotels,
condominiums, banks, restaurants, etc. This is a highly affluent
area of New York, not far from the United Nations.
The Revd Jared R. Stahler, associate pastor, presided. The Revd
Jonathan Linman, Assistant to the Bishop, Metropolitan New York
Synod, was the homilist. Thomas Schmidt, D.Mus., director of
music, was organist. A guest choir from the Nightingale-Bamford
School, the Gospel Girls, was directed by Roosevelt André
The date & time:
Sunday, November 8, 2009, 11.00am.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
About 80 per cent full.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
No one welcomed us, but only because we arrived early; as we
are not familiar with Manhattan, we had allowed more time than
necessary to get to St Peter's. The Gospel Girls were rehearsing,
so Materfamilias and I helped ourselves to a hymnal and service
leaflet, and listened to their rehearsal. I noticed that a group
of ushers showed up eventually, and warmly welcomed worshippers
as they arrived.
Was your pew comfortable?
Extremely comfortable cushioned pews. There were fold-down kneelers
under the pews in front of us, but there was no kneeling during
How would you describe the pre-service
A bit of chatter. We were sitting near the area where the choirs
gathered before processing in, and there seemed to be some discussion
with the visiting choir about how they would process in.
What were the exact opening words of the
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the
Holy Spirit. Amen."
What books did the congregation use during the
Evangelical Lutheran Worship, a combination service
book and hymnal that was "commended for use in the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America" in 2006, and a printed service leaflet
that enabled us to follow a fairly elaborate liturgy without
What musical instruments
A two-manual, 42-rank pipe organ, an opus of Johannes Klais
Orgelbau GmbH & Co. of Bonn, Germany. And piano, electric
bass, and drum set. For the most part the former accompanied
the service music and hymnody, and the latter accompanied the
Gospel Girls. But they all played together, to great effect,
on the final hymn, "Amazing Grace." Roosevelt André Credit
added an occasional shake of the tambourine.
Did anything distract
As I noted above, there are open windows through which one looks
up to a view of the streets of New York behind the striking
sanctuary cross. During the eucharistic prayer, a fellow walking
by stopped to peer in. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but
for those of us used to a more traditional worship space, it
was distracting, particularly at that point in the service.
I suspect the regular congregants would think nothing of it.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or
A formal, evangelical-catholic liturgy, but without a hint of
stuffiness or antiquarianism. The liturgy began with the blessing
of water and sprinkling rite; celebrant, liturgical deacon and
subdeacon were vested in chasuble, dalmatic and tunicle, respectively.
Two acolytes brought out candles and stood on either side of
the altar during the eucharistic prayer. And most of the service
music on this particular Sunday was Gregorian chant (Setting
Five in ELW). The Gospel Girls provided a marvelous complement
to all of this with their three musical numbers, and many in
the congregation clapped along in accompaniment to their singing.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
7 Pastor Linman is a natural and gifted public speaker.
He began by noting that although he had participated in the
life of this congregation in various capacities before, this
was his first opportunity to preach here. His preparation was
obvious, and led me to think of this gospel text in a way I
had not before. If I were grading on the first 15 minutes of
his sermon, he would get a solid 10. But the last six or seven
minutes really added nothing to what he had already said.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Quoting from the gospel for the day (Mark 12:38-44, the story
of the widow's mite), he admonished: "Beware of the scribes
who walk around in long robes." Whereupon he stepped out
from behind the pulpit, giving the congregation a view of his
long robe, saying "Ouch!" He noted the perils of clericalism
that Jesus was talking about in the gospel. But he went on to
say that this particular passage is not about the perils of
privilege, or the merits of overabundant giving – that's too
easy. It is, rather a story about faith – the widow exhibited
a trust in that which is ultimate, transcendent, and eternal.
The widow is willing to enact a free fall into God's grace.
Which part of the service was like being in
Much. I was delighted to see how beautifully Gregorian chant
and gospel could complement each other in a traditional liturgical
setting. I was quite impressed by Dr Schmidt's sensitive organ
accompaniments, particularly in the Gregorian mass setting.
Pastor Stahler is a trained musician, and chanted his parts
of the service beautifully. And the Gospel Girls were an absolute
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Nothing at St Peter's is "hellish," but a 15-minute sermon would
have been fine by me. And I had not a clue as to who was leading
the intercessions – all I heard was a disembodied voice coming
through the loudspeakers.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
We remained in our pews after the final hymn, as did a good
portion of the congregation, for one last piece of music by
the Gospel Girls. That, in turn, was followed by a brief improvisation
by the trio which had accompanied them. The congregation applauded,
and we all dutifully made our way to the exit, where both celebrant
and homilist were waiting to greet us. I had a brief conversation
with the folks in line ahead of us, and was able to ask Pastor
Stahler a couple of questions about the jazz service later that
How would you describe the after-service
St Peter's doesn't do an "after-service coffee!" It's a full-fledged,
sit-down lunch (on this particular Sunday, the menu included
a chicken-macaroni casserole, salad, bread, cake for dessert,
and copious amounts of wine). A similar meal is served after
the 5.00pm jazz service. The liturgy had been long – about
an hour and forty minutes – and Materfamilias and I did not
feel that we had the time to stay for a meal. But the next time
we are in New York for a Sunday, I think we'll just plan on
spending the day at St Peter's: adult forum, mass, brunch, book
discussion club, jazz vespers, and dinner.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
10 The combination of a strong liturgical tradition and
jazz is an irresistible draw for me. Materfamilias, a Roman
Catholic, seemed quite comfortable with the liturgy at St Peter's.
When combined with the friendliness of the congregation, the
commitment to social justice, and the diversity of the community,
it's a no-brainer.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The young (80-ish) lady two pews in front us, enthusiastically
clapping to the sounds of the Gospel Girls.
|We rely on voluntary donations to stay online. If you're a regular visitor to Ship of Fools, please consider supporting us.
|The Mystery Pilgrim
| One of our most seasoned reporters makes the Camino pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Read here.
| Read reports from 70 London churches, visited by a small army of Mystery Worshippers on one single Sunday. Read here.