|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.
|2243: St Paul's
Chapel, New York City
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
Paul's Chapel, New York City.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of New York.
Built in 1766, St Paul's is a chapel of ease to nearby Trinity
Church. It is the oldest public building in continuous use in
New York City and the only colonial church remaining in Manhattan.
Modeled after London's St Martin-in-the-Fields, albeit on a
much a smaller scale, it is very much a Georgian building, with
Palladian windows and balanced proportions. There is a statue
of St Paul, carved in the American primitive style, over the
portico. The interior is simple yet elegant and features painted
woodwork, fluted columns, and Waterford crystal chandeliers.
The surrounding churchyard holds many memorials and headstones,
some dating from the Revolution. In the churchyard is also the
Bell of Hope, presented by London's St Mary-le-Bow in 2002 as
a memorial to 9/11 and which was to play a role in today's events.
Although the Twin Towers were located directly across the street,
St Paul's miraculously escaped destruction on September 11,
2001 with nary a broken window. In the aftermath of the tragic
events of that day, the chapel served as a place of rest and
refuge for recovery workers, offering meals, beds, counseling,
and prayer. Currently it is a very active worship space, with
Sunday services as well as daily prayers for peace. It also
hosts concerts and other events.
In 1766 St Paul's sat in what was then the rural countryside,
far removed from the bustle of New York. Now, only six blocks
from Wall Street, it is surrounded by a cavern of skyscrapers
and the slowly emerging Freedom Tower, which is set to replace
the Twin Towers in 2014.
The Most Revd Katharine Jefferts Schori, Presiding Bishop of
the Episcopal Church, preached the sermon. The Rt Revd Mark
Sisk, Bishop of New York, presided. They were assisted by several
of the Trinity Wall Street staff: the Revd James Cooper, rector;
the Revd Canon Anne Mallonee, vicar; the Revd Deacon Robert
Zito, parish deacon; and the Revd Daniel Simons, priest for
Liturgy, Hospitality & Pilgrimage.
The date & time:
Sunday, September 11, 2011, 7.30am.
What was the name of the service?
The Holy Eucharist: A Mass for Peace.
How full was the building?
Slightly more than 200. I had expected more, but given all the
craziness police check points, Secret Service sweeps,
protesters shouting, streets blocked with police barricades
I can see why some would have stayed home.
Did anyone welcome you
No. Unless you count getting frisked by the New York City police
on the way over. I had body checks twice on the two block walk
from the subway station.
Was your pew comfortable?
The pews at St Paul's were heavily damaged during the relief
ministry after 9/11. They were removed and now there is an open
floor plan with chairs. The chairs were fine.
How would you describe the pre-service
A bit tense. The Revd Simons gave a short speech outlining security
concerns: for example, we couldn't leave the building during
the time President Obama was scheduled to arrive at the WTC
site. He also briefly described the order of service and mentioned
that the Bell of Hope would be rung at 8.46, the time at which
the first plane struck the North Tower.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Welcome to St Paul's. Please introduce yourself to the
person sitting next to you."
What books did the congregation use during the
None. Only a service bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ, piano, and the Chapel Singers.
Did anything distract
The "Truthers" groups who question the official account
of the destruction of the towers were directly outside
the church shouting in protest, and we could hear them at times.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Borderline happy clappy, to my surprise. The choirmaster gave
us a singing lesson before the service, where we practiced a
really difficult round form of the Kyrie. There wasn't any incense
or kneeling, and there wasn't even a procession. Instead of
communion wafers they had bits of whole wheat pita. The bishops
and priests were wearing red albs, with the presiding bishop
in a particularly bright rainbow one.
Exactly how long was the
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 Bishop Jefferts Schori preached an excellent sermon
but didn't seem particularly animated. I don't know if that
is her style or if it was a reflection of the day.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon
She began by asking how we begin to change hearts that seem closed to the idea of peace, both here at home and abroad. That change, she argued, comes only with awareness, the recognition that our hearts are aligned with God's intention for peace. Jesus' exhortation to turn the other cheek is a challenge to his listeners to change hearts. She then moved to ask how we love for our enemies and pray for those who do us harm. Changed hearts, she said, seek something larger than vengeance. The road to peace is found when one loves their enemies enough to see a different possibility, something other than retribution.
Which part of the service was like being in
There was something really right about the tone of the service.
It was extremely intimate, low key, even sort of "homespun,"
which, given the madness right outside the front door, seemed
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There's one in every crowd, isn't there? A family of three arrived
late. Instead of splitting up, the husband insisted on inconveniencing
a dozen people by making them move so that he could position
a chair in the aisle, thus blocking access for communion. Also,
at the peace, someone went in for the hug. I have to say that's
never happened before and I wasn't sure what to do.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
The last part of the service was supposed to be the ringing
of the Bell of Hope in the churchyard, but the Secret Service
and police weren't going to allow the congregation in the churchyard
only the bishops. We hung around the doors while the
powers that be had a chat and sorted it out. We were eventually
let outside, but had to stay as far as possible away from the
How would you describe
the after-service coffee?
It was a pretty sober affair, although the spread was impressive.
No one engaged me while I drank a cup of coffee, so I took off,
girding my loins for the inevitable police checks.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 The space is beautiful, especially the Pierre L'Enfant
altar piece (the same L'Enfant who designed Washington, DC).
But I prefer something a little higher up the scale.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes, very much so.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
I'm still trying to figure out if the communion pita was some
kind of inside joke, i.e. Middle Eastern fare, or that's just
what they ordinarily use.
|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.