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2353: Our Lady Queen of Peace, Staten Island, New York, USA
Our Lady Queen of Peace, State, Island, NY
Mystery Worshipper: Acton Bell.
The church: Our Lady Queen of Peace, Staten Island, New York, USA.
Denomination: Roman Catholic, Archdiocese of New York.
The building: Built in the early 1920s, it is a modest, red brick building with limestone tracery around the doors and windows, in what is essentially an Art Deco riff on Ruskinian Gothic. The interior has several wide, pointed arches that frame the altar, giving the illusion of a Deco peristyle, as well as some lovely stained glass which, according to the bulletin, was recently restored.
The church: The bulletin depicts them as being quite an active parish, with 13 masses a week, including five on Sunday. They sponsor chapters of the Holy Name Society, Fathers Club, and Catholic Youth Organization, as well as sports clubs and a Zumba class.
The neighborhood: Staten Island is often called the forgotten borough, as it is the least populous and most suburban in character of the five boroughs that make up New York City. The church is located in the New Dorp neighborhood, which is largely Italian-American. The VH1 reality TV series Mob Wives is set here and it is home to many mansions, including the so-called "White House" built by Gambino crime-family boss Paul Castellano, modeled on its namesake in Washington, DC.
The cast: The Revd Patrick McCarthy, parochial vicar, was the celebrant. He was assisted by an acolyte.
The date & time: March 4, 2012, 12.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Sunday Mass.

How full was the building?
About 60 to start, but it swelled to about 133 at the eucharist, then quickly cleared out immediately after communion, with just a third of the congregation remaining for the benediction. I'm pretty confident that a significant number timed it so as to arrive precisely at communion, and left directly after receiving.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, and I'm not sure they get many visitors, since we garnered some stares.

Was your pew comfortable?
No, not particularly. It was a pew with an open back. I always feel with that style as though my caboose is sticking out into the pew behind me.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Pretty bustling, with people chatting and catching up, a liveliness in stark contrast to the behavior of the congregation during the service.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome to Our Lady Queen of Peace. The officiant today is Father Patrick McCarthy. In place of the homily today Father Pancrose [the Revd Pancrose Kalist, pastor] will introduce the Stewardship Appeal from the Archdiocese."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Breaking Bread.

What musical instruments were played?
Organ, tambourine, and a choir of perhaps five or six in the loft behind us. One contralto was a standout, with a horrible sense of pitch. The way she sang off-key, especially toward the end of each verse, was both loud and painful.

Did anything distract you?
I found myself going cross-eyed from the sheer boredom of it all, writing a mental grocery list for much of the mass. There were also some cute kids sitting in front of us who obviously enjoyed giving everyone around them the sign of peace.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
The blandest possible version of a novus ordo mass imaginable. No smells or bells or any real attempt to elevate the liturgy. The congregation sat largely stone-faced throughout – barely audible when saying the prayers, not bothering to sing, and passing a lukewarm peace. The hymns and mass setting were abysmal ones of the "singing nun" variety. In an attempt at getting jiggy with it, they broke out the tambourine for the recessional hymn, but even that was played off-beat, and I don't think they were aiming for syncopation.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
Instead of a sermon there was a video presentation from the Archdiocese narrated by the newly minted Cardinal Dolan, asking for contributions. Cardinal Dolan's famous backslapping bonhomie seemed wildly at odds with a video designed so blatantly to give big, emotional, yanks to the proverbial heartstrings, peppered as it was with images of disabled children learning the Rosary and nuns protesting abortion clinics.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
The video was an appeal for money to fund Archdiocesan programs, such as anti-abortion protests, natural family planning classes, preparation for marriage courses, and Sunday school for disabled children. At first, I didn't quite understand why the video had to replace the homily. Couldn't it have played before or after mass? But it twigged later why they did it this way. It appeared that most folks came just for communion and left before it was over, so other than at the homily, there was no other place for it, if you wanted it seen. All in all, I felt more than a little cheated.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Nothing really. It was as boring, lifeless and tedious a service as any I've ever attended. Pretty confident everyone there was strictly fulfilling a Sunday obligation.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
What the Archdiocese chose to emphasize in the video seemed a bit odd. Other than the disabled children at the beginning, the video was overwhelmingly weighted to highlight programs that police parishioners' unsanctioned sexy-time. Is that now the thrust of its charitable work? Really?

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing. The mad dash to the exits started right after communion, so other than eliciting some stares, we made our way out.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There wasn't one, but one parishioner had set up a table selling religious and devotional items, and many, including us, stopped to browse on the way out. I dined at a nearby luncheonette before the ferry ride back to Manhattan.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
0 – I don't live on Staten Island, so this is not a realistic option. However, if I did, I would be very glad to know that the Staten Island Ferry isn't far and runs regularly, providing me access to many other churches elsewhere.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
This was that rare service where I felt absolutely nothing at all.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The marvelous lunch afterwards, which more than made up for the dismal service.
 
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