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|2494: St Bartholomew's,
New York City
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
New York City.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of New York.
In any other city, a church of St Bartís size a full
city block long and more than half a block wide would
be the cathedral. And while enormous, comfortably holding several
thousand, it is just a very grand example of a parish church.
The building, begun in 1917 with a Byzantine-Romanesque design
by the noted neo-Gothic architect Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue,
wasnít completed until 1930, as the vestry insisted on having
the funds at hand to pay for construction of the building, rather
than to take on any debt. The interior is severe in a Byzantine
way, sort of a Moorish take on the board game Snakes and Ladders.
Goodhue, who died before the church was completed, was concerned
that St Bartís was "in some ways a good deal of a barn,
and with the exception of the chapel, doesnít redound at all
to my credit." But New Yorkers obviously didnít feel this
was the case, as the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission
designated the church an historic landmark in 1967, among the
very first to be singled out soon after the creation of the
commission in 1965.
The early 1980s saw the beginning of a decade-long dispute between
the City of New York and the vestry over plans for the construction
of a 60-story glass and steel office tower in the church's "air
space." This culminated in the congregation suing the vestry
to try to stop the madness. It isnít any wonder that after such
acrimony, membership dwindled to 150 and it looked as if the
church might close. Clearer minds eventually prevailed, however,
and today, the congregation is at a robust 3,000, an all-time
high. Very sensitive to the needs of commuters, they offer very
humane service times before and after work (of which this Ash
Wednesday service is an example) as well as lunch time communion.
They also offer "Sunday on Wednesdays," an after-work
service that includes some music and draws a crowd. With a focus
on social justice and inclusion, St Bartís has a strong charitable
component with a soup kitchen, a shelter, a food pantry and
a medical van. The community center runs a dance studio, a swimming
pool, a pre-school, and a summer camp. They also have a popular
restaurant in the church garden.
Manhattanís Midtown East is the largest, wealthiest, and busiest
business district in the United States. St Bartís is situated
on Park Avenue, in what is arguably the areaís most important
commercial stretch. Grand Central Terminal is just down the
way, and the venerable old Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, that Art Deco
jewel box, is next door.
The Revd Buddy Stallings, priest-in-charge, was the officiant,
assisted by the Revd Matthew J. Moretz and the Revd Lynn Saunders,
associate rectors. The Revd Edward M. Sunderland, priest in
residence and director of Crossroads Community Services, Inc.,
preached. There were also several acolytes and a robed verger.
The date & time:
Ash Wednesday, February 13, 2013, 6.00pm.
What was the name of the service?
How full was the building?
Slightly more than 250.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher said hello and handed me a service bulletin. I was
also asked to move forward by another usher, since she feared
I wouldnít be able to hear the choir from where I was sitting
in the back.
Was your pew comfortable?
The original pews were removed and replaced with modular chairs,
which I found to be a major source of confusion. Read on.
How would you describe the pre-service
It was pretty lively for Ash Wednesday, with lots of people
chatting and catching up.
What were the exact opening words of the
"The Lord is full of compassion and mercyÖ" (Psalm
103:8), from the choral introit in plainsong chant.
What books did the congregation use during the
Hymnal 1982 and a very complete service bulletin.
What musical instruments were played?
Organ and a choir of 20 men and women. St Bartís has one of
the largest organs in the city, a mammoth Aeolian-Skinner with
an unusually rich timbre, expanded and revised over the years.
A major rebuilding in 1970-71 was the last project undertaken
by the company before it ceased doing business.
Did anything distract
The woman sitting directly behind me was muttering to herself
sotto voce not loud enough for me to discern
was she was saying, but loud enough for me to realize that she
was pretty darn angry at something. I turned around to see if
I was somehow the source of her ire, and she glared at me. I
have no idea if she was disturbed or if I inadvertently did
something to disturb her. But, as one does when there is a crazy
on the subway, I moved over a couple seats.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Pretty middle-of-the-road Rite II, with mixing and matching
elements of both high and low. No incense, Sanctus bell or reverencing;
yet crosses were veiled, and much of the mass was sung in plainsong
chant. Additionally, the priests were fairly decked out in vestments
that matched the altar clothes: an ornate chasuble for the officiant
and a cope with tasseled hood (a bit of whimsy that made me
smile) for the preacher.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
8 The Revd Mr Sunderland incorporated a bit of humor,
which is a nice touch, even on Ash Wednesday. And while I inwardly
groaned at his mention of Facebook, his message wasnít exactly
obvious, and ultimately had nothing to do with social media.
It was interesting hearing how he was going to bring it around
to the question of Ash Wednesday.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
He began by recounting a sordid story heíd read on Facebook
of the breakdown of a marriage. Citing the Prayer Book, he reminded
us that there are two categories of sin: those things we ought
not to do, but do; and those things we ought to do, but do not.
Our focus, he argued, for thousands of years has been on our
actions, and we ignore how neglectful we really are. Perhaps
it is time for us to look at things we leave undone, and perhaps
this could be the focus of our devotions this Lent. Rather than
focus on ourselves, focus on how we can help others.
Which part of the service
was like being in heaven?
Everyone sang, even the muttering lady behind me who,
when she wasnít muttering, had a lovely voice, which was really
nice. It always makes me happy to see a congregation really
participating. And I really like the hymns in Lent, as they're
at once kind of bouncy and a bit grim.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
I hadnít thought to inspect the chairs on my arrival, and I
didnít realize that their modular design included a spot to
store the hassock-kneeler where the arms of the chairs would
be, rather like the tray tables in the arms of airplane seats.
I scrambled around looking to find where others had miraculously
made their hassocks appear. I hate being unprepared.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nobody spoke to me and there wasn't coffee, so I made my way
How would you describe the after-service
No coffee hour.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
6 I imagine this will become a regular stop-in during
the work week, as there does seem to be a strong and active
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Yes. I found very useful the suggestion to look at what we overlook.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The "Snakes and Ladders" dome, which was both pretty
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