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of the Heavenly Rest, New York City
© Gryffindor and used under license
Worshipper: Acton Bell.
of the Heavenly Rest, New York City.
Episcopal Church, Diocese
of New York.
The church was built on a fairly long and narrow plot of land
directly across the street from Gilded Age industrialist and
philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s enormous townhouse, now the
Smithsonian Institution’s Cooper Hewitt Museum of American Design.
The site was purchased by Carnegie in 1917 to prevent construction
of a tall apartment building that would have cast a shadow over
his mansion’s gardens. The land was sold to the church by Carnegie’s
widow in 1924, with the restriction that through 1975 the land
would only be used as the site of an Episcopal church no higher
than 75 feet, inclusive of steeples. What was built is a fascinating
synthesis of early 20th century Gothic Revival and the then
very new Art Deco styles. One enters through the severe façade
and finds oneself in a massive, austere interior that is essentially
a series of geometric, cubist planes. Since the building uses
steel supports, there was no need for structural pillars in
the vaulting. As a result, the nave offers uninterrupted sight
lines, something quite rare in New York City churches. The building
was also constructed with many of the latest modern conveniences,
such as indirect lighting and a sound system, a first for the
city. A devastating fire in 1998 destroyed the organ and choir
stalls and, if not for the fast thinking of the first firemen
on the scene, could have blown out all of the windows as well.
But they were saved, and the new red oak choir stalls suggest
the Art Nouveau, especially the rows of daffodil lamps that
Founded in 1865 by veterans of the Civil War, the parish was
named in memory of their fallen comrades in arms. The community
offers a variety of social and service opportunities, from monthly
potlucks and men’s and women’s breakfasts to meals for indigent
seniors and an overnight shelter for the homeless. More details
can be found on their very comprehensive website.
This is the Upper East Side district known as Carnegie Hill,
one of New York’s first historic districts. The area is peppered
with the grand mansions and townhouses of the robber barons
and mega-rich of an earlier age. Most have since been turned
to institutional uses schools and consulates but
there is a growing (and disturbing) trend to return them to
single homes. The area hosts some of the most elite schools
in the city: Dalton, Spence, Nightingale Bamford, Sacred Heart.
The Rt Revd Michael Marshall, formerly the Bishop of Woolrich
and now interim rector of Church of the Heavenly Rest, was the
officiant. He was assisted by the Revd Thomas Synan and the
Revd Deacon Caroline Boynton. The Revd Elizabeth Garnsey, assistant,
The date & time:
Second Sunday in Lent, February 24, 2013, 10.30am.
have received a comment
on this report.
What was the name of the
How full was the building?
Upward of 200 humans and a dog. (No mere service animal;
someone brought their purse-sized pooch with them.) Most people
appeared to be in their mid-50s.
Did anyone welcome you
An usher offered us bulletins and a smile, but nobody spoke
Was your pew comfortable?
Nice wide pews with very comfy padded seat cushions, as well
as red velvet hassocks. My friend and I both felt very well
How would you describe the pre-service
Fairly quiet overall, but there was some catching up among folks
as they arrived, especially with the ushers. We couldn't help
but notice how toasty warm it was, since it was so cold outside.
Both my friend and I remarked how very out of the ordinary heating
is, as most churches here are meat lockers in the winter.
What were the exact opening words of the
"Bless the Lord, who forgives all our sins."
What books did the congregation use during the
All but the hymns were included in the very comprehensive service
bulletin. It also included a very well-done insert with a weekly
meditation on the Sunday readings as well as the announcements.
The 1979 Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal 1982
were in the pews.
What musical instruments were played?
Just the organ was played, a nice-sounding Austin organ that
has been rebuilt over the years, most recently after the fire
in the mid-90s. There was a medium-sized choir of both men and
women, and several of the men had really stand-out voices. Overall
the music was excellent. The anthem, Hide Not Thou Thy Face
by the Elizabethan choirmaster Richard Farrant, was very well
done and a real pleasure to hear.
Did anything distract
The bishop sounded so much like the late Sir Ralph Richardson
that I sort of half-expected him at any moment to launch into
Falstaff’s honor speech. Deacon Boynton, on the other hand,
read the gospel in a slightly Southern accent that was equally
pleasant to listen to. Additionally, there was a man dressed
in leather who arrived late and found a seat near the front,
but who left during the peace, shaking hands with one and all.
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip,
happy clappy, or what?
Pretty starchy middle-of-the-road Rite II. No smells or bells,
but full robes and communion received kneeling at the altar.
The service bulletin made directions for kneeling, standing
and sitting during the service optional, and it seemed lots
of folks took it up on that, as many sat when others were kneeling
or standing. At the start of the service, children processed
to the children’s chapel for a simple service of their own,
then returned (quite noisily) to the main church at the peace.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
On a scale of 1-10, how
good was the preacher?
5 I was reminded of someone reading a college paper.
The Revd Mrs Garnsey's delivery was pretty low-key with little
affect. I found it a bit hard going, although I did feel that
the message was worthy and certainly suitable for the season.
In a nutshell, what was
the sermon about?
Jesus wasn’t above the fray. Rather, he got involved in messy,
human activities. But he wasn't reactionary; he searched out
a small, still space from which to reflect. The season of Lent
asks us to find that same small, still space in which to examine
Which part of the service was like being in
Without a doubt the wonderful windows, which featured a spectacular
use of blue and red, with small, jewel-like panes. It was worth
the visit just to see them on a bright, sunny morning.
And which part was like
being in... er... the other place?
Pity that Bishop Marshall wasn't preaching also I reckoned
he could have let rip with a real rafter-raiser in that Ralph
Richardson voice of his.
What happened when you
hung around after the service looking lost?
Both my friend and I heard during the announcements that the
coffee hour would be held in the narthex. We looked lost and
nobody approached us, so we slowly made our way out.
How would you describe the after-service
We found no coffee (or people for that matter) in the narthex.
We both checked with each other to see that that we’d heard
the same thing, and we looked around to see if there was anyone
to ask, but there wasn't, so we left.
How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
3 Nope. It was a nice service in lovely surroundings
with great music, but not my neighborhood, and it all seemed
a bit chilly despite the abundance of heat.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a
Of course. I was quite content to sit beneath those windows
on a bright, wintry day.
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Surprisingly, it was the deacon's voice. She read the gospel
in her delightful accent with such feeling.
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