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1954: Holy Apostles, New York City
Holy Apostles, New York City
Mystery Worshipper: The Kid from Brooklyn.
The church: Holy Apostles, New York City.
Denomination: The Episcopal Church, Diocese of New York.
The building: The architectural critic of The New York Times wrote that Holy Apostles "provides the ambiance of a quaint country chapel." The cornerstone was laid in 1846 and the building was completed in 1848, with additions in 1854 and 1858 and major alterations in 1908. Its architect was Minard Lafever (1798-1854), who authored several influential architectural pattern books. In 1990 a fire heavily damaged the building, which was restored and rededicated in 1994. A handsome spire complements the otherwise rather plain exterior. The interior is bright and cheerful, with many beautiful stained glass windows by William Jay Bolton (1816-1884), the first artist in the United States to design and manufacture figural stained glass windows. Many of the windows are said to be based on illustrations from the Bolton family Bible and are not replicated in Bolton's other ecclesiastical works.
The church: The parish was founded in 1844 and from the start has been at the forefront of social activism. The church operates the largest soup kitchen in New York City, feeding over 1100 hungry persons every day. The congregation is known for being very gay-friendly and shares its space with a lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual synagogue.
The neighborhood: Holy Apostles is at Ninth Avenue and West 28th Street, on the dividing line between the fashionable Chelsea residential area and the gritty warehouse district that lies further west. General Theological Seminary, an Episcopal institution, is only a few blocks away.
The cast: The Revd Glenn B. Chalmers, rector, was the celebrant. The Revd Peter Carey, assisting priest, preached.
The date & time: Sunday, March 21, 2010, 11.00am.

What was the name of the service?
Parish Eucharist.

How full was the building?
About 80 per cent full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
Yes. As it was "Welcome Sunday" I was asked to fill out and wear a name tag. An usher also said hello.

Was your pew comfortable?
The pews were not replaced after the 1990 fire. Instead, they use padded, stackable chairs, which I found quite comfortable.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Fairly quiet.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Blessed be God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A specially-printed booklet, the Prayer Book 1979 and the Hymnal 1982.

What musical instruments were played?
A magnificent tracker organ sitting in an ornate Dutch Baroque case, an opus of the van den Heuvel firm of Dordrecht, the Netherlands. It originally graced a private home in Texas. There are only 50 van den Heuvel instruments in existence.

Did anything distract you?
During the service a man opened a newspaper and rustled it noisily. But this was thankfully brief.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Middle to high Anglican. Much of the service was sung. According to their website, they strive to strike "an Anglican balance between the formal and the solemn, and the informal."

Exactly how long was the sermon?
20 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
8 – Father Carey, whom I have heard before, is a very engaging speaker. He tried hard to relate the readings to current goings-on in the world.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A reflection upon the gospel reading, specifically "The poor you shall always have with you." This is often quoted out of context. While the Bible does not prescribe specific policies for eliminating poverty, it certainly does not advocate indifference toward the poor. Quite the contrary.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The beautiful organ and choir.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
The PA system is inadequate. Sometimes it was heard to hear who was speaking. But I was most saddened by the knowledge that, come Monday morning, over 1,100 people would need to come to the church for their main meal.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing! It's ironic that, on "Welcome Sunday," nobody approached me.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
Disappointingly weak. But there was a decent selection of fresh fruit, pastries and sandwiches.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
7 – The liturgy and music at Holy Apostles are excellent. It is also definitely a church that "walks the walk" through its soup kitchen ministry. However, people there seem to be more interested in talking amongst themselves than in welcoming outsiders and potential members.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The bright, yet dignified, feel of the sanctuary.
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