St Luke's, New York (Exterior)

St Luke's, Manhattan, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: St Luke's
Location: Manhattan, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 5 May 2013, 11:00am

The building

A traditional structure, rectangular, built in 1922-23. There is an exquisitely carved wooden reredos behind the altar, and stained glass windows on the east wall brought from one of the parish's previous locations. The nave was extensively renovated in 1990, when the current organ was also installed. The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 2007.

The church

The parish has an unusual history. Its origins lie in a Dutch Reformed parish from which a group split in 1850. That group affiliated itself with the New York Ministerium in 1853 and shortly thereafter adopted "The German Evangelical Lutheran Congregation of Saint Luke's" as its official name. In 1880 they resigned from the Ministerium, and for over a century continued as an independent Lutheran church. They joined the newly-constituted Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1987. Today St Luke's sponsors Bible study groups, a soup kitchen serving up 160-220 meals two days a week, and a clothing bank that distributes new or little-used clothing one day each month. As they are located in Manhattan's theater district, and many of the parishioners are musicians and actors, they present a "Soup Song Cabaret" twice a year to raise funds for the soup kitchen. They celebrate the eucharist each Sunday at 11.00am, and each Wednesday at 12.10pm and 7.00pm. They on occasion worship with a nearby Episcopal parish, St Clement's.

The neighborhood

One and a half blocks from Times Square, in the heart of New York's theater district.

The cast

The Revd Paul D. Schmiege, pastor, presided at the eucharist and preached. Ernie Vickroy was lector. Roy Feldhusen was organist and directed the choir.

What was the name of the service?

Choral Eucharist

How full was the building?

55-60 present, in a building that I estimate could seat 300.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

An usher handed us a bulletin. Pastor Schmiege was also in the back of the church and greeted us warmly, asking us where we were from, etc.

Was your pew comfortable?

Quite comfortable. Pull-down kneelers in the pew in front, which were not used in this service.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Conversation from the narthex filtered into the church, though when Mr Feldhusen began his prelude, the mood became quieter and more reverent.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

Pastor Schmiege announced that the service would begin with the thanksgiving for baptism on page 97 of Evangelical Lutheran Worship; then: "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

Evangelical Lutheran Worship, a combination hymnal/service book "commended for use" in the ELCA in 2006.

What musical instruments were played?

A two-manual Walcker mechanical action pipe organ. There was also a grand piano, which was not used for this service.

Did anything distract you?

St Luke's has not gone the route of the all-inclusive service booklet that so many parishes use these days (points, as they're not killing nearly as many trees), so keeping up with the lessons, sung psalm, intercessions, etc., all the while trying to follow along in the worship book, took some juggling. After a couple of weeks worshipping with these folks, I'm sure it would all be clear.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?

A formal, evangelical-catholic liturgy, followed by some very informal announcements. The presider was vested in chasuble, and he began the service with a generous sprinkling of water after the thanksgiving for baptism. I noticed him also discretely bowing at the name of Jesus. The prayer of the day, preface dialogue, introduction to the memorial acclamation, concluding doxology to the eucharistic prayer, and the Lord's Prayer were all beautifully chanted (this congregation sings magnificently – the Lord's Prayer was perfectly in tune). Even more impressive, the chant was all unaccompanied – the obtrusive organ accompaniments for the presider's chants one frequently finds in North American Lutheran churches were blissfully absent. And there was an explicit breaking of the bread during the Lamb of God. Communion was received standing, the wine taken from a common chalice.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

12 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?

10 – Informal, but never condescending. Pastor Schmiege easily kept his congregation's attention. He spoke of his college years, his first time away from home for substantial periods, and how his parents would write regularly but how he replied less frequently. He said he knew then for the first time what it means to be alone.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The gospel was John 14:23-29 (Jesus will go to the Father, who will send the Holy Spirit). Jesus' "table talk" with his disciples before his betrayal and crucifixion, as reported in John's gospel, must have been confusing and difficult for the disciples to understand. But they had to learn, just as he had years earlier, that you cannot stay home forever; to take flight, you must let go.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Well, almost everything: beautiful liturgy, superb preaching, a congregation that sings. I was a little worried during Mr Feldhusen's prelude, which was a bit tentative, but he proved to be a superb liturgical organist and accompanist.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?

Well ... there were those announcements. It's the custom at St Luke's to ask all visitors to stand, tell the congregation where they are from, what brought them to New York, etc. I usually don't do well with this sort of thing, but Materfamilias and I survived, thanks in part to Pastor Schmiege's warmly welcoming attitude.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?

This is one of the friendliest congregations I have encountered. A couple of members of the congregation who had Michigan ties asked us about the flooding we had recently experienced back home in Michigan, and came up to speak to us.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I had honestly looked forward to the chance to mingle with my fellow-worshippers after the service (not always the case), but, alas, the first Sunday in May is the date for their annual congregational meeting. So Materfamilias and I made our way to a restaurant up the street for omelets and tea.

How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?

10 – With a son and newly-arrived grandson in New York, we will certainly be visiting several times a year, and I had actually made a short-list of churches that I thought might make for interesting Mystery Worshipper reports. But I think I will now have to leave these to my fellow Mystery Worshippers. Materfamilias and I are both looking forward to a return visit to St Luke's. This will be our New York church home. My only regret is that it is over 700 miles from Michigan.

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


What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?

How generous Pastor Schmiege was with the water during the sprinkling rite. And the warm welcome we received from this congregation.

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