Trinity Wall Street, New York City

Trinity Wall Street, Lower Manhattan, New York City, USA


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Mystery Worshipper: Cassandra
Church: Trinity Wall Street
Location: Lower Manhattan, New York City, USA
Date of visit: Sunday, 6 May 2007, 11:15am

The building

A beautiful Gothic church in reddish-brown sandstone. The windows are of plain colored opaque glass, providing welcome light but detracting from the overall beauty of the building by their very starkness. Contrast this church with the equally beautiful but much more colorful St Thomas Fifth Avenue, for instance.

The church

Trinity is said to be the wealthiest parish in the United States. They are well known for their generosity to the disadvantaged and the homeless, and conduct numerous ministries and outreaches. The congregation appeared to be a blend of all races and predominantly young – I felt like the patriarch of those present.

The neighborhood

No mention need be made of the fact that Wall Street is the financial capital of the world. But it is noteworthy, I suppose, that a Christian church would sit here amid the mighty temples of mammon. Jesus will certainly have a lot of moneychangers' tables to kick over when he returns.

The cast

The Revd Dr Stuart Hoke, parish missioner/staff chaplain, was the celebrant, assisted by the Revd Ruth Anne Garcia, associate for faith formation ministries. The Revd Dr James Herbert Cooper, rector, preached. Owen Burdick, music director, presided at the organ and conducted the choir.

What was the name of the service?

The Holy Eucharist (in fact a solemn mass)

How full was the building?

Completely full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

Yes. There were various persons handing out mass bulletins who were very friendly – not pushy, but friendly.

Was your pew comfortable?

As comfortable as any pews are.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Devoutly and moderately quiet, but there was a feeling of expectation and anticipation one commonly associates with a major feast or an episcopal visitation.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"Good morning!"

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The 1979 Book of Common Prayer, the 1982 Hymnal, the supplement to the Hymnal entitled Wonder, Love and Praise. Lift Every Voice and Sing was also in the pews, but no hymns were taken from it on this particular day.

What musical instruments were played?

Organ. The church's original pipe organ was damaged beyond repair by soot from the fallout of 9/11 and has been replaced by a digital instrument custom-designed for Trinity Wall Street that includes 74 audio channels and samplings from 30 of the finest pipe organs in existence today. Owen Burdick, Trinity's organist, has challenged even the most sensitive of ears to tell the difference between this organ and the grandest of pipe organs.

Did anything distract you?

In contrast to the great beauty of the church's overall ambience, those plain opaque glass windows are simply ghastly!

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

It was an ingenious combination of informal and formal. Everything in the best of taste. Bells (both tower and sanctuary) rung at the proper time, smoke at the gospel, offertory and consecration. etc. A friend in my party whom I would not describe as "churchy" said he liked the mass very much – a true litmus test so far as I am concerned.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

10 – Father Cooper's sermon sounded informal, but it was obvious that much preparation had gone into it. I understood every word except some witty asides (which everyone else must have understood because they laughed at appropriate moments). My non-churchy friend liked the sermon too.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

Who are we? We are those who are called upon to love God, ourselves, and (based on our love for ourselves) each other. Jesus is the model. This is not instinctive, but must be learned, generally and hopefully from our parents.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The mass setting was not a "concert ordinary" but was dignified and well executed. Congregational participation in the singing was enthusiastic. The psalm was done to Anglican chant, as glorious as Anglican chant can inevitably be when it is done right!

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

I was saddened to learn that every single person listed in the Manhattan telephone directory had fallen ill and needed our prayers – or at least it seemed that way during the reading of the petitions. I always fail to understand why "We pray for the intentions of those named in the bulletin" is not sufficient.

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

Nothing, although people did not seem to rush off. Father Hoke was in back of the church and extended a good firm and sincere handshake and greeting.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

So far as I could tell (and I was paying attention), no mention was made in speech or in writing of a coffee hour.

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

10 – New York is a city of thousands of churches, many offering keen competition with their "concert ordinaries", eastward facing celebrations, etc. But what they do at Trinity seems to work, as evidenced by the attendance and attitude of those present. If it's not broken, why try to fix it?

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

Yes. I think Trinity is a place of which Jesus would be proud.

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

How nothing was rushed and everything was done thoughtfully, devoutly and yet economically of time, and with impeccable class and taste!

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