Ascension, Staten Island, NY

Church of the Ascension, Staten Island, New York, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Church of the Ascension
Location: Staten Island, New York, USA
Date of visit: Thursday, 14 May 2015, 7:00pm

The building

A modestly sized but charming red brick building surrounded by trees. It was consecrated in 1949 and replaces two earlier structures. The interior is rather narrow, with a large sanctuary compared to the nave. There is a freestanding altar with a tabernacle to the left.

The church

This is a very welcoming community! They have a chapter of the Episcopal Church Women (St Martha's Guild) and two Alcoholics Anonymous groups, one for women only. They also host a Girl Scouts group and the Staten Island Water Color Society. The undercroft is available for hire for a variety of events. There are two eucharists each Sunday, one spoken, one sung, plus adult Bible study. On Wednesdays they have morning prayer plus eucharist followed by a coffee hour.

The neighborhood

Staten Island, the "forgotten borough" of New York City, was once as rural as the back woods of upstate New York. Construction of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge in the early 1960s, the last public works project of controversial master builder Robert Moses, spurred rapid development. Today Staten Island is largely built-up but still retains a suburban residential character. The Fresh Kills landfill was once the world's largest man-made repository for trash. Closed in 2001, it was reopened to receive debris from the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and is now being converted into a park which, when finished, will be twice as large as Central Park. The church is located across the street from the very beautiful Clove Lakes Park in the picturesque upscale Castleton Corners neighborhood of Staten Island.

The cast

Celebrant was the Revd Joanne Izzo. Preacher was the Revd Richard Marchand, rector.

What was the name of the service?

Holy Eucharist

How full was the building?

Half full.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

A woman sitting in the back pew of the church said, "Welcome" as I picked up a bulletin off a table.

Was your pew comfortable?

Comfortable – unpadded too!

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Very relaxed, with a great deal of pre-service chatter despite the bulletin's admonition to "move into silence so that our prayers may prepare our hearts for worship."

What were the exact opening words of the service?

V. "Alleluia. Christ is risen." R. "The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

The Hymnal 1982, Prayer Book 1979, and The Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, were used. Also in the pew (but unused this service) were Songs of Praise Combined Edition (published by Servant Music), Songs for Celebrating: Church Hymnal Series IV (published by The Church Hymnal Corporation), and Cry Hosanna (published by Hope Publishing Company).

What musical instruments were played?

A charming 13 rank instrument, opus 2524 of the Austin Organ Company of Hartford, Connecticut.

Did anything distract you?

Some understated but lovely stained glass windows of various saints.

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

Upper broad church (no incense, but the service was referred to as "Mass"), with bowing and genuflecting and making the Sign of the Cross on many occasions throughout.

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

8 – A very well thought out sermon that was simultaneously intellectually engaging and relevant to the modern world. The rector is a personable, warm preacher.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

The Ascension defies our human logic, but we don't need to check our minds at the door prior to entering church. Christ's human body is no longer with us, so now we (the Church) are his body. We are responsible for sharing his love with the world through our actions.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

Wonderful congregation singing and a warm community of faith.

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

One of the hymns had a familiar text but an unfamiliar tune – not in the hymnal and not provided on a handout. The regulars seemed to know it, but myself and other visitors were lost.

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

A special reception in the undercroft had been announced. I had no chance to hang around and look lost, because I was immediately welcomed after the service and encouraged to come downstairs to the reception. I did, and had many wonderful conversations with many people for an hour following the service.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

Wine and soda were the drinks (in fancy clear plastic cups), both of which were good. There was a wonderful spread that included deli sandwiches on croissants.

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

9 – It is well worth a trip on the Staten Island Ferry and then on the S62 bus to attend a service here. The visitor will discover an intimate and terrific faith community, good church music, and accessible but tasteful liturgy. I am an organist at another church, and I live an hour away from this parish; otherwise, I'd come here regularly.

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 warm and welcoming community, and the many wonderful conversations. I will be back when I can.

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