Immaculate Conception, Ithaca, NY (Exterior)

Immaculate Conception, Ithaca, New York, USA


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Mystery Worshipper:
Church: Immaculate Conception
Location: Ithaca, New York, USA
Date of visit: Saturday, 16 May 2015, 4:30pm

The building

A modest old Gothic Revival church, the design of late 19th/early 20th century local architect AB Wood, who also designed railroad depots, schools, county jails and private homes. Inside, there is a very beautiful tapestry behind the high altar depicting the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. There is also a very nice Marian shrine set back on the right. Stained glass windows depict various saints.

The church

They have a youth group and a youth and family ministry, and will be offering vacation Bible school this summer. There is also a chapter of the Knights of Columbus. A parish picnic is being planned for later in the summer. They support a food pantry and a homebound ministry, and bring holy communion to residents of a local nursing home.

The neighborhood

Ithaca, in south-central New York, sits on the southern shore of Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes (so named because when viewed on a map they resemble the fingers of a hand – although there are eleven of them). The city is home to Cornell University and Ithaca College. Namgyal Monastery, the North American seat of the Dalai Lama, is also in Ithaca. The city fathers have worked hard at preserving a small college town atmosphere in the downtown area, with restaurants, pubs and boutiques as well as cultural attractions that appeal to the academic community. The church sits on a corner lot near downtown Ithaca, in an area featuring an abundance of old architecture as well as interesting restaurants and bars. There is a Greek Orthodox church directly across the street.

The cast

The Revd Jeff Tunnicliff, pastor,
plus adult male and female altar servers. There was also a woman who acted as lector and who was greeting people at the back.

What was the name of the service?

Mass and First Holy Communion

How full was the building?

Three-quarters full, including the five young first communicants and their families.

Did anyone welcome you personally?

The woman who would later serve as lector greeted us and was also kind enough to direct Mrs Devote to the facilities.

Was your pew comfortable?

Pretty standard hard wood, typical of older Catholic churches.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?

Quiet, as I would expect, with the occasional person greeting someone they clearly knew. One thing they did was ask everyone to greet each other, something unusual in my experience for Catholic churches.

What were the exact opening words of the service?

"In the name of the Father, and of the the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."

What books did the congregation use during the service?

A combined hymnal/songbook by OCP publications that had been donated by the local Knights of Columbus Council 277.

What musical instruments were played?

An old-fashioned pipe organ (their website describes it as "very old" but gives no other details) accompanied by a very nice choir who sang from the rear gallery.

Did anything distract you?

The small talk by people walking in was distracting but not excessively so.

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

It was formal, a typical mass that you see in many parishes. No chanting, no incense, but the altar party were properly vested (although the usher taking up the collection was in shorts!) and everyone reverenced the altar with a bow. The first communion girls were all in white dresses that perhaps looked a little too much like wedding gowns, but it's their day and their families' day after all, so who am I to complain?

Exactly how long was the sermon?

10 minutes.

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

7 – The pastor's preaching was accessible and upbeat. He was pretty good at explaining the points of theology to the young first communicants.

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?

It was about how important the eucharist is in the faith life of Catholics. Receiving the eucharist is the most important thing that we do together as a church. We are fed with the Body and Blood of Christ, which are the source of true life in Christ.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?

The recessional was "Sent forth by God's blessing", which was very nice given that everyone sang and no one ran for the door. I love this hymn but don't ever hear it at my home parish.

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

The meet-and-greet at the start of mass really took me out of my comfort zone and made me worry what we'd get moving forward.

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

Unfortunately my parking meter was about to expire, as the mass ran longer than I had expected and so I had to get back to my car to avoid a ticket. However, there were some very nice devotional prayers that were about to begin, and I was very disappointed that I would have to miss them.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?

I don't think they had one, but I couldn't have stayed anyway.

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

7 – If I were in Ithaca again I would attend this parish. It's not perfect, but none are.

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

Yes. Unlike many Catholics, I really enjoy it when I get to go to a mass with first communicants.

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

The five young ladies receiving their first communion ... as well as the recessional.

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