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306: Cathedral of St John the Divine, Manhattan, New York City
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Cathedral of St John the Divine, Manhattan, New York
Mystery Worshipper: Og, King of Bashan.
The church: Cathedral of St John the Divine, Manhattan, New York.
Denomination: Episcopal.
The building: "The largest Gothic Cathedral in the world". This is a seriously impressive building.
The church: The diversity of New York's population was represented in the congregation – people of all ages and colours were present.
The neighbourhood: The cathedral is located on the Upper West side at 112th and Amsterdam Avenue, near Columbia University.
The cast: There were far too many to list them all, but The Rt. Rev. Richard Frank Grein, Bishop of New York, led the service, and the preacher was Rev. Robert Jenson, Honorary Canon of the Cathedral Church.
What was the name of the service?
Good Friday Liturgy.

How full was the building?
The choir section was about half full, and some more people were seated in the nave. This may not sound like many people, but remember that this church was built with the capacity to seat approximately the entire population of Manhattan.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
A greeter met all visitors to the cathedral at the door; nearer the front of the building stewards gave out service sheets to those attending the service.

Was your pew comfortable?
Mine was a wooden chair, of average comfort. The cathedral offers a variety of different seating options in different areas (pews, wooden chairs, plastic chairs) for the discerning congregant.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
Quiet and prayerful. Amazingly, this atmosphere was maintained depite the constant stream of arrivals and the presence of several young children.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
Silence. The bishops and clergy, a procession numbering 14, processed in, then prostrated themselves for some time before the high altar while the people knelt on the stone floor. This silence remained until the bishop announced "Blessed be our God".

What books did the congregation use during the service?
A printed service sheet, complete with the full text of the liturgy and hymns (including tunes and chants), and an appropriate picture of the crucifixion on the front.

What musical instruments were played?
The organ was played by Dorothy Papadakos, the cathedral organist. It was good to be able to see the organist during the service.

Did anything distract you?
The bishop's fuchsia pink skullcap clashed quite badly with his red robes... but this was just a minor point.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
Robes, processions, bowing, candles... this service was as high as the World Trade Center.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
16 minutes.

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

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Living through the death of Jesus, and rehearsing our own deaths through the Passion narrative.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
This was the most dignified, solemn and reverential service I have ever attended, all without any suggestion of an artifically stiff upper lip. I was struck by the number of people of all ages and backgrounds who were present, showing eloquently how the Church can be relevant to so many people without compromising on the beauty and integrity of its liturgy and message.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
Really, nothing.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
After the service, everyone left, either walking straight out of the cathedral, or wandering more slowly to look at the fine stained glass.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
No coffee, nor fruit juice, nor sherry.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – The only factor which would go against me making this my regular church is that it might be difficult to feel a sense of "belonging" in such an enormous cathedral.

Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
More than that – it made me feel proud to be an Anglican.

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
The deep, deep reverence and humility of the opening of the service.
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