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2153: St Peter's, New York City
St Peters New York
Mystery Worshipper: The Kid from Brooklyn.
The church: St Peter's, New York City.
Denomination: Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Metropolitan New York Synod.
The building: The work of the architectural firm of Emery Roth & Sons, whose buildings include contemporary skycrapers in New York and elsewhere. It's impossible to describe this church using traditional terms. To me it somewhat resembles a granite pyramid that was split in half, with the gap in the middle filled in with glass. The exterior was intended to inspire confidence in the continuing role of Christianity in the city's future. The sanctuary was designed to allow for a great variety of expressions of worship, and is bright and cheerful, with delightfully colored cushions on the pews.
The church: Plenty on offer. St Peter's ministers to a population as diverse as New York itself. Each Sunday they offer two masses in English, another in Spanish, and jazz vespers in the evening. There are also discussion groups and a host of other activities.
The neighborhood: The church is part of a cluster of buildings comprising what is typically called the Citicorp Center (also the work of Emery Roth & Sons), with the bank's towering headquarters looming high above it. There are plenty of skyscrapers in the area, but somehow St Peter's does not seem dwarfed by these.
The cast: The Revd Kaji R. Spellman, associate pastor, preaching and presiding. Mr Roosevelt Andre Credit, music leader. Music from the Aaron Diehi Quartet.
The date & time: March 27, 2011 at 5.00pm.

What was the name of the service?
Jazz Vespers with Rites for Healing.

How full was the building?
About two-thirds full. Probably about 40 people present in all.

Did anyone welcome you personally?
No, but I arrived very early, so maybe the greeters came on duty later.

Was your pew comfortable?
Yes, a modern wooden pew with a colorful, comfortable cushion.

How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
For a while the jazz trio warmed up, but other than that it was fairly quiet, except for one man in the back who yakked loudly for at least half an hour until the service started.

What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Welcome." The first words of the actual service were: "Jesus Christ is the light of the world."

What books did the congregation use during the service?
Specially-printed booklet. There were no hymnals or Bibles in the pews.

What musical instruments were played?
Piano, bass and drums, all very skillfully played.

Did anything distract you?
That man in the back who spoiled the pre-service atmosphere by talking loudly. Also, for a brief period the sun shone right through the large window above the altar, making it difficult to see.

Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
There was some clapping along with the hymns, which were led by a very skillful cantor who really got the crowd up and moving. Essentially the service consisted of several instrumental pieces played by the jazz trio, three hymns, some prayers, a scripture reading and a brief sermon. Before the service candles were distributed, and once things got started people were invited to light theirs from the main candle. Later people were asked to come forward and receive a healing on behalf of themselves or another, with both the minister and a seminarian performing the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.

Exactly how long was the sermon?
10 minutes.

On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
9 – Pastor Spellman was delightfully informal and had us laughing at several points.
This is the first time I ever wished a sermon were longer!

In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
A commentary on the reading, Romans 5:1-11, which is on justification by faith and on Christ's sacrifice for us while we were still sinners. Through Christ there is always hope, no matter what may come our way. Pastor Spellman told an hysterically funny story of a YouTube video she had just watched in which the narrator supposedly helped people achieve their material goals by making affirmations and tapping themselves on the head. Affirmations may be a positive thing, but they are not backed by Christ's power.

Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
The jazz! I have never encountered this type of music in a church service before, but it was very uplifting, especially as the congregation sang.

And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
There was nothing about the church itself that was "hellish" in any form, although I found myself very emotional during the healing rite. We were offered the opportunity to have prayers said for a loved one, and I thought of my beloved aunt, who is gravely ill and now has dementia.

What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Nothing! Nobody approached me. But when I sat down with some of the people from the church afterwards they were very friendly.

How would you describe the after-service coffee?
The coffee was decent, but St Peter's has much more than a "coffee hour": they offer supper. This night it was roast pork, quinoa and veggies. Quite good.

How would you feel about making this church your regular (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
9 – Before deciding upon this I'd like to attend a few of their other services.

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

What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time?
Mr Roosevelt Andre Credit's enthusiastic direction of the singing.
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