I hadn't planned on going to St. Thomas' today, given my usual meeting schedule, but long about quarter past ten this morning I realized that I didn't really need to be in any of my committees' working group meetings until 1 PM, so I left my gear in the hands of a trusted colleague and attended the 11 AM "Choral Eucharist" at St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue
, New York City.
Seeing the ushers in morning-coats set me back a bit as I was dressed rather more informally for my meetings (corporate-logo tan sweater, registration name-tag, black slacks, black walking shoes and winter jacket), but I was assured I was fine. And certainly welcome, though the usher seemed slightly surprised at the distance I'd come.
The instant I set foot inside, though... well.. some might consider it profane were I to spell out my internal reaction to the beauty of the church ("OMG!"). I've not seen its like in North America, and to my eye it far surpasses my several decades-old memory of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (about which I'll say no more).
Still, I was prepared for the worst.
The only BCP in the pew was the 1928 Book of Common Prayer! I do not know how this could be, given the general banishment and/or abandonment of the 1928 all across the Episcopal church, but there it was. This delight was a bit diminished by finding the 1982 Hymnal instead of the 1940, but maybe one can't always have everything and I was after all just a visitor.
The usher/greeter had told me, in our conversation, that St. Thomas had one of the four top boys' choirs (or schools?) in the world: two in the UK, the Vienna Boys' Choir and St. Thomas, but this still didn't fully prepare me for the service.
The procession set the tone, and I've not seen its like before. Crucifer and Lucifers (both of whom were almost hugging the Crucifer -- note to Ranjit: we need better organization :-) led the way followed by the boys' choir and possibly mens' also. (My voice was in exceptionally good order this morning, but thoroughly outdone by the choir.) Then came something new: a *second* Crucifer and Lucifers followed, if I remember aright, by a Verger (an office I held once, many years ago in another church) preceding the clergy.
Was I in High Church? Definitely, and loving it. This isn't quite the image of Heaven we hear from Fr. Daniel and our readings -- but it's close enough.
The service... it was wonderful to be able to recite in such a venue from memory, though two jarring notes were the minor translation of the Creed, and the detested (by me) "Peace": ameliorated only by the fact that folks stayed in their pews -- this wasn't the usual Episcopal "pre-coffee-hour social event."
I was surprised too by the number of people who left when Communion began but I've read before of those who love the high art of the Anglican liturgy, the beauty of its music and the language, and I can only guess that there are many such in New York.
Count me among them now. Though I'm not there for the "art" I love this expression of our Anglican liturgy.
When it is possible in the next few days (and it won't be often), I'll be returning for Morning Prayer or Evensong.