Free & Fit NYC - Grace Church Episcopal Visit and Reflection
Free & Fit NYC - Grace Church Episcopal Visit and Reflection - by Tim Cheux
On Sunday 23rd February 2020 Linda Brandt, Colin Williams and I, Tim Cheux, visited the beautiful French Medieval Gothic Anglican Church Grace Church Episcopal for the 11am morning prayer service. Upon arrival we were greeted by the Churches beautiful stature, two-hundred-and-thirty-foot spire and a wonderful greeting team with white lapel flowers. The Church is simply exquisite inside and exudes beauty, tradition, culture and wonder of Church history, promise and religion. The sacred depth of the Churches interior with iconic stained glass, beautiful exterior with Goblets, amazing East facing nave and wonderful Chapels for prayer, Children’s worship, the sacristy team and various types of ministry made us all feel very aware we were at Church!
As a group we have visited different Churches this semester including Holy Apostles, St Paul's Chapel and the Church of the Intercession. At Grace Church one thing felt very different, it felt like home and immediately gave us a sense of identity we had not experienced at the other Churches. Linda, Colin and I all explained how we felt more at home with the Churches high worship, central location and esteemed congregants. Without doubt, my hat, sports attire and shorts were out of place in this location. Next week's Anglo-Catholic visitation will be no different! Throughout the service we had efficient prompts for the service, the hymns were numbered and in direct site in our eyeline, the Book of Common prayer, Anglican hymnal and service books were provided for every individual worshipper. The Church had pews which were difficult for me to stretch my legs out and take my shoes off like I do in worship. I was personally grateful that there was no Eucharist as I would have felt embarrassed walking in socks, no trousers and in my hat up to the altar. On this occasion I would have had to perhaps to remain seating to respect the Church protocol, to stay low and avoid Eucharist.
Throughout the service we were blessed by the beautiful Boys and Men’s choir which sang beautifully and was led by General Seminaries very own organist Patrick Allen. However, it was interesting that there were two ladies also in the choir. Linda kindly informed me that one was a soprano to support the choir and another to sing solo along with the male tenors. Both sang fantastically. Grace Church also has a girls, ladies, parish and community choir so this was not surprising and perhaps this was to provide opportunities for the ladies to support and help the boys blossom in the choir. Furthermore, the choir represented all ages with some of the Children singing for us and also reading for us at one point in the service too.
During the service it was scheduled for Ethan Anderson to speak, but our very own seminarian, wisdom year resident, Thomas Szczebra read instead. This was great improvisation as the reader was not available in the immediacy of the reading; the rector and seminarian coordinated which seemed like a rehearsed solution if a reader were absent. The children were prompted to leave during worship, led by two priests, including Thomas, walked the ten children members for the children’s message to the designated Children’s Chapel and to study and receive their Sunday School message.
The worship included Anglican Chant, historical hymns and familiar famous Episcopal songs. We all sang, prayed, stood, sat and kneeled in typical Anglican and Episcopalian liturgical services and transitions. Coffee hour was fantastic, as outlined to me on my call with Sandra in the Church office, with New York Girl Scout cookies (handmade by New York’s very own Girl Scouts), Prosecco, Shrimp cocktail, fine tea and coffee condiments, table nibbles with fine snacks and food available for all. Each table was draped in beautiful tablecloths, with specific volunteers and people providing hospitality where required and necessary.
We were welcomed by all, met local NYU students, shook hands with the rector himself and built great community and conversation throughout. We retreated for our debrief in the Church’s corridor to the coffee hour and shared our reflections. The sermon we felt was both encouraging, relevant and apt for focusing on the transfiguration Sunday Church calendar event, the Church’s outreach to Queens Jamacia, with local Muslim brothers and sisters and the Churches upcoming fundraising appeal of $20,000 which will be matched to raise a total of $40,000 in collaboration with Habitat for humanity. We all felt this was a particularly great appeal with Linda stating, “I love that!”
The culture of the Church is very high Anglican and includes full liturgical service, with Full Hymnal Sung Worship, Liturgical following of Rite 2 in the Book of Common Prayer, Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist and morning and evening options on the day we visited. We debated that the Church would have been busier if there was Eucharist available, but it was still full of both two center isles of the pews front to back with some in the back on the left- and right-hand side. The Church itself is very wealthy with over one-million-dollar fundraising targets and goals being reached in previous years. According to the Church's online annual reports in 2017 the Church raised $1,069,006, in 2018 $1,060,031 and to date had raised $270,208 in 2019 when the report was last written and printed online. The Church reached over million dollars in previous campaign years, 2016 and 2015, and continues to set higher campaign goals and normally comes within 95%-98% of its target. The Church has various outreach groups and works with non-profit organizations to develop its mission to unite the City of New York for the Gospel of New York City.
According to the Episcopal Research and statistics website Grace Church has over 300 members on a weekly basis, this is highly believable given that they have three services and when we visited there were around 150 people present. The plate and pledge is currently at 1.2 million and therefore they obviously surpassed their previous annual campaign target. Indeed, Grace Church has steadily seen an increase in their plate and pledge from 2013 to 2019 going from below 1 million to just over 1.2 in five years. In the same their congregation weekly average has increased and decreased in the same time, but remains above 300, more than its 250 average some five or six years ago. Its membership has seen a steady increase from just over 650 members to 1000 which is a great feet and must be accredited to much hard work from the Rector, Clergy, Laity and brilliant outreach missional activities mentioned in this report.
The most tearful point for Linda was looking ahead, two pews from where we were sat, and admiring a Mum and Dad who had two little girls, the age of her own two girls, when she came to New York in 1989 with her husband. Tova, her daughter, got a scholarship to go to Grace Church school at this time. She quoted that she missed those days deeply and now at age 44 and 41 her daughters have their own children. Colin and Linda both commented on the demographic of the congregation and how this was familiar to their Church’s at home, how they felt at home with such high-class, well dressed and affluent Episcopalians and were appreciative of the elitism which was so evident at the Church. This enables them to reach out, increase their impact and raise awareness of the clear homeliness in New York and collect, give, volunteer and serve outwardly, rather than inwardly in the Church. We all felt that Grace Church was a building, sending and equipping Church for mission. A unique gift that is so heavily needed in the city of New York and in line with the Church’s tradition, mission and vision to provide unity through preaching the social Gospel of the Church’s unique identity. This was both authentically communicated and apparent within the Churches congregation.
In conclusion, we all appreciated and felt welcomed at Grace Church Episcopal New York City. We all commented we would return and were grateful for our welcome, time together they're and the worship service itself. We would like to recommend to the Church to follow up on their welcome cards as we found some filled out that had not yet been collected.
This was only a minor detail and encourage the Church to keep providing such rich refreshments like we experienced on Transfiguration Sunday. We hope to visit again in the future and thank the team for their welcome. Some of us want to bring the “Ask me Anything” forum back home to their own Churches. It was engaging and crossing boundaries on how-to get to know the staff and great to hear the clergy individually and each have different ideas. A newcomer would be so happy to see the personalities of each clergy without having to talk to them alone. We all received a warm welcome and would happily consider this become our worshipping communities. My wife and I had previously visited Grace Church when we first arrived in New York and even considered it becoming work based, midweek members, of the Church back in February 2017, instead we went to Trinity Wall Street to be our work based worship location from my home tradition of the Church of England.
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