Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Saint Paul's Chapel in New York City: A Case Study

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Saint Paul's Chapel in New York City: A Case Study

Article excerpt

Commonality is typically defined as a function of habitual contact: family, friends, neighborhood, or denomination. What if there are other possibilities?

Built by Trinity Parish in 1766, Saint Paul's Chapel attracts visitors from around the world, all of them drawn by the chapels rich history, especially the chapels unique role after the tragedy of 9/11 when Saint Pauls was transformed into a round-the-clock support center where firefighters and rescue and recovery teams were fed, given counseling, slept, and stored their equipment on the pews. The photographs of the fallen and letters of mourning and support that once covered the iron fence around the building have now been brought inside and are part of a permanent 9/11 exhibit lining the perimeter of the chapel s interior.

The 9/11 exhibit is only the most recent renovation in Saint Paul s history, during which various entrances have been sealed and relocated, altars and sanctuaries added, and pews and other furniture elements installed and removed. The visitors looking at the 9/11 exhibit may not know it, but they are standing inside of New York City's oldest building in continuous use. What they do know is that this chapel, which stands directly across the street from the former World Trade Center towers, has an enduring power to hold memories and inspire hope.

The global and religious diversity of these visitors poses unique challenges for those planning the 10 a.m. Sunday liturgy, especially because visitors typically comprise over half of the congregation, and thus, half of those in the seats have never worshipped at Saint Pauls. Many have no experience of Anglican worship. Planning liturgy in this context requires us to abandon assumptions about who belongs. With this ever-changing and diverse congregation of strangers in mind, Saint Paul's worship planning team has developed the following principles:

* Create a liturgy in contemporary, graceful prose that reflects our heritage as Anglicans, but is also sensitive to other traditions.

* Extend hospitality in all aspects of worship: verbal instruction, music, liturgical actions, layout of furniture, bulletin preparation, social interaction, vestments.

* Engage not only the congregation but exhibit visitors in face-to-face interaction and touch throughout the liturgy.

* Allow authority to move among the liturgical leaders (marshal, musician, preacher, presider, reader, intercessor).

* Observe and listen to the experience of worshippers and refine the liturgy accordingly.

What follows is a description of the Sunday morning worship experience which, based as it is on these principles, is an attempt to provide an experience of commonality to the unlikeliest of congregations.

A Layout That Creates a Sense of Gathering

The heavy use Saint Pauls received during its eight months as a rescue and recovery center after 9/11 took a severe toll on the pews, which were subsequently removed. Though the building dates back to 1766, the pews that were removed were installed in the 1960s and thus not of any particular value as architectural artifacts. Having been sanctified by the firefighters, emergency crews, and support teams that used them in the aftermath of 9/11, however, these pews retain great meaning for those workers and the community of volunteers that supported them and have thus been preserved in an off-site storage facility. Three of the pews were donated to the 9/11 Museum and will be displayed in an exhibit on radical hospitality at Ground Zero. Replacing the pews with chairs opened up the space and allowed multiple seating arrangements to accommodate the variety of events that regularly take place at Saint Pauls-concerts, dance performances, film screenings, readings, and community meetings, as well as the worship of a Jewish congregation in lower Manhattan. Saint Paul's staff and congregation, in consultation with a parishioner/architect, auditioned several configurations of the liturgical space before settling on the current layout. …

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