An Upper East Side Parish on a Glorious May Morning

By Shipps, Harry W. | Anglican and Episcopal History, December 2001 | Go to article overview

An Upper East Side Parish on a Glorious May Morning


Shipps, Harry W., Anglican and Episcopal History


Standing on the corner of Fifth Avenue at 90th Street in New York City on a beautiful spring Sunday is pure delight. Central Park in glorious spring bloom is on the west side, the large modern white granite facade of the Church of the Heavenly Rests stands majestically on the east. Each Sunday parishioners of this church arrive on foot, by taxi, or are dropped off from autos whose drivers circle the block seeking a parking space. All ages-from the littlest ones in strollers to youngsters and including even some adults-come on bicycles that are wheeled right through the doors and leaned against the narthex wall. It is Mothers' Day, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, 9 May 1999.

Built in 1926, Heavenly Rest is starkly handsome and soaring, if a bit severe. The interior is white marble. The reredos are carved in shallow relief and effectively lighted to show subtle forms of angels to emerge. Festive arrangements of white altar flowers, some from a Saturday wedding, enhance the restrained but attractive Sunday decor. Two candles burn on the altar and on two candelabra in front of the reredos. Ushers give arriving worshipers a printed copy of the entire liturgy of the day, less hymns. Promptly at 10:30 the organ prelude concludes, and the procession begins. For the most part the pews in the nave are occupied, but they are still at less than half capacity. By spring, many parishioners of this parish spend their weekends at summer homes away from the city.

The procession is led by the crucifer and two torch-bearers, followed by a large adult choir vested in red cassocks and white surplices. The processional hymn is "Awake My Soul." A clergy cross leads lay assistants and two male priests; the former are vested in albs, the latter in albs and festive stoles. The opening words of the Holy Eucharist, Rite II, are read from the chancel step facing the congregation, followed by the Gloria in excelsus and the spoken collect.

A lay woman comes up from the congregation to the lectern on the gospel side and reads the passage from Acts. This reading is followed by the appointed psalm, sung largely by the choir, standing, and concluding with the gloria patri. Another lay woman comes forward from the congregation and effectively reads the epistle. A sequence hymn, "Lord Make Us Servants" follows, during which the gospel procession forms. As the procession moves to the center of the nave, the choir intones an alleluia sequence, and the assisting priest reads the gospel. Following the return of the procession to the sanctuary, the rector mounts the high pulpit for the sermon.

He delivers his fifteen-minute sermon somewhat informally, but forthrightly and without visible use of notes. Drawing his text from the Apostle Peter, the writer to whom the epistle for the day is attributed, he identifies with the congregation promptly by the use of everyday illustrations, some personal. …

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