Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An Advent Search

Stephanie and I have chosen Advent to begin looking for a permanent church home. With the liturgical calender in it's most extraordinary bloom, we felt that this would be a beautiful and sacred time to visit.

We've been attending Christ Church New York City, where we've felt extraordinarily welcomed and blessed, especially by our new friend Father Justin Moffatt, but as we have been to no churches other than Christ Church, we wanted to explore a few other options before settling down with a particular congregation.

This week, we attended Saint Thomas. Designated a New York landmark, Saint Thomas was built from 1911 to 1913 in the French High Gothic style and is constructed entirely of stone according to medieval construction principles.

Except for its length, Saint Thomas is of cathedral proportions, with a nave vault that rises 95 feet above the floor. The structure has unique acoustical properties associated with churches built during the Middle Ages. Because much of the music presented at Saint Thomas was composed for use in these churches - not in the concert hall - Saint Thomas provides an authentic space in which this music can be heard today.

Following in the Anglican tradition of the all-male choral ensembles, Saint Thomas is home to the Saint Thomas Choir, comprised of men and boys which performs music of the Anglican tradition at worship services. Additionally, they perform concerts throughout the year, and have performed at such illustrious spaces as Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Vatican, Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center with such artists as the New York Philharmonic, Placido Domingo and Andrew Lloyd Webber. The boys of the St. Thomas Choir are enrolled at the Saint Thomas Choir School, the only church-affiliated residential choir school in the United States, and one of only four such schools remaining in the world.

The magnificent Gothic interior and Saint Thomas' extraordinary musicians and choristers create a environment of worship that is profound and awe-inspiring and frankly hard to surpass in New York or just about anywhere.

The Great Organ was originally built in 1913 and extensively revised and rebuilt in 1969 and the early 1980s. The case is fumed white oak with pipe shades gilded in 23-karat gold. The cedar case doors, the façade design with its embossed pipes, and the ornamental kiosks are distinctly 16th-century Dutch, a style of organbuilding which would have been familiar to the original settlers of New Amsterdam. The organ includes tonal designs which are characteristic of the organs of Bach’s time. In addition, it is especially notable for its French Romantic colors. Consisting of six divisions, the instrument features a Trompette-en-Chamade under the rose window over the Fifth Avenue entrance. There are four manuals, 138 ranks, and some 9050 pipes!

* * *

The architecture was extraordinary. The singing was ethereal. I found myself driven to my knees in a deep and profound meditative state of worship. It was an extraordinary service.

That said, there were issues that bothered me.

Stephanie and I are being very judicious in our search for a new church home. Given the cataclysmic split in the Episcopal Church right now over sexual ethics, we find ourselves on the more conservative, Anglican side of the divide and are purposely only seeking out those churches which we know to be orthodox in their use of Scripture and preaching.

Which is not to say that all the orthodox churches are without spot or blemish. The sermon was, well, forgettable. While I fully embrace the Anglican ideal that the administration of communion is the center of the service, not the homily, it is, nonetheless, for this evangelically-raised fellow, an intricate and indispensable part of the worship. Sermons about “being nice to each other” and the like, while perhaps true, do not the gospel make.

Additionally, it was announced that the Rector of Saint Thomas has had formal charges filed against him with the Bishop by former members of the congregation. I respected the manner in which the announcement was made, and the fact that the full charges were copied and made available to any who wanted them. They involve some sexual and financial inappropriateness and the mistreatment of a priest who was released because of his homosexuality. This was, I admit, not a great first impression, even if the charges are spiteful and ungrounded as many in the congregation indicated.

I have to admit, while I experienced a magnificent morning of worship, it was not without a large measure of reservation and wariness.

As I’ve told Father Justin and others several times, if it comes down to it, I will gladly take a modern church suffused with wonderful people and God-honoring preaching over choirs and stained-glass any day.

But if I can find a place that has both…

* * *

This last picture, while having nothing to do with Saint Thomas, is of my wife taken shortly after the service concluded. We were wandering around Fifth Avenue, munching on roasted chestnuts and admiring the Christmas decorations when I caught this spontaneous gem. Isn't she beautiful!


Blogger Reacher said...

Heh, heh. You said Great Organ.

1:44 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

God bless you on your 'Avent Search'. We shall miss you... But Laurel and I love the idea that you Blog your search (should you blog again on another Sunday). I visited St Thomas' Christmas 2000.

What about other aspects? What about content? Use of the Scriptures? And community? And care for others? Authenticity? I'd love to hear about these things as well.

(You could become a Mystery Worshipper at Ship of Fools)!

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Joe said...

HI Brandon!

Thanks for the update-you do have a beautiful and wonderful wife!

You're ok too.


12:13 AM  
Anonymous Daria said...

I wish you well in your search for a church home--not an easy task, sad to say. I can only agree with Justin, of course--he's hitting on the things that matter most. One can always go elsewhere to take in a lovely concert, but the weekly nourishment of the spirit and fellowship with the Body--that is central. : )

12:25 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Did I say 'Avent'? Am I a pastor? Hmmm. Maybe just a bad speller.

Laurel pointed out that Avent is a brand of baby products.

10:18 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

Justin and Daria, I have made the appropriate changes! Thanks for your honest and spot on "rebuke."

10:03 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

Heya Brandon. For the record, it wasn't a rebuke so much as a request. Just keen for more. Your words are elequent and very descriptive.

I am very sorry to hear about the Hoo-Haa at St Thomas'. Although I know nothing about it, it sounds painful for all concerned.

12:53 AM  
Blogger Justin said...

And shall keep St Thomas' in my prayers.

12:54 AM  
Anonymous Nate said...

Yeah, that does sound troubling. Not so much assuming guilt, but such mishigas would infringe on any sort of worshipful experience, I'd think. Such is the world, today. Shame.

3:57 PM  
Anonymous Daria said...

A hug to you from this old friend, Brandon--I admire your utterly gracious response to my unfiltered plopping out of what came into my head upon reading your post!

And you know, your lovely descriptions of the architecture and music--both of which are things dear to me--helped me realize something: I have been a cathedral snob. ; ) the list of my snobbery keeps growing (films, beer, chocolate, music--now cathedrals)!--this must stop. ; ) Thanks for the reminder that U.S. cathedrals can, um, also truly be inspiring and beautiful. = )


12:19 AM  

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