Sometimes, even the most godless among us need to get a little religion. In our first Church Hop, we took you north–this time, Bwog freelancer Alexandra Muhler takes you the other way down Amsterdam.
If Sunday mornings came directly after Tuesday afternoons, I’d probably be a faithful churchgoer. But alas, they follow Saturday nights, so it takes a more stirring motivation than my fairly weak, if persistent, sense of spiritual yearning, to put me in a pew at the godly hour of 10 a.m. This week, that motivation was my mother, and the pew was at Saint Michael’s.
Saint Michael’s, located on Amsterdam between 98th and 99th Streets, is a thoroughly nice building. It has been impressively refurbished since the congregation was established in1807, with a grand, high-ceilinged chapel and a gold-and-turquoise color scheme. The south-facing stained glass in the front altar uses one of the wider variety of colors I’ve seen, sending a dappled stream of morning light into the space.
The traditional design of the church matches the style of worship–typically Anglican. A program, distributed to each mass attendee on entering, lists the hymns, gives the words to the prayers, and contains the full Bible passages that are to be read. The congregation tends to mutter along monotonously to accompany the choirs, one of which is a choir of children, dressed in long white tunics and looking altogether too cute and holy. The prayers and statements of faith, at least in the congregants’ responses, are delivered in an equally quiet, mumbling tone. The pews, especially in the back, are sparsely enough populated that it feels odd to actually vocalize during the proceedings.
But mass at St. Michael’s is not a bloodless Upper West Side WASP drearfest. During the Peace, members disperse far and wide through the pews to shake hands and say “peace be with you.” The few children present are welcome to fidget with crayons and religious storybooks, and their parents aren’t stared at as they carry whiny or crying babies out into the foyer. In the hallway, a poster promotes the faith of one member, who is photographed with his husband and their three children.
A bit of history: St. Michael’s built the neighboring St. Jude’s Chapel in 1921 as part of a mission in a poor black neighborhood on West 99th St. St. Jude’s closed in 1957, and the rector of St. Michael’s invited its parishioners to join his. The offer wasn’t embraced by many of the St. Jude’s worshippers, but St. Michael’s has persisted in trying to reconcile–last year they had some kind of a march of reconciliation. Now, the congregation seems gloriously mixed: nearly half black and a little over half white.
So whether you have a nagging conscience, a nagging mother, or a nagging stomach (free pastries in the back room after mass!), St. Michael’s is a hangover remedy you might want to try.