Monday, March 10, 2008

Drama And Church Drama

Before I left for New York, I had read the review of David Mamet's play, "November" in The New Yorker. I love Nathan Lane and his larger than life performances and, since the review was favorable, I thought I'd like to see the play. Prices for tickets were quite expensive, so I did not buy before I left. Once I arrived, the ticket agent at my hotel found me a ticket for considerably less than I had been quoted online. A single ticket is often easier to find than multiple tickets. Not that the ticket was cheap, by any means, but I bought it anyway.

I should have paid more attention to the review in the New York Times. The story is of a buffoon of a president of the US who is running for reelection, but whose numbers are abysmally low in the polls. The president is NOT BUSH - or so they say. For the first minutes of the play I wondered if all the humor of the play was to be based on variations of the F-word. The audience was guffawing loudly, but I could not get into the spirit of the thing. I can stay home and say those words, and it won't cost me a dime. It's not that I'm offended by the word, but I wanted to see something more in the way of humor that was not based on one word. Ten or fifteen minutes into the play, things got somewhat better, and although the laughs came from low humor, at least a bit of cleverness began to appear in the dialog. The part of the lesbian speech-writer, who wants to marry her love and has adopted a Chinese baby, is played by Laurie Metcalf, who is superb in her role. Nathan Lane is always a pleasure to watch, but I found the play lacking.

The High Altar and Reredos of Saint Thomas Church
 On Sunday, I attended the 11:00 service at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, which was only two blocks from my hotel. Caminante had already told me that I would find no women priests there, and she was right. The only woman seated in the chancel was the lector. At least, they permit women to do that.

The music was excellent, with the men and boys choir singing during the service, accompanied by one of St. Thomas' two magnificent organs. The large church was about three-quarters full.

If the liturgy has not already begun, my custom, as I take my seat, is to greet the people on either side unless they appear deep in prayer. This I did, but no one returned the greeting. I suppose customs are different at St Thomas. The liturgy was east-facing, which is not my favorite (pace, Tobias). The priest seemed remote at the high altar, with the large chancel between him and the congregation. At St. James in Fordham, Tobias does an east-facing liturgy, but he seemed to turn more often toward the congregation, but perhaps I'm only imagining this. I liked Tobias' way more than that of the priest at St. Thomas.

The coffee hour is suspended during Lent, with the exception of Laetare Sunday, which it was the day I was there. The congregation was encouraged to have a taste of the simnel cake. I could be wrong, but the coffee hour appeared to be catered. There was coffee and other beverages, including wine and Bloody Marys with a sign on the table encouraging a $3.00 donation for the alcoholic drinks. There were several slightly different-looking simnel cakes set out. I took a slice of one of the cakes and a glass of red wine, dutifully depositing my donation in the basket. The cake was delicious. As I stood there, no one came to talk to me - no one at all for a good 15 minutes.  Once I could no longer stand being embarrassed for the folks there, I approached several people, and they were quite affable once I introduced myself, and we had brief conversations thereafter. I felt like the hostess. I made a point to introduce myself to the rector to let him know that I was from Thibodaux, Louisiana, for I thought that I might be his first encounter with someone from my town. He knew and liked Bishop Jenkins. Do I sound like a mystery worshipper from Ship of Fools?

Then I was on my way downtown in a taxi to meet with Queer For Christ, his partner, and a friend of theirs. I was going to include my next two meetings with friends in this post, but since I've run rather long on the play and the church service, I'll get to my other meals with friends in another post.

Drawing from The New Yorker.

St Thomas picture from Wikipedia.


  1. well, sorry that the play was disappointing. I'm a fan of Nathan Lane, too. As a midwestern Lutheran, the whole cocktails at fellowship thing seemed a little -- well -- different? to me. We're so provincial here. It's considered a big step to have coffee AND tea. But bloody Marys? wow.

    I'll certainly be reading more! What are your fellowship times like in Louisiana, Mimi? Maybe I should visit!

  2. Diane, we serve coffee and juice. The members of the congregation provide the other refreshments. Some spreads are elaborate (you could make a meal from them), and some are simple. If I could, I'd make a rule that leans toward the simple, so that those who are not up to providing an elaborate offering don't feel bad. But making rules about this sort of thing doesn't really work, so to each his own.

  3. How come it is so NOT a surprise that no one welcomed you in an Episcopal church in NYC? How terribly sad.

    In the almost 5 years that I lived there, I never could find an Episcopal church that didn't come across as terribly cold and unwelcoming. I'm sure now that some NYC Piskies will tell me about their wonderful churches, and I'm sure they are right, but I never came across one from many I visited in the early 90's. As I just commented at Elizabeth's, TEC really needs to work on the welcoming issue.

    I, too, love Nathan Lane. And I think I love Laurie Metcalf even more -- good to know she's out there doing something again. Sorry, though, that the play was not as good as you'd hoped. At least you didn't pay full price. :)

    Glad you're back. We all missed you! Can't wait to hear the opera stories. A visit to the Met is a story in itself, even aside from the performances.

  4. Suzer, in my church, welcoming newcomers is emphasized over and over. And the responsibility rests on all of us, not just on the rector.

    As I said, I introduced myself and played the part of the hostess, since no one seemed to be taking on the role. That's very sad. What was I to do? Stand there alone?

    I missed everyone, too. It's good to be home.

  5. I am glad you had the gumption to act as your own hostess and meet some people. I probably would have slinked (or slunk? is that a word?) away and avoided eye contact -- I'm terrible in those kind of situations.

    I didn't mean to imply that Piskies everywhere are bad at welcoming -- my experience in NYC in particular stuck out in my mind and I meant to emphasize it was TECs there in particular. Over all, though, I do think many Episcopal churches could use some help in welcoming folks. We seem to be reticent, or perhaps shy, in that area. I don't know what the disconnect is. It is one thing that I think Methodists and Southern Baptists have over the Piskies -- they really do know how to greet and make a newcomer feel welcome.

    I'm glad your church has figured it out. One church here in Atlanta worked on it, and about 8 years after my first (and to that point only, due to being ignored on my first visit) visit there, I visited again and was welcomed warmly. They told me they had made special efforts to be sure they were greeting newcomers, and their work paid off.

  6. I think the welcoming thing is difficult for many of us since it is far more comfortable to hang out with those we know. Our church is GREAT at welcoming people but at one point when we were congratulating ourselves on that, a relative newcomer pointed out that the effort to reach out to a newcomer doesn't last beyond one or two Sundays. Ouch.

    On the other hand, I once warmly welcomed someone I had never seen before only to find that he was our treasurer but didn't come to church very often.

  7. Saint Thomas had TWO... organs?


  8. You know, I probably wouldn't have returned your in-the-nave greeting either. I wouldn't have wanted to encourage you. Chatting is for the narthex, that's what I always say.

    But, the coffee hour is another thing. It's awfully brave for a visitor to go to coffee hour in the first place, they should be feted when they get there. I'm sorry you had that experience. Not surprised. Just sorry.

    Back when I was in NY a lot I enjoyed the early service in one of the side chapels at St. John the Divine. St. James' Chapel, I think. That was a great coffee hour and is the main reason I made that my church "home" away from home. The food wasn't that much but the people were friendly and it wasn't hard to find someone to go out to brunch with. Pretty nice when you're away from home.

    Better luck next time Mimi.


    Oh and sorry for the crack about St. Thomas. I don't know what came over me.

  9. Suzer, I was amused more than offended. We slip up sometimes in my parish, and in our follow-up with newcomers, we fall short at times.

    SusanKay, I'm not saying the welcoming thing is always easy. I have welcomed as newcomers folks who regularly attend the early service, but whom I seldom or never see.

    Saint Thomas had TWO... organs?

    Lindy, it happens sometimes.

    I'm not looking for a chat, just a "Good Morning" but if folks would rather not be greeted, that's OK. I catch on fast. If I go back there, I won't say a word.

  10. I went to Evensong in Atlanta... And see Acts of Hope for a surprise meetup there. (Well, it wasn't a surprise to me, but it might be for you.)

    So good to have you home and blogging! Not that I wasn't happy for you that you were having fun in NYC. But it's always good to read you.

    The Coffee Hour at the American Cathedral in Paris was a bit like that (except that they served espresso!) but the people in the pews were friendly, which helped -- and the Dean, who is an alum of the college where I teach and a Virginian, gave me a big Southern hug when I introduced myself.

    I hate it when everyone is all clickish and unfriendly at Coffee Hour. Grrrrrr.

  11. Jane, I don't know what came over me, but I was perfectly at ease in my roll as the hostess. There was a vacuum, and I jumped in to fill it. I guess the hostess was out to lunch.

  12. Imbibing at church? And no woman priest? Hardly any friendly conversation or interchange? Sounds pretty Catholic to me and I should know...

    Actually we have coffee and juice at my church in general. And the parish I am now in is far and away the most friendly and welcoming that I have ever been a part of.

    As I noted when I had dinner with you, Tobias and James, I used to attend a weekday healing mass at St. Thomas around 1990-91ish.

    And I can recall having a woman priest at least a few times. As you can imagine, that sort of detail was not lost on me.


Anonymous commenters, please sign a name, any name, to distinguish one anonymous commenter from another. Thank you.