I am working for The Episcopal Charities of New York this year as an intern.
Religion doesn’t really play a part in my life, although I am Catholic.
So working for a religious organisation has been a little bit of a shock to the system. Not so much because it’s all Holy and prayers. If anything, I would have expected more of that. Luckily Episcopal Charities focus on equality, making it more of a non-religious organisation that operates through parishes.
The real adjustment has been trying to work out the hierarchy, the organisation, the connections they have with other places in the city. Plus, remembering the names of the hundreds of churches, bishops and priests.
Putting the adjustment aside.
In my first week I was asked if I would help to carry the offertory in the Holy Tuesday, Collegiality Mass. This was their way of welcoming me to the company and the Episcopalian Church.
It seemed rude and a wasted opportunity to say no. So I agreed.
What is now last Tuesday, I was in the mass.
St. John the Divine Cathedral is incredible. At some point I will get round to writing solely about that. But not today.
The chance to see a service, never mind participate, was unbelievable.
Set the Scene
Huge cathedral, high ceilings, rows and rows of seats, eerie silence, priests scuffling about getting organised.
Then at 10.30, the priests began to walk in. Slowly walking the long length of the cathedral, two at a time. At one point, the number of priests was the length of the Cathedral, if not longer.
All I could think of was Noah’s Ark.
When the Cantor reached the alter he settled himself at the lectern and began to sing. Opera. Welcoming every priest into the church.
I was shaken to life at the sound of his voice. It was so good. And so unexpected.
His voice bellowed around the cathedral, the sound reverberating off the walls.
The organ played in the background, filling the entrance and bouncing back, bringing life to the entire cathedral.
Meanwhile the priests continued to walk up the aisle, taking at least 10 minutes for everyone to come in and filter out perfectly into their seats.
Once everyone was seated, they began the mass.
This was fairly similar to what I am used to. A few variations in hymns, but the principal was the same. Maybe a little more light hearted.
Half way through I assisted with the Offertory – carrying the bread to be blessed for communion.
I have never been so terrified.
In the briefing before the service, I was told horror stories of people slipping on the steps and flying across the alter.
This was not a good thing to tell a stupidly clumsy person when they’re already shaking with nerves. There was no way I was going to get to stay upright.
I would spend the next 11 months with people whispering, “Oh yeah, that’s the girl that fell and split her head open on Holy Tuesday!”
Walking up the aisle and across the (very long) alter, through over 100 priests I was ready to freak out and run in the opposite direction.
They were all singing hymns – that I didn’t know the words to – noise swirling around me. I felt like my head was going to explode with everything that I was trying to take in.
The presentation of the cathedral. The decoration. The cloaks. Their faces. The words. The music. The smell of incense. The feel of the floor. The distance from the end point. And then to my seat.
Plus, I had no idea what to do with my face. Seeing as I couldn’t sing, or even try to make an attempt at mumbling. Did I smile? Frown? Look serious?
Fortunately, I didn’t trip. I didn’t split my head open. I didn’t embarrass myself.
Literally, thank God.
Communion followed. One row at a time, the priests stood and funnelled into the centre, before looping round the alter and returning to their seats.
At the end of the long service I went to speak to my colleagues, who were all so proud. And as delighted as I was that I didn’t fall on my face.
They had to get a photo of the priests.
I thought, surely that can’t take very long.
Baring in mind there were around 200 priests.
They mentioned a cherry picker coming in to assist.
Working at Ryder Cup I was used to this kind of thing in PR.
Not this time. The oldest cherry picker I have ever seen was rolled in.
Then it squeaked and shook its way to the top.
If someone told me I was to get in that, I probably would’ve burst into tears and curled up in a ball.
Standing at the bottom watching I had to find a safe place to stand, just in case it fell apart.
But they got the photo, and nobody died.
(Please excuse the crapness of my picture)
Perks of the job
Three course, tasty, filling lunch to follow.
Not just a plate of stale sandwiches.
Back in the office
In a meeting after the mass everyone was discussing people they had spoken to and elements they enjoyed at the service.
Then they realised that there was no way any other Mountbatten Intern in my intake was going to have an afternoon like mine. Ever.
Which led to roars of laughter.
The thought of everyone sitting in a fancy corporate office. A nice view of the city – for some. Going in and out of meetings. While I was sitting at church and chatting to some priests and bishops.
It was just a little bit different.
And definitely not something that I ever thought my year in New York would involve.
It was good to do something a little unexpected and different from the norm.