New York’s St. Thomas Church hosts ‘Twinning of York’ centennial festivities, presiding bishop to preach

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted May 8, 2024

New York Bishop Matthew Heyd, Archbishop of York Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell and others representing New York, New York, and York, England, celebrated the centennial of the “twinning” of the two cities during a special evensong service on May 5, 2024, at St. Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Photo: Bess Adler

[Episcopal News Service] In 2024 the cities of New York, New York, and York, England, are celebrating a century as twin cities. “Twinning of York” festivities commenced last weekend at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and continue this week.

Whether it’s trade, industry, commerce, finance, hospitality or education, “we’re going to celebrate what binds us together,” the Rev. Carl Turner, rector of St. Thomas, told Episcopal News Service. “It’s a very historic and momentous time.”

On May 9 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern, Archbishop of York Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell will celebrate the Ascension Day Mass. Presiding Bishop Michael Curry will preach. The Mass will be livestreamed on St. Thomas Church’s YouTube channel.

St. Thomas’ community is looking forward to hearing Curry preach. Even though Curry has attended events at St. Thomas, Turner said, this will be his first time preaching in the historic church, which has been celebrating its bicentennial since October 2023.

“Everyone’s very excited,” he said. “We’ve been praying a lot for Bishop Curry, and we’re really delighted that he’s coming to celebrate both the bicentennial at St. Thomas, but also the centennial of the twinning of York and New York with his friend, the Archbishop of York. Both have this passion for mission and evangelism, and it’s palpable when you hear the two of them together.”

Cottrell arrived in New York last week for festivities. “I’m delighted to be part of this moment when York and New York renew their connection,” he told ENS in a written statement. “In a world where there is much division, reaching out across different cultures fosters goodwill and understanding, breaks down barriers and recognizes we are all part of one humanity.”

Archbishop of York Stephen Geoffrey Cottrell preached on May 5, 2024, during a special evensong service celebrating the centennial of the “twinning” of New York, New York, and York, England. Photo: Bess Adler

Cottrell preached during worship services on May 5. During an evensong service, Hannah Young, His Majesty’s Consul General to New York, unveiled a ledger stone designed and carved at York Minster, the Anglican cathedral in York, commemorating the centennial. The ledger will remain at St. Thomas.

“As the British Consul to New York, I have witnessed firsthand the depth of this connection and the mutual benefits it brings to both cities,” Young told ENS in a written statement. “This relationship underscores the importance of international cooperation and the value of shared values, in promoting prosperity, growth and understanding between two nations.

“York and New York City have had an enduring relationship over the past century. These two cities have formed a unique bond characterized by cultural exchange, learning from each other’s histories, and collaboration from the arts to commerce.”

New York Bishop Matthew Heyd also participated in the evensong service. The Diocese of New York and the Diocese of London are connected through a special link program.

During the evensong service, Young also read aloud a message from King Charles III marking the occasion and sending his “warmest wishes”: “The kindness shown for the long-standing historical links between the cities of York and New York is most touching.”

New York Mayor Eric Adams; Lord Mayor of York Chris Cullwick; the Very Rev. Dominic Barrington, dean of York Minster; and other visitors from York attended the evensong.

New York Mayor Eric Adams addressed the congregation at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan on May 5, 2024, during a special evensong service commemorating the centennial of the “twinning” of New York, New York, and York, England. Photo: Bess Adler

“Today, York’s godchild recommits to our friendship and partnership through education, arts, business, tourism and technology,” Adams said after Cullwick greeted the congregation. Here’s to another 100 years.”

The Gentlemen of the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, St. Thomas Church’s professional men’s choir, and the St. Thomas Choir School choristers sang during the Sunday worship services. The combined choirs will sing during the Ascension Day Mass. All music performed during “twinning of York” services was composed by former York Minster organists, including T. Tertius Noble, who founded the St. Thomas Choir School in 1919. The choir school is one of only three all-boys boarding schools in the world that exclusively educate treble choristers. Last month, both of St. Thomas Church’s choirs sang with the historic Children of His Majesty’s Chapel Royal, based at St. James’ Palace in London, England. The Chapel Royal choristers perform wherever and whenever requested by the reigning monarch.

In 1664, New York was named in honor of King James II of England, who was Duke of York at the time. York, England, was founded as the Roman city of Eboracum in 71 C.E. When the two historic cities “twinned” in 1924, New York residents presented York with a bronze friendship plaque and a message from U.S. President Calvin Coolidge during a worship service in England.

During a special May 5, 2024, evensong service at St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan commemorating the centennial of the “twinning” of New York, New York, and York, England, a new ledger stone marking the special relationship between the two cities was unveiled. Photo: Bess Adler

He said, “Here we record our gratitude to historic York, whose name and spirit are perpetuated across the seas which unite rather than divide us. For 260 years New York has stood true to the traditions of old York and your cousins may take pride in the knowledge that you have lent your name to New York City in a new land, the gateway to a great country, where under God’s blessing freedom and opportunity are assured to all men.”

The two cities’ friendship and support have grown over time. During World War II, U.S. military personnel aided British troops in the Yorkshire region, where York is located. The German Luftwaffe heavily bombed the city’s historic buildings, including the guildhall, which burned to the ground. One of the guildhall’s few spared items was New York’s friendship plaque.

After the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, St. Thomas held a memorial service for the 67 British people who died at the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Then-U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair spoke at the service. During the service, Sir Christopher Meyer, then-British ambassador to the United States, read a letter written by Queen Elizabeth II which ended with the phrase, “Grief is the price we pay for love.” The phrase is inscribed on St. Thomas’ 9/11 memorial pillar.

“We have stood side by side for a very long time,” Turner said. “America and Britain need to be strong because our friendship has seen us through disaster and terror and war, right through to celebration and building the Beloved Community.”

As part of this week’s festivities, St. Thomas is also hosting a symposium called Models of Engagement: Church and Civic Society. The series of events includes workshops and lectures from theologians. The final two workshops, called Sing Alleluia and Keep Walking: Organizing on Earth with the Hope of Heaven, and Bayard Rustin and Quaker Practice in New York City, are scheduled for May 8 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. Eastern. They will feature speakers from the Ecumenical Centre for Theology and Community in London, and Union Theological Seminary in New York, respectively. Cottrell will speak at the symposium’s conclusion.

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.


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