As Reverend Julia Whitworth walked along the aisle, she paused to bless the hundreds of bicycles and their owners, one by one, as they waited alongside their variety of tandem, road, hybrid and messenger bicycles.
For Whitworth, who transferred from a church in Queens earlier this year, it was her first time blessing an object with two wheels.
“This is really exciting and fun," said Whitworth. "There are many different types of services I have done but this is definitely a first for me!”
The Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights has been blessing the city’s bicycles and their riders for fifteen years in a public ceremony organized by Bicycles Shows U.S.
Every year the number of bicycles have grown — as many as 300 were in attendance this year — and the crowds are just as unusual and varied as the bicycles that show up, said Bicycle Shows U.S. owner Glen Goldstein, 53, who started the ceremonies alongside the church's then public realtions manager, Herb Katz.
“The turnout was great," said Goldstein. "We see all sorts of people; families, messengers, marathon bikers, casual bikers, and the kids. It’s the only time you get to see so many people of different backgrounds come together," he said.
"Some of these people don’t see each other all year long until they come to the blessing ceremony."
The church, which is located at West 112th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, also holds a yearly service for St. Francis Day to celebrate pets and animals, called the Blessing of the Animals.
“From my perspective, one of the things is that in this house of prayer, people of all faiths can come together in New York City,” said Jeremy Schaller, a bicyclist who was on his way to the Jacob Javits Center.
Schaller, who said he practices no particular faith, has been cycling for longer than he can remember and has come to the Blessing of the Bicycles ceremony for last couple of years.
Despite getting his wheels blessed, he said he finds that cycling in the city has become easier since new bike lanes have proliferated under Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration.
The latest statistics by the New York City Department of Transportation recorded that there were 14 cycling accidents and 15 bicycle fatalities in 2011.
"It is really a dangerous city to cycle in and we could use all the help we can get,” said Rev. Whitmore, who ended the ceremony with a moment of silence for those killed in cycling accidents during the past year.
"This is an open place for all. And despite what their personal beliefs are they want their bicycles blessed. People were really animated. They were telling me, ‘Make sure you get the bike' — so it is important to them."