Rector’s Chronicle: September 2004

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

The arrival of autumn is opening a new chapter in our parish’s long and rich history. Together we are entering what I believe will be a great and glorious age, a time of ever more spectacular and moving music, of deeper personal connections among the sundry worshippers who come to our altar, and of renewed vigor in our missionary work in the world outside the grand doors which open onto Fifth Avenue. As New Yorkers and as Christians, you and I are living in a historic and complex era. In the life of the nation, there is the eternal tension between hope and fear, security and anxiety, but, thank God, in the life of our parish we are finding solace, sanctuary, and strength in the bonds of affection that link us all one to another through the mystery and grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus says in the Gospel of St. John, “but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world.”

We are of good cheer at St. Thomas, and as the summer closes and the autumn comes, I am delighted to be able to bring you tidings of exciting and transformative changes we are making within the parish to enlarge and invigorate the work of our days in this wonderful place. From the bright halls of the Choir School to the daily masses in the Chantry Chapel, from the coffee hours to the High Altar, there will be a few new faces in familiar roles, and a few familiar faces in new roles. We now have new leadership within every major department of our mission and ministry. Now let us describe this transition in order.

MAESTRO JOHN SCOTT BEGINS

In August, three weeks after Gerre and Judith Hancock moved from New York to the University of Texas in Austin, our new Organist and Director of Music, Maestro John Scott, arrived from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London. It will take yet a while for him to settle into his refurbished apartment at the Choir School, but he and his two brilliant young assistants, Jeremy Bruns and Christian Lane, start on the first Sunday of September.

In my letter to the parish in December 2003, I provided you with the essentials of John Scott’s distinguished curriculum vitae. One additional honor, which was given John after the publication of my letter, should be mentioned. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in her New Year’s Honors List, named John Scott a Lieutenant of the Victorian Orderin recognition of his extraordinary achievements and contributions to Church Music. John has served God and Country admirably for more than two decades at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, at the center of the United Kingdom’s ceremonies of Church and State. Consequently, he will be listed in our parish publications with the initials LVO after his name.

Jeremy Bruns and his wife Kathy have moved into their apartment at the Choir School, as has Christian Lane. Jeremy is one of the most highly recommended young musicians in the Episcopal Church, coming to us after three years as Organist and Choirmaster of the Parish of All Saints, Ashmont, in Boston. Before that, Jeremy was the assistant organist and choirmaster at Saint Paul’s Cathedral, Buffalo, New York. He has experience of working with boy choristers from both Ashmont and Buffalo. Coupled with his mastery as an organist, he should be a great asset to Maestro Scott as Associate Organist. Christian Lane, who graduated this past June from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, is already regarded as an outstanding young organist in the making. As Mr. Scott’s Assistant Organist for at least the upcoming year, Christian completes a staff of musicians who will give Saint Thomas Church and Choir School a strong fresh start. They are worthy successors in a goodly heritage of sacred music, a heritage which defines usas a Christian institution and community.

Thanks are due to the three members of the music staff who have made this summer’s transition from Maestro Hancock to Maestro Scott so smooth. Assistant Organist Brian Harlow, who leaves us this September to begin his doctoral studies at Yale’s Institute of Sacred Music, has done a masterful job playing the organ and conducting the Gentlemen of the Choir over the summer. A particular joy was hearing Brian’s own composition on August 22, his beautiful Missa brevis a 3. Brian has a bright future ahead of him as a Church musician. Thanks also are due to our faithful, hard working Music Office Administrator, Chris McFadden, and to our Concert Series Manager, Brian Gill. They facilitated the passing of the baton. The concert series brochure is already in your hands, and the Music Schedule is on its way to your door.

A NEW HEADMASTER: FATHER CHARLES WALLACE

On August 5, Gordon Roland-Adams was placed on medical retirement from his position as Headmaster of Saint Thomas Choir School. There was no recent medical event, but rather a determination that his health would not allow him to continue for another year. Rather than face a change of administration during an academic term, we have begun this transition immediately. We are deeply grateful to GR-A for the many gifts he has brought to the Choir School in his seven years as Headmaster. He came at a most critical time in our history and led our school like a champion. He is also my dear friend. It is my hope that without the demands of the position, he will enjoy further recuperation. He will be named our Headmaster Emeritus, and at some point in the future, we will arrange for an appropriate farewell at the Choir School.

The Rev’d Charles F. Wallace, our superb School Chaplain who was brought to Saint Thomas with an eye towards his leadership of the Choir School, has been appointed our twelfth Headmaster. Father Wallace has the strong support and complete confidence of the leadership of the Choir School Committee, the Standing Committee of the Vestry, of Maestro John Scott, and, most assuredly, of the Rector.

Father Wallace came to us in 2003 having been Chaplain and Teacher at Saint George’s School, Windsor Castle. His keen intellect and pastoral abilities quickly earned the respect of the boys, teachers and parents. They have greeted this announcement with overwhelming enthusiasm. During his undergraduate work at the University of King’s College, Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia, Father Wallace served as Organ Scholar, and earned Double Honors in French and History. Father Wallace earned a Master of Divinity from Trinity College, University of Toronto, and has devoted much of his ministry to youth work. He brings to the Choir School a confident leadership necessary to guide the boys in their musical obligations. He holds high standards for the faculty and students of the Choir School, and fully expects our graduates to enter the most competitive schools in the United States. I am convinced that this transition marks the beginning of another great chapter in the long and distinguished history of the school and parish.

FATHER STAFFORD, FULL TIME

Beginning full time in September, with the new title of Pastor, is the Rev’d Robert H. Stafford, who has been our part time Assisting Priest since I began my rectorship in 1996. Father Stafford was a full time Curate at Saint Thomas from 1985 to 1991 during Father John Andrew’s rectorship. Though Robert is well known at Saint Thomas, this is a good moment to know his resume: Robert Holmes Stafford was born in Minneapolis in 1947. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1968 and his Master of Divinity (MDiv) from Nashotah House Theological Seminary, Wisconsin, in 1971. He earned the Master of Sacred Theology (STM) from The General Theological Seminary, New York City, in 1979. He has been Adjunct Professor (1985-1991) in Pastoral Theology at General Seminary. Earlier ministry positions included Minister-in-Charge, Saint Michael and All Angels Church, North Saint Paul, Minnesota, 1971-1973; Rector, Saint Paul’s Episcopal Church, Owatonna, Minnesota, 1980-1982; and Chaplain, Morningside House Nursing Home, Bronx, New York, 1982-1984.

Father Stafford is justly beloved for both his pastoral care and his preaching. Robert’s sermons are known for their depth of insight and their well-crafted form. He has served for nearly ten years in his “day job” as Chaplain of the Manhattan Plaza AIDS Project. He is expert in ministry in the area of substance abuse and broadly experienced in and familiar with the network of social services in New York City. Robert is known for the virtues of responding to messages and correspondence in all their forms and for administrative follow-through, and he brings considerable organizational skills to pastoral care at Saint Thomas. More personally and quite to the point, a long time parishioner gives her testimony: Father Stafford is the kind of priest you want at your sickbed, or, indeed, your deathbed.

Robert also has a Minnesota-to-New York sense of humor not unlike Garrison Keillor’s. He can be side-splittingly funny – dependably in the cause of God’s Kingdom. When the priests’ sacristy erupts in laughter, Father Stafford is likely the reason. I have wanted Robert to be with me full time since I first became Rector; Deo gratias, this has come to pass, and all of us at Saint Thomas are the beneficiaries.

With Father Wallace having become Choir School Headmaster and Canon Krauss having started his sabbatical, we currently have as parish clergy yours truly, Father Stafford as Pastor, and Father Bodie as Precentor. I am in the process of securing priests to do adult theological education and youth work. I also want to obtain the help of a senior, retired priest to take the place formerly held by Father Stafford as a part-time Assisting Priest. In the meantime, Father Stafford, Father Bodie and I will see to it that our programs of education and fellowship are running as ever. They will be announced in the Sunday leaflets – the Christian Doctrine Class on Tuesdays after Choral Evensongs, Supper and Study on Thursdays after Choral Evensong, the Guest Lecturers on selected Wednesday evenings, and Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m.

NEW BUSINESS MANAGEMENT

Barbara Pettus, whose appointment was announced in the July Rector’s Chronicle, has begun her work as Executive Director of Administration and Finance, and the good effects of her management of our business are already being felt. Her experience as a banker, a librarian and archivist, and her education in classics equip her to deal with the many facets of life at Saint Thomas. Barbara will directly assist the Rector, Wardens and Vestry, Maestro Scott, and Headmaster Wallace in the business management of each of the “duchies” of the wonderful ecclesiastical kingdom that is Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. In due course, the whole parish will feel the blessing of her presence. Welcome, Barbara!

A related development has occurred in our Verger’s position, where Max Henderson-Begg has made a very good start of his work. Max will field inquiries for Baptisms, Weddings and Funerals, forwarding them to the Rector’s Office and, where appropriate, to the Music Office. The Verger himself remains “the clerk of the works” for Saint Thomas’s services and ceremonies, at which Max has shown himself to be masterful and gracious.

Many people are conservative by nature (this is not a Republican-Democratic comment) and find change unsettling. Some of the transitions we are experiencing have been in the planning for a long time; for example, in musical leadership and in business management, a desideratum planned since the Vestry Retreat of February 2003. Churches (and let’s be honest, particularly Saint Thomas), can sometimes seem stuffy and even staid. When I returned from my July vacation, I had a conversation with my able colleague Bill Tully, the Rector of Saint Bartholomew’s, our near neighbors and, some would say, our friendly competition in Christ and in Anglicanism. Three of his assisting clergy, including a beloved senior assistant, have left this summer. One could fairly think that the Holy Spirit is blowing through our house with gale force winds, but it is good to know that transition like ours is not unique.

If like me you prefer gentle summer breezes, we should recall that on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit first descended on the Church, He came in the form of a rushing, mighty wind blowing through the house, together with tongues of fire, a power so strong that it turned the coward Peter into the rock of faith on which Christ said he would build his Church, against which the gates of hell would not prevail. Saint Thomas is a wonderful place, but I believe we will benefit from a renewal in all dimensions of our life. I believe that the Holy Spirit has brought us to a new threshold of mission and ministry in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. God does “better things than we can ask or imagine.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Between this Rector’s Chronicle and the next one, just before Christmas, look for a new newsletter on parish life to complement the Rectors’ Chronicle. The editor is parishioner John Shannon, Executive Director and Almoner of the Saint George’s Society of New York, who produces among other things that Society’s attractive newsletter. The newsletter will feature photographs and coverage of parish events with a human interest slant on our community’s life. We plan one newsletter for each of the four natural seasons, fall, winter, spring and summer.

Scaffolding has reappeared in front of the Church on Fifth Avenue, matching MOMA’s blue with our green. This is for repairs on the stonework for which the Building Committee prepared the Vestry last spring. The scaffolding will be up for several weeks this fall.

The project of refinishing and redecorating the Altar and its surroundings in the Chantry Chapel is nearly complete. The icon of the Mother of God moves to the west end, that is, the entry, of the chapel, replaced by a fourteenth century gothic statue of Madonna and Child from Toledo, Spain, a gift made possible by Mrs. David Alger. In earlier parish guides, the Chantry Chapel was referred to as the Lady Chapel, which indeed it is, given the many images of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the space, from the reredos to the windows to the icon and statues. This is what most side chapels in Episcopal and Anglican churches have been called for many years. The Blessed Sacrament is reserved in the Tabernacle on the Chantry Altar, the Tabernacle being a gift of the Altar Guild in honor of its 100th anniversary. The Tabernacle, the Sacrament Light, and the plinth on which the Madonna and Child will stand, are the work of ecclesiastical artist K. Davis d’Ambly of Philadelphia, who has designed and executed a number of appurtenances in wood and metal for Saint Thomas, as well as some of our vestments.

On Saturday, September 18, at 10:30 a.m. at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, Bishop Sisk will ordain new priests. Among them, Deo volente, will be Matthew Hoxsie Mead and Sarah Midzalkowski, both of whom were sponsored by Saint Thomas. You are cordially invited to attend the ordination service. We can be very proud of Matthew and Sarah.

Nancy Mead leaves on September 22 to walk from Seville to Santiago, Spain, her intended destination on November 2, a pilgrimage of 680 miles on the Ruta de la Plata (“The Silver Route”) on the Way of Saint James to Compostela. The year 2004 is a “Holy Year” for Saint James pilgrims, which means that the Feast of Saint James (July 25) falls on a Sunday, which happens every seven or eight years, and which means that the Pilgrims’ Holy Door is open this year at the Cathedral in Santiago. Nancy, whom I have nicknamed Peregrina, intends to walk over Roman roads through Moorish Spain and through that Holy Door at the end of her pilgrimage. She had planned this walk for last February but postponed it due to the arrival of our granddaughter Olivia Rose Melo. Nancy will return with slides of such splendors as Seville, Salamanca (home of Spain’s great medieval university, where a Roman bridge still carries traffic across the river), and Zamora, and she’ll make a presentation in due course for parishioners at a Supper and Study. For my part, I will have good company during Peregrina’s pilgrimage, in the person of our beloved GR-A and his cat Humphrey, who will be staying with me at the rectory apartment as GR-A prepares to move back to England for the next chapter of his life.

Get ready! You will soon be hearing from us regarding the Every Member Canvass. Part of the Canvass’ activities including the Loaves and Fishes night on Friday, October 22. The Canvass mailings and regular announcements in the Sunday leaflets carry the details.


AT LAST, MY SUMMER BOOK REPORT

Nancy and I enjoyed another July on Monhegan Island, Maine, where, in the words of another vacationer, we do nothing and do it very well. Doing nothing means organizing the day around planning lunch and dinner (almost always grilled fish of some kind), taking rambles around the island’s headlands, sailing in our eight-foot dinghy like the owl and the pussycat, getting lots of sleep, and, above all, reading. Here are the books I recommend:

For history buffs, read Donald Kagan’s The Peloponnesian War. This is the great classical scholar’s Reader Digest version (only 550 pages) of his multivolume magnum opus on the same subject. Kagan’s descriptions of the Athenians’ naval brilliance and their tactics in battles at sea are riveting. I finally read Jon Meacham’s Franklin and Winston, the story of the relationship between FDR and Churchill during the Second World War. It is a beautiful book, very readable, magnificently researched and footnoted; and I would say all that even if Jon were not a parishioner and Vestryman! I took a week to listen to Dante’s entire Divine Comedy once again on tape, and I promise to do a Supper and Study series this season on the three books of The Comedy, the greatest Christian literature outside Holy Scripture.

The “book of the summer” for both Nancy and me was Father Joe by Tony Hendra, the autobiography of a wild and crazy British satirist, a child of the sixties, told in connection with the English Benedictine contemplative monk, Father Joseph Warrilow, “the man who saved my soul”; which Father Joe clearly did, as he appears to have done with many others besides Hendra, including some big surprises. A Gesture Life, by Chang-Rae Lee, is an extraordinary novel about a medic in the Imperial Army of Japan during WWII who comes to live in suburban New York after the war and becomes the adoptive single parent of an orphan girl. Moving back and forth from New York suburbs in the present to horrific war scenes in Burma 60 years ago, the story is about saving face and living life. I also enjoyed reading The Stepford Wives, having recently seen the remake of the 1970s movie. Stepford is a brilliant satire, not on women and what they want to be, but on men and what they want women for. It’s dated, but still on target, and very well written.

This has been a longer Chronicle than usual, but it was necessary to describe the important events that are bringing us to an exciting new beginning of our mission and ministry at Saint Thomas. I cannot recall a new season’s beginning, here or in any of my other parishes, when I have felt more excitement and optimism about what lies ahead for us as a Christian missionary body and Church family. See you in Church!

Faithfully your priest,

Andrew C. Mead