Rector’s Chronicle: Lent 2005

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

The greatest part, the heart and soul, of the Christian Year is here once more, and what a joy it is to keep the feast at Saint Thomas Church! Attend the rites of Holy Week at Saint Thomas and contemplate those mighty acts whereby our Lord Jesus Christ has given us life and immortality. With Easter’s unusually early date, March 27, Holy Week is nearly upon us. Palm Sunday is March 20, so don’t be caught by surprise. In particular, from Wednesday to Saturday in Holy Week at 5:30 p.m., there are special solemn liturgies which take us step by step with Jesus to his Death and Resurrection – Tenebrae on Wednesday, the Solemn Liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday. On Good Friday from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m., the Rev’d Dr. William Willimon, former Dean of the Chapel of Duke University and now a Bishop in the United Methodist Church, will preach on the Seven Last Words of Christ. Dr. Willimon preached with great effect at Saint Thomas in January of 2004. His Good Friday sermons will no doubt be powerful.

SOMETHING OLD, SOMETHING NEW

The Christmas season at Saint Thomas is quite a test for a new Director of Music. Maestro John Scott passed with flying colors, as did all who supported him in the Music Department and the Choir School. He made a number of old things new by making several changes in our traditional Christmas offerings, from the presentation of Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, to the Nine Lessons and Carols on the Sunday before Christmas Day, to the Midnight Mass itself. One of the most memorable of these developments was John’s December 22 evening recital of Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, immediately following the boys’ performance of the Britten. Both enjoyed a full, appreciative house. Mr. Scott also provided fresh approaches to the Epiphany Procession of Lessons and Music, as well as to Ash Wednesday. Not the least joy in this upcoming Holy Week and Easter will be similar touches in the music for our celebrations of these cherished liturgies.

BIG SNOW SUNDAY

Big snowstorms can bring out the best in people. This was certainly true at Saint Thomas Sunday, January 23, and it needs to be noted. We had a guest preacher, the Rev’d Dr. David Bartlett of Yale Divinity School, for Sunday in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. Dr. Bartlett made it into town before the snow fell. Father Stafford was marooned in Minnesota; Father Bodie was ill with the flu; Father Martin was in North Carolina. Responding to my call for help, Father Austin began a week early. Seminarian Joel Daniels preached as planned to the two souls who were at eight o’clock, and I drafted him to repeat it (for a dozen of us) at nine. Verger Max Henderson-Begg was a great help throughout, including altar guild duty. The Choir was in full force at both 11 and 4. The best moment for me was arriving at church at 7:00 a.m. to see the maintenance staff, who had nearly finished clearing the sidewalks, a job they began before 5:00 a.m. Manning the front desk was Barbara Pettus, our Executive Director of Administration and Finance. Barbara Battle and Nancy Mead were the ushers at Evensong. We had a decent turnout at both 11 and 4 as well as two fine sermons from Dr. Bartlett, but it was also the spirit shown that day that made it so good.

CHOIR SCHOOL MILESTONES

As the feature of the Choir School’s February Alumni Weekend, we thanked Dr. Alan Van Poznack for his twenty-two years of recording services and concerts of our Choir of Men and Boys. We have dedicated our new Choir School promotional video to Dr. Van Poznack, in thanksgiving for this great labor of love. More personally, I have a great debt of thanks to Alan for his eight years of collaboration with me over our WQXR radio advertisements. Alan, who took the occasion of the last summer’s change in music leadership to bring his recording work to a conclusion, gave a wonderful speech to the Alumni after the dinner in his honor Saturday, February 19, including a spiritual exhortation and a fine tribute to Gerre Hancock. The Alumni Weekend was felt to be a great success and a new beginning for an emerging Alumni Association. This is a good place to praise our new Headmaster, Fr. Charles Wallace, for the excellent beginning he has made leading the Choir School in this his first season.

February also saw the Choir School saying goodbye after five years to our well beloved Athletics teacher, Fred Benjamin. Fred, whose height of seven feet was a constant reminder of his professional basketball background, resigned to attend to the needs of a seriously ill friend in Florida. Fred’s almost instant transformation of athletics at the Choir School (“Who says choirboys can’t win?”) was based on his care as a coach and his insight, clearly expressed, that teams work like choirs. We wish Fred Godspeed.

MAKING CONNECTIONS

When he came on board full time last September with the title of Pastor, I praised Fr. Robert Stafford in my Chronicle for his preaching, pastoral expertise and attention to detail. Six months later, having worked closely with Robert, I am even more grateful for these gifts of his. Those parishioners who have come to Father Stafford for assistance can attest to his care for people across the board, his clear-eyed realism, and his professionalism.

One gift of Robert’s that I did not see last September is his facility for inspiring and organizing fellowship events. This winter already we have enjoyed an Epiphany Dinner (January 26) with Gentlemen of the Choir singing show tunes and the traditional Shrove Tuesday Hymn Sing (February 8) in close succession. Both events were full. A March 16 Lenten evening, featuring Nancy Mead’s pilgrimage this past fall, is about to take place. Notable each time has been the new system of reservations, payments, and serving of food. No more shortfalls because of no-shows. No more lines down the stairway. With no sense of rush, the evenings happily concluded before 9:00 p.m., allowing people to get home without a late night in mid-week. In addition to these parish events, Robert inspired a luncheon for the whole church staff on February 15, an occasion to thank the staff for their good work and promote esprit de corps.

A good sense of Father Stafford’s facility in “making connections” is reflected in the photographed events in the Saint Thomas News, the second edition of which came out last week. This new publication reflects the human interest side of life at Saint Thomas. Thanks go to John Shannon and those who assist him with photos, writing and editing.

DOING THEOLOGY

There is obviously great interest at Saint Thomas in serious theological reflection. Our Guest Lecture Series, the ongoing programs in Supper and Study, and the annual Christian Doctrine Courses have been well attended and received for years. The arrival this February of Fr. Victor Austin as Theologian-in-residence has caused an encouraging new start and evoked fresh interest. Father Austin’s Sunday morning Lenten classes, entitled “Theology Matters,” have filled the fifth floor Vestry Room to capacity. Also encouraging has been the response to Dr. Robert Duvall’s Lenten series of lectures at midday on Saturdays, on the Metaphysical Poets. Each Saturday lecture, accompanied by bag lunches (generously provided by our Soup Kitchen Volunteers), was attended by over fifty people.

Several people have spoken or written appreciatively about these offerings, adding that there is clearly a hunger for doing theology in our congregation and the wider community. Father Austin will be leading classes throughout Eastertide on both Saturdays and Sundays, and also on Thursday evenings; these will be announced in our leaflets as well as on an e-mail list he is compiling of interested persons. Father Austin is also starting a group, which already has two dozen sign-ups, dedicated to reading and discussing, monthly on designated Wednesday evenings, the distinguished journal First Things, which is concerned with questions of religion and public life. If you wish to be added to Father Austin’s list of those interested in all these classes and groups, you may contact him at vaustin@saintthomaschurch.org.

EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

My heartfelt thanks go to all of you who have responded so well to our Every Member Canvass appeal for 2005. As I write this, we are at 580 pledging units, an eight percent increase over 2004, for a total of $845,000, an increase of one percent over last year. These are combined totals for both the Church and the Choir School. As we have pointed out, we need three times that amount ($2,500,000, according to the Senior Warden’s letter last fall) to close our deficit. We must dispel myths about Saint Thomas’ finances, myths arising from misunderstandings about our endowment. Yes, our endowment makes our Fifth Avenue location, our magnificent building’s maintenance, and, most certainly, our Choir School tradition, possible. But it is folly to imagine that we the living can subsist on the generosity of benefactors gone before us. It is our turn to make a reasonable and living sacrifice for the mission of our beloved Church and Choir School.

Nevertheless, I am deeply thankful for Every Member Canvass (EMC) 2005. We have indeed done well. Thanks to EMC Co-Chairs Colin Fergus and Linda Ketchum, and all members of the EMC Committee who help out. If you have not yet pledged, Canvass material, together with more detailed report cards on our progress, is available in the Parish House and are quite visible every Sunday at coffee hours.

A ROYAL CONCERT

A beautiful privilege came our way on Monday, February 28, when, in the presence of Their Majesties King Harald and Queen Sonja of Norway, Saint Thomas hosted an American premier performance of Trond H.F. Kverno’s Passio Domini Nostri Iesu Christi secundum Mattheum, sung by the Oslo Cathedral Choir and distinguished soloists, under the direction of Terje Kvam. Even with a snowstorm that evening, the concert was well attended. Entirely unaccompanied, the music powerfully evoked the various themes of our Lord’s Passion.

LOOKING AHEAD

On April 2, Nancy and I will accompany Gordon Roland-Adams, our beloved former Headmaster, back to England… While in England, I plan to meet with leaders of St. Stephen’s House Theological College (an Anglo-Catholic seminary) in Oxford. I have also been invited to give a Bible Study, Saturday, April 9, for a conference at the Royal Albert Hall in London, sponsored by the Society of the Holy Cross (SSC), a priests’ fellowship of which I am a member. The Archbishop of Canterbury will preach at the conference Eucharist… This year’s Choirmaster’s Workshop will be from Sunday evening May 1 through Tuesday May 3, led by James O’Donnell, Director of Music at Westminster Abbey… Bishop E. Don Taylor comes to Saint Thomas Sunday, May 8, to confirm and receive new members at the 11 a.m. Festal Eucharist. [Bishop Taylor will also be with us on Maundy Thursday as in recent years, to perform the foot-washing ceremony and to preach the homily]… On Friday, May 13, the Choir School will hold a special Spring Benefit, which will feature an evening of music and dancing led by a band of Choir School musicians… On Pentecost, Sunday, May 15, our Sunday School, led by Marilyn Heinemann, will have its spring breakfast and presentation of awards for the 2004-2005 season… Maestro Scott and I are planning a special Procession of Music and Lessons for Pentecost, that same Sunday, May 15. There has been much to report and much still lies ahead. Stay tuned!

Faithfully your priest,

Andrew C. Mead