Rector’s Chronicle: September 2005

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

I have loved September ever since my college days. The summer heat gives way to crispness in the air soon to be reflected in the color of autumn leaves. People return from vacations and renew their associations and friendships. School starts, soon to be joined by the resumption of activities on all sides. At Saint Thomas we are blessed with our Choir School, whose September startup signals the return of our Choir of Men and Boys, the heart of our ministry of liturgy and music, along with the whole range of our activities of teaching, fellowship and service. Writing the September Rector’s Chronicle propels me from August’s sultry last days before Labor Day weekend into the quickened pace of the fall and its fresh start. I hope you have had a restful and refreshing summer and are looking forward, as I am, to this new season of 2005-2006.

We extend a particular welcome back to the whole Choir School community, especially the new boys. They sing on the first Sunday back, September 11, for the 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharist. Choral Evensong at 4:00 p.m. will be a service of remembrance on the fourth anniversary of 9/11.

GOOD THINGS COMING

We have good things to expect in music repertoire, in Christian education, and in fellowship and pastoral care.

1) Music at Saint Thomas Church September-December 2005, an indispensable guide to our choral liturgies, has been mailed, as has the Concert Series 2005-2006. Note the first concert, Thursday, September 22, by the Choir of Clare College Cambridge, joined by the boys of Saint Thomas Choir. This concert is in honor of composer John Rutter’s 60th birthday, with music by Rutter, Britten, Harris, Howells and Walton; and there will be a new work by young New York based composer Nico Muhly, a regular worshiper at Saint Thomas. Over the summer, John Scott spent time performing concerts and judging organ competition in Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. We look forward to John’s second season starting this September.

2) We have a vigorous, rewarding program of theology for adults planned at Saint Thomas. I enclose the Fall 2005 brochure, Theology at Saint Thomas, prepared by Father Victor Austin. We have already seen many parishioners and newcomers attracted to these new classes and discussion groups. If you have not yet tried one, I urge you to do so. The content is both orthodox and ecumenical, classic Anglicanism at its best. The Rector’s Doctrine Class for inquirers and those seeking Confirmation or Reception in the Episcopal Church starts November 15, as noted in the brochure.

Another new initiative this fall that combines worship, sound Christian teaching, and outreach, is a restructuring of the Wednesday 12:10 Eucharist. The series is called “The Signs of God.” Father Austin will be giving a series of “short talks that matter” whose substance is to be basic Christianity, intelligently presented. He will be working through the first few chapters of the Gospel According to Saint John. We hope to attract persons who are in Midtown at midweek who will return week upon week for this teaching and its accompanying Mass, which will remain the standard 25 minutes in length.

3) Father Robert Stafford is starting a noontime monthly fellowship with a special focus for the women of Saint Thomas, details of which will be forthcoming in Sunday leaflets. Special speakers will be invited to a luncheon meeting following the 12:10 p.m. Eucharist in the Chantry Chapel on the first Thursday of the month, beginning October 6. Father Stafford, with assistance from clergy secretary Linda Morfi, offers pastoral care that is of great assistance to many. Please help us out by letting us know if you know you are going to be in the hospital or if you know someone who is hospitalized. We can’t visit you, if we don’t know you are there. Call Linda Morfi or Douglas Robbe and let us know if there is such a need.

4) We intend to call a young priest to be Youth Minister at the Church and Chaplain at the Choir School, the position held by Father Charles Wallace until he became Headmaster last year. Our search is a top priority which we began in earnest last spring. In addition to work with youth of school age, there is a growing need to reach out to the numbers of younger adults (by which I mean singles, couples and parents in their twenties and thirties). This is the year to begin ministry of fellowship in this general age group, which could well be called “The Futures” of Saint Thomas.

5) A Pilgrimage to Britain is being planned by Father Richard Martin for next spring, 2006, probably at the end of April after Easter, visiting ancient Christian shrines such as Durham, Canterbury, and Ely, with a special visit to the Shrine of our Lady of Walsingham in Norfolk. Details will be forthcoming.

EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

Soon you will be receiving the brochure and letter from the 2006 Every Member Canvass. Co-Chairs Robin and Jim Otton and Ed Valentine have worked all summer preparing the material, and they have been assisted by many others on the staff and on the Canvass Committee, where special thanks go to Judy Porter for her brochure design. Read the Canvass material with a receptive and prayerful mind, and, above all, please make a generous, sacrificial pledge to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School for 2006. In fact, let us make an application of the biblical principle of returning thanks to God and strive to tithe.

As you have already heard in a letter from the Wardens and Treasurer, so you will hear from the EMC committee. We have set high goals. We need the 2006 Canvass and those for subsequent years to show a substantial increase in the proportion of Saint Thomas’ annual income represented by pledging. Our five-year goal is that the proportion will double from one tenth (where it is now) to one fifth of our operating budget.

In past years I have sometimes said it is not so important what people pledge but that people pledge – in an attempt to increase the amount of participation and the sense of “ownership” among our congregation; i.e. to invite people to move from the larger, passive “aggregation” into the active, participating congregation of Saint Thomas. While this remains an important facet of our ministry, we now need, among our members and friends, to take hold of the responsibility and joy of sacrificial giving to Saint Thomas as the place where we receive God’s bounty and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As I write this, I have in front of me a letter to the Parish written almost exactly one hundred years ago, Monday, August 14, 1905, by the Rector, Dr. Ernest Stires. It begins, “My Dear People, You have learned through the papers of the destruction of our beautiful church by fire last Tuesday…” Dr. Stires then spells out plans for the immediate future, which included removal of debris and construction of a temporary structure to be completed not later than the first of November! As he wrote, he had the plan for this wood building before him. The day before, a Sunday service was held in the Parish Rooms, which had survived the fire; these were maintained through September and October until they entered the temporary building in November.

The Rector’s letter ended: “One of our Bishops writes, ‘This baptism of fire will draw you and your people closer in a more tender and sacramental relationship.’ Help me to make this true. May God bless us all, and enable us to rise to the full height of our great responsibility and opportunity.”

There was little endowment at Saint Thomas a century ago. The living members and friends of Saint Thomas were challenged and heeded the call. The Church we now love so much was raised right over the temporary wood structure between 1910 and 1913. The world as they knew it then changed (some would say, came to an end) a year later when the First World War broke out in 1914. A Great Depression and the Second World War, among other milestones of the twentieth century, have changed American life, church life, in ways impossible to imagine, almost beyond recognition. We live in a very different age, a full century later. Yet we can learn from the spirit of sacrifice which Dr. Stires and his flock show so admirably. Jesus Christ is risen and lives just as much for us as for them. To say the least, the challenge before us is no greater for us than their challenge was for them in the fall season of 1905. Yet this is indeed our challenge in our own time, with its own peculiar dimensions. Let us have a 2006 Canvass worthy of the goodly heritage we have been given. May God bless us all, and enable us to rise to the full height of our responsibility and opportunity!

IN CONCLUSION

Now for the summer book report (which seems to get more response than anything written in the Chronicles). My big project of the summer, after many years of winding myself up to it, was reading Don Quixote. There is a fine new translation by Edith Grossman, who translates many Latin American and Spanish novels. If you ever want to read it, you need about ten free days, and my recommendation is, Keep plowing away; the effort is richly repaid. Don Quixote is one of the most lovable characters in all literature. He is crazy (driven mad from reading too many romances about knights errant), but utterly endearing. He is a great Everyman; it is hard not to see yourself in him. And he dies a peaceful, exemplary, sane, Christian death.

I also finished a most readable history textbook, a gift of an enthusiastic choir school parent, The Civilization of the Middle Ages, by Norman Cantor, professor at NYU. This book can be dipped into and enjoyed over many weeks.

Shorter books I enjoyed this summer were: 1) Jodi Piccoult’s My Sister’s Keeper, the story of a young girl who sues her parents for medical emancipation. The daughter was a “designer conception,” to provide a source for blood transfusions and organ transplants for her older sister suffering from leukemia. 2) The Dream of Scipio, by Iain Pears, a tale spanning nearly two thousand years in one small area of Gaul/France. 3) The Feast of the Goat, by Mario Vargas Llosa (also translated by Edith Grossman), an arresting historical novel about the dictatorship of Trujillo in the Dominican Republic. 4) James Agee’s classic Pulitzer Prize-winning A Death in the Family written fifty years ago and recently republished – a beautifully written story of belief and unbelief amidst familial love (including insights into southern Anglo-Catholicism at the time of Dr. Stires). 5) I am still working on Philip Caputo’s Acts of Faith, about soldiers of good will and not-so-good will in present-day Sudan, and I intend to read the latest of the Harry Potter series, having read and loved all the installments so far.

This comes with my affection in Christ. It is a privilege to serve in His ministry at Saint Thomas.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead