Rector’s Chronicle: December 2005

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

I write to you having just returned from two days in New Orleans. My wife Nancy, retiring Warden John Neiswanger and I flew, courtesy of jetBlue Airways, to the devastated, beautiful, historic city, at the invitation of the Bishop of Louisiana, the Right Rev’d Charles Jenkins, to “come and see.” Although words cannot possibly measure the epic disaster of Hurricane Katrina’s flood, I am writing an article describing some of what we saw of the life of the Episcopal Church there. I will post it on our Saint Thomas web site with photographs taken by Nancy and John.

Saint Thomas has so far contributed nearly $60,000 to the Louisiana Bishop’s Discretionary Fund for “Institutional Integrity,” which is to keep clergy functioning and congregational survival possible over the most perilous short term. Our money came from nearly $35,000 worth of loose plate collections taken for three weeks in September (right after the storm) and on Sunday November 6 (when Bishop Jenkins came to preach at the Solemn Eucharist and Festal Evensong of All Saints), and an additional Vestry grant of $25,000.[1] To quote a note from a perceptive parish leader who had lunch with the Bishop during his visit, “I am very sorry that the Diocese of Louisiana is ruined, but it is in very good hands.” Indeed it is. Bishop Jenkins’ leadership was in evidence everywhere we turned to see the life of the Church in New Orleans. Saint Thomas’ help was widely and gratefully known as well. Thank all of you who have responded so well to my appeal.[2]

Trinity Church and Trinity Episcopal School, a cardinal institution of the Church in New Orleans, escaped, for the most part, physical damage. It is on high ground in the historic Garden District. While we listened to the Rector, the Rev’d Dabney Smith and the Headmaster, the Rev’d Michael Kuhn, speak of the frightful challenges before them, I mentioned the possibility of their sending some fourth graders to Saint Thomas Choir School next year. The Headmaster was hopeful about the prospect. Then I asked, “What else can we do?” At that, the Rector said, with feeling, “You know what would be great? Could you come down here and sing to us?” Dearly beloved, that is exactly what we are going to do. Thanks to the enthusiastic responses of Maestro Scott and Headmaster Wallace and the quick generosity of Dave Barger, the President of jetBlue Airways, our Choir of Men and Boys, God willing, will sing a special concert in Trinity Church, New Orleans, on Friday night, March 24, 2006.

A YOUTH MINISTER ARRIVES

Making his appearance on Advent Sunday, the Rev’d Jonathan Erdman begins his ministry at Saint Thomas this December. Jonathan comes to us from Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Webster Groves, Missouri, where he has served as Curate responsible for family ministries, middle school and high school youth programs and Christian education. Jonathan, who is 27 years old and a 2004 graduate of Yale Divinity School (where he was a classmate of my son Matthew), has extensive experience in youth ministry from 1997. He was ordained Deacon and Priest in the Diocese of Missouri (centered in St. Louis) in 2004. Jonathan Erdman comes to us well recommended. He was raised in a church rectory; indeed, his father, the Rev’d Daniel Erdman, a faithful and experienced Episcopal priest and rector, was a contemporary of mine at Yale Divinity School 35 years ago. Jonathan’s wife, Andrea, is completing a Master’s degree in Social Work at St. Louis University. She will move to New York to join Jonathan in January in their apartment in the Choir School building.

Father Erdman’s ministry will be entirely at the Church, where he will work closely with Father Stafford, Father Austin and me. He will share the full range of priestly ministry, taking his part in the celebration of said and sung masses, preaching, and, most especially, taking responsibility for and developing programs of Christian education and fellowship for young people and younger adults (people in their twenties and thirties). In addition to oversight of Christian education and fellowship for young people, Father Erdman will be a pastor to parents and work to create a parents’ fellowship and support group. Father Stafford and I particularly look forward to Jonathan’s augmenting of the work of our pastoral ministry. Please join us in making Jonathan and Andrea Erdman welcome in the life of Saint Thomas.

VESTRY ELECTIONS

The Vestry election of 2005 yielded the following results. Kenneth F. Koen was elected to a two-year term as Warden, in succession to John M. Neiswanger. Elected to three-year Vestry terms were, in voting order, William R. Miller, OBE; Willem Brans; and W. Michael Margolin. Elected to fulfill the two years remaining in Kenneth Koen’s Vestry term was Colin Fergus, who joins the Vestry for the first time. I am thankful to all the candidates who agreed to stand for election, and I welcome our new Warden and Vestry members, including the two re-elected incumbents, Mr. Miller and Mr. Brans; Mr. Margolin returns, having served two consecutive three-year terms which concluded a year ago.

Of particular note are the rotations off the Vestry of John Neiswanger as Warden and Hope Preminger as Vestry member, two biblical “oaks” of faithfulness at Saint Thomas. John and Hope continue to serve Saint Thomas with distinction, devotion, and unstinting generosity of their time, talent, and treasure. John leads the Communications Committee for the Vestry and chairs the newly-formed Organ Committee for Mr. Scott and the Rector. Hope, to whom we owe thanks for the multiple-award-winning Parish History film, The Gate of Heaven, (as well as for the new promotional DVD for the Choir School) assists me with promotion, public relations and the Vestry’s Grants Committee. I salute both these faithful servants of Christ and his Church with deep respect and grateful affection.

THE EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

The Every Member Canvass (EMC) is enjoying excellent results despite the sudden illness in October of Co-Chair James Otton. Jim and his wife (and EMC Co-Chair) Robin are in our prayers as Jim undergoes treatment for cancer. Former EMC Chairs (and Vestrymen) Willem Brans, Linda Ketchum and Colin Fergus stepped in quickly to help Co-Chair Ed Valentine. As of this writing, the 2006 EMC has pulled ahead of last year’s highest-ever Canvass by about $50,000, measured by progress as of Advent Sunday. Thanks go to the Ottons, Dr. Valentine, and to Willem, Linda and Colin and the EMC committee members for their help amidst unanticipated trials.

After taking a break this month and for Christmastide, we will be communicating with those former pledgers to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School from whom we have not yet heard. In addition, I have written direct appeals to a number of members, those who are able and of means, asking them to consider joining me in making a leadership pledge of $10,000 or more per year. In order to raise the proportion of our pledging to where it should be as a fraction of our budget, it is essential for us to increase the number of pledgers in the categories of $5,000-$10,000, and especially $10,000 and upwards, which constitutes what can properly be called “leadership” giving. When I was Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, from 1978-1985, where we depended upon pledging for most of the annual budget, the average pledge was over $1,500. That was twenty years ago, in suburban Philadelphia. Here we are in Manhattan in 2005, and our average annual pledge is just over $1,300, which is below normal for the parishes of the Diocese of New York. I know we can do better, and I am grateful to those of you who are helping to make that goal possible.

I regret, but it is necessary to report, that I have received a few complaints referred back to me by the EMC that some of those canvassed think my appeal for the Church in Louisiana, on top of the 2006 Canvass, is burdensome. If you are one of the complainers, shame on you; you get a lump of coal for Christmas. Read the two sermons, “Hurricane Katrina” and “Make Saint Thomas Stronger,” footnoted on page one. Recall that our eighth Rector, Ernest Stires, gave away a large amount of money, money that could well have been used towards building the new church out of the rubble of our great fire of 1905, to the victims of the disastrous San Francisco earthquake a century ago – an act of generous outreach which I hope still characterizes Saint Thomas’ people! If you doubt the need of our Louisiana brethren, check out the photos of New Orleans on our web site and compare what you see to what we have.

REVIEWS AND PREVIEWS

Several credits are due to my fellow clergy. To Robert Stafford goes credit for starting anew the fellowship of the Women of Saint Thomas, an organization that has existed for many years only on the financial books of the parish. On the first Thursdays of October and November, large gatherings of the Women of Saint Thomas met for a luncheon at the Parish House and then visits to local museums; on December 8, they will go to Rockefeller Center for the Rockettes’ Christmas program, have lunch and sing Happy Birthday to the Rector. With the assistance of the Vestry’s Membership Committee Chair Linda Ketchum and Clergy Secretary Linda Morfi, Father Stafford brilliantly managed a packed-to-overflowing Andrew Hall brunch for Newcomers on Sunday, November 6 (the same Sunday of Bishop Jenkins’ visit). Robert also planned the successful autumn supper of the Evening Fellowship group, Wednesday November 2.

To Victor Austin goes the credit for growth in attendance for adult Christian Education. Father Austin’s thrice-weekly classes on a wide range of subjects, including the hot topic of bioethics, have drawn a large and broad group of attendees on Sunday mornings – including some veteran members not seen before in our classes. Victor has joined me in my annual Rector’s Christian Doctrine Series, attracting from 30 to 50 people to the Tuesday evening classes which lead to Confirmation and Reception by the Bishop. Father Austin’s monthly reading and discussion group on first Wednesday evenings of the month, formerly known as “Rofters” (referring to readers of the distinguished First Things journal), has been reconstituted as a reading and discussion group on theology and culture, discussing select articles from First Things as well as from other relevant sources from various perspectives.

Father Martin has begun an enthusiastic ward of The Society of Mary. The group has chosen the name of Our Lady of Fifth Avenue, the title of our bronze statue of Mary and the Infant Christ in the Lady Chapel (the Chantry), the most frequently used place of prayer at Saint Thomas. The image was dedicated in 1991 on the twentieth anniversary of the rectorship of Father John Andrew. The Society of Mary had a reception and tour December 7 of the Marian images at Saint Thomas, including the medieval Spanish statue in the Chantry sanctuary and the re-mounted Byzantine icon, which now adorns the nave pillar at the entrance to the Chantry. Thanks to Michael Charles, the ward issues an occasional newsletter.

Our concert series has flourished this fall with visits from the choirs of Clare College, Cambridge (joined by our Choirboys) and Westminster Abbey…The Durufle Requiem on Remembrance Sunday November 13 was a worthy and well-received alternative to the Faure…and we had many compliments about the music from Maestro Scott and company for the well attended Advent Sunday Processions at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Weekend… The main events for the Christmas season are The Messiah on Tuesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., December 13 and 15; a Service of Christmas Carols for the Community, Saturday, December 17 at 4:00 p.m.; the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols Sunday December 18 at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m.; a Service of Carols for the Community Wednesday December 21 at 12:10 p.m.; Britten’s Ceremony of Carols Wednesday December 21 at 5:30 p.m., followed by Messiaen’s La Nativite du Seigneur at 6:15 p.m. On Christmas Eve, Saturday December 24, are the Children’s Service of Lessons and Carols and the Blessing of the Creche at 4:00 p.m. and the Solemn Mass of the Nativity, beginning with Festival Music at 10:30 p.m. Tickets for midnight mass have been issued to those making pledges to Saint Thomas for 2006. On Christmas Day, Sunday December 25, is the Solemn Eucharist of the Nativity at 11:00 a.m…

On Wednesday January 18 is a mid-winter Parish Supper. Get your tickets early for another one of Father Stafford’s sell-out surprise programs… The Rev’d Dr. Robert Jenson, a notable Lutheran theologian and author, whose daughter and son-in-law, Kari and Lucky Gold and their daughter, are new members of Saint Thomas, will preach Sunday, January 22, at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity… On Sunday, January 29, at the coffee hour, a portrait of yours truly, commissioned by the Vestry in 2001 and painted by portrait artist Raymond Kinstler, will be presented to the parish in Andrew Hall. This occurs in my tenth year as your Rector, for which I am deeply thankful to our Lord and God. And may we all have a joyous celebration of his upcoming Birthday. This comes with my love and blessings in this holy season.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead



[1]The individual Vestry members matched the 11:00 a.m. loose plate collection on November 6 by donating a like amount to Saint Thomas’ mission. I am grateful for their support and leadership.

[2] Please read the sermons, “Hurricane Katrina” and “Make Saint Thomas Stronger” on the website.