Rector’s Chronicle: Lent 2006

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

I write this to you in mid-Lent, three weeks before Easter and just before our Choir flies (courtesy of jetBlue Airways) to New Orleans to sing at Trinity Church and Trinity Episcopal School, Friday, March 24. While I was visiting New Orleans last November to see the condition of the Episcopal Church there in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the Rector of Trinity Church, the Rev’d Dabney Smith, sparked the idea of our Choir’s upcoming trip when he asked, “Could you come down here and sing to us?” Consider this trip a Lenten offering by Saint Thomas to our fellow Church members in New Orleans, still very far from what life was like before the hurricane and flood.

Printed schedules of the Holy Week Services, from Palm Sunday, April 9, to Easter Day, April 16, at Saint Thomas are available at the Church. The most dramatic full choral liturgies, after Palm Sunday’s Solemn Liturgy of the Passion at 11:00 a.m., begin with Tenebrae on Wednesday night at 5:30; then the Solemn Liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday, each at 5:30 p.m. On Easter Day, there are Solemn Eucharists at 8:00 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. and Festal Evensong at 3:00 p.m. (note the earlier time, a long-standing custom for Easter Sunday’s last service at Saint Thomas). In addition, there are Solemn Eucharists sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir at 12:10 p.m. Monday through Thursday in Holy Week.

Our preacher for the Three Hour Service from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m. on Good Friday, is the Rev’d Dr. David Bartlett, Professor Emeritus of Homiletics at Yale University Divinity School. Dr. Bartlett preached powerfully to us a year ago January during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity on “Blizzard Sunday” 2005. The congregation was reduced but enthusiastic. We shouldn’t have snow to prevent a good turnout this Good Friday. Don’t miss an outstanding preacher’s homilies on each of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross.

Perhaps no better Passiontide devotion can be found than J.S. Bach’s Saint John Passion, The Kenneth A. Lohf Concert performed by our Choir of Men and Boys with Concert Royal and seven soloists, directed by John Scott, Tuesday, April 4 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be bought on line through our website at www.SaintThomasChurch.org or by calling 212.664.9360 or e-mailing concerts@SaintThomasChurch.org. Our concert series this year not only has seen wonderful performances; we have also witnessed a doubling of the support represented by our Friends of Music. [Thanks to the Concert Series management for much of this effort.] The Concert Series is an important part of our mission and outreach. It could not be sustained merely by ticket sales. Annual gifts by our Friends of Music, and generous endowment bequests such as that of Kenneth A. Lohf, extend this important aspect of our choral ministry to the city and the world.

AN HISTORIC MILESTONE: $1 MILLION

In December I wrote to you about the 2006 Every Member Canvass, grateful that we had pulled ahead of the 2005 Canvass, which was our best to date. In addition to the regular efforts of our Canvassers, I made direct written appeals to members, who I thought were able and of means, to join me in making leadership pledges of $10,000 or more per year. The response has been moving and gratifying, raising the 2006 Canvass above $1 million for the first time in our history. This is an increase of 17 percent over last year. It is also a goodly increase in the pledging category of $5,000- $10,000 or more per year. This happened at the same time that Saint Thomas raised nearly $60,000 in response to my appeal for the Bishop of Louisiana.

I am so proud of all you who responded and pledged to the support of our beloved Church and Choir School. Whether you can make a large “leadership” pledge, or you give the “widow’s mite” which Jesus commended as a large sacrifice, we need your prayers and support. We have come a long way. Our Every Member Canvass now raises twice what it raised ten years ago. And we have a good way to go. The annual pledges and contributions of the congregation historically support 11 percent of our budget. That figure, for us to be healthy, needs to be 25 percent, which means more than doubling where we are now. If we hold and build on 2006’s good response, by God’s help we can make it. Once again, thank you all. God bless you for your sacrifices and generosity towards Saint Thomas.

FATHER RICHARD MARTIN

In just a year and a half, Father Richard Martin has become a beloved member of our clergy staff. However, I regret to tell you that due to reasons of health suddenly visited upon him, he will not be able to be with us for another year, as I had hoped he would. Not feeling well in February, he went to his home to Durham, North Carolina. Feeling still worse, he went to the hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and learned also that he is diabetic. The pneumonia has cleared up, and Richard is learning a whole new life of coping with diabetes. Much as he loves Saint Thomas, he thinks it best not to do another year in New York, which has meant monthly commuting home for a few days to Durham. After Easter, when Father Martin is able to be with us, we will say a proper thank-you to him at a Sunday Eucharist and coffee hour. You may write to him at 4915 Carlton Crossing Drive, Durham, NC 27713.

A WORD ON ADULT CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

Recently, I have been thrilled by the attendance and enthusiasm that our program of adult — and young adult — Christian education has generated. An early week in Lent drew 25 to a Saturday class on C.S. Lewis, 50 to a Sunday morning class on “How to Read the Book of Revelation,” 25 to the Rector’s Doctrine Class, and 22 to “Lent with the Simpsons.” Not only are the topics diverse, but the leaders and teachers are, too. Moderated by Father Victor Austin, the C.S. Lewis class featured presentations by two parishioners (Kari Gold and Jeff Wentling), one of our clergy (Father Jonathan Erdman), and a lively discussion on Narnia. Father Austin is also leading the class on the Book of Revelation and joining me in conducting my annual doctrine class. A different tone is struck by the Simpsons, a cartoon family which has become a topic for inter-parochial scrutiny and discussion by our young adults, led by Father Erdman, and the young adults of Saint Mary the Virgin, led by my son, Father Matthew Mead. From C.S. Lewis to the Simpsons: what is notable is the range. Some classes are more casual and appeal to a wide swath of parishioners and visitors; others are scholarly and require reading and study by participants.

I do want to note, however, that many parishioners have expressed concerns about classes on hot topics such as Bioethics and about the “Conversations on Theology and Culture.” These concerns are rooted in an impression on the part of some that an ultra-conservative line is being promoted in Father Austin’s Theology at Saint Thomas program because of the topics and the authors and texts that have been chosen for discussion. I understand the concern and do not want any part of our curriculum to be incorrectly seen as advocating controversial positions on social topics. I also hear, and share, the desire for more classes on Holy Scripture. I will exert a vigorous effort to ensure that future reading recommendations and speakers for any “issues and subjects of the day” will, taken together, reflect a broad range of opinion. Let me take this opportunity to invite all of you to attend the classes; come and see. Members of the congregations of the Episcopal Church, including each of the parishes I have served over 35 years of ministry, are and have been “all over the map” on any number of political and cultural issues. Saint Thomas should be and, thankfully, is a sanctuary where this wide diversity of people can discover a deeper unity: Our unity and great strength is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord, his worship and sacraments, most gloriously expressed in the Eucharist each Sunday.

THE RECTOR EMERITUS

I have invited Father John Andrew to a fuller, more regular participation in our life at Saint Thomas, and I am very pleased by his warm response. Many of you remember how Father Leslie Lang was invited by Father Andrew into the life of Saint Thomas, how he blessed the congregation for well over a decade until his death in 1990. I have asked Father Andrew into a similar ministry – such as greeting, scheduled participation in Sunday and weekday choral liturgies, periodic preaching. John Andrew has known me and my family for nearly 35 years. In my tenth year as his successor it feels “meet and right” to invite our Rector Emeritus, my good predecessor and old friend, to be at home, naturally and regularly, with me at Saint Thomas and to bless us all with his friendship and priesthood.

UPCOMING PREACHERS

I have already mentioned our distinguished Good Friday preacher, David Bartlett. On Sunday, March 26, the Rev’d Dr. Oliver O’Donovan, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University and Canon of Christ Church, the cathedral at Oxford, will preach at 11:00 a.m. Festal Eucharist for Laetare Sunday. Dr. O’Donovan will also speak at the 10:00 Christian Education Class that same day. A distinguished Church of England priest, teacher and writer, Oliver was a student at Oxford the same time I was in the early 1970s. We knew each other, along with another quite remarkable fellow student, Rowan Williams (now the Archbishop of Canterbury). After Easter, on Sunday, May 21, the Rev’d Robin Griffiths-Jones, another English priest who is Master of The Temple Church in London as well as a notable speaker and author of biblical studies, will preach at the 11:00 a.m. Festal Eucharist and speak at the 10:00 a.m. Class on the subject of Dan Brown’s The DaVinci Code, on which Fr. Griffiths-Jones is preparing his own book.

CHOIR SCHOOL DOINGS

Mark your calendars for the Choir School’s Spring Gala benefit, Friday, May 5, an evening of dinner and dancing at Saint Thomas Choir School, 202 West 58th Street, near the corner of Seventh Avenue. Hors d’oeuvres begin at 6:00 p.m.; dinner is served at 7:00 p.m., followed by dancing with The Delivery Boys. There is a Limited Silent Auction. Dress: Black Tie is optional. Last year’s successful spring benefit, photos of which were in the recent Saint Thomas News, was a lot of fun, and this gala look to be excellent as well. Invitation forms are being sent out to our mailing list. On Saturday, April 22, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., our Headmaster, the Rev’d Charles F. Wallace, and I will preside at a Choir School Open House for Gordon Clem, Headmaster of Saint Thomas Choir School from 1967 to 1995. This will be Mr. Clem’s first visit back to the Choir School since he left as Headmaster, and it is the month of his 75th birthday. It will be good to see him and to sing Happy Birthday to Gordon, who left behind a distinguished legacy as a teacher and educator.

IN CONCLUSION

I hope you all saw the photograph and read the article in Saint Thomas News on our new priest, the Rev’d Jonathan Erdman, who is making a very good start as our Youth Minister. He has also shown himself well in our liturgies, and more recently, gave a good first sermon from the pulpit at 11:00 a.m. on the Second Sunday in Lent. Do please extend your welcome to him and his wife, Andrea, as members of the Saint Thomas family.

The Women of Saint Thomas, under Father Robert Stafford’s skilled management, have had quite a happy, successful 2005-2006 season since last fall, with each of their luncheons and outings at full capacity. The Wednesday, April 5, visit to MOMA is full, but there are still some places for the luncheon. On Thursday, May 4, there will be an architectural walking tour of Rockefeller Center followed by luncheon at the Church. Information about signing up is in Sunday leaflets. On Ascension Day, Thursday, May 25, there will be an Evening Group dinner, with entertainment by an Irish tenor, for the parish at 6:30 p.m., right after the Festal Eucharist for the Ascension at 5:30 p.m. sung by the Choir of Men and Boys.

My wife Nancy, aka peregrina (pilgrim), will be away for three weeks next month in Spain, first in Seville for Holy Week for a long-anticipated visit and then walking a newly marked Santiago pilgrimage through southwestern, Moorish Spain. She returns in good time for the Choir School Spring Gala. Please remember her in your prayers.

Right after all the excitement of Christmas and while I was away on my post-Christmas break, a much appreciated and beloved parishioner, Cecil Kippin, suddenly left us to move to Florida. Cecil has volunteered for years as the Saint Thomas photographer, photographing the parish family at all sorts of activities, and assembling annual photo albums of the Saint Thomas family to be seen at coffee hours. When I returned from my break, there was the photo album for 2005 from Cecil, but no Cecil! He had moved much more quickly than he or any of us expected and now resides in Winterhaven, Florida. If you wish to write to him, you may get his address from the Secretary to the Rector, Douglas Robbe, at the Parish office. We hope to see Cecil visit us soon. In the meantime, we say Thank you, Cecil, and Godspeed.

This comes to you with my love and blessings. May you enjoy a glorious Holy Week and Easter. Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast.

Faithfully your priest,

Andrew C. Mead