Rector’s Chronicle: September 2006

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

When I signed off on the summer Rector’s Chronicle last June, I asked you to mark your September calendars for the start-up of the full Choral Services, including Weekday Choral Evensongs – which began early, the days after Labor Day, September 5, 6 and 7, with Sunday, September 10 as the first day of the full Choir of Men and Boys. And we’re off! As you can see from the several mailings we already have sent you in August and September: We have planned the 2006-2007 season at Saint Thomas Church and Choir School to showcase our mission: to worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the inspiring music of our Choral heritage, through clear, intelligent presentation of the Gospel, and through warm, generous service and fellowship.

THE CONCERT SERIES

The Concert Series brochure is full of splendors. You will want to keep your copy throughout the 2006-2007 season for reference. Nota bene: In honor of the 250th anniversary of Mozart’s birth, John Scott will conduct a special Mozart Anniversary Concert on Tuesday, November 14; and this year’s Messiah concerts and on Tuesday and Thursday, December 12 and 14, will present Mozart’s rarely performed arrangement of Handel’s masterpiece.

I particularly wish to point out, well in advance, Mr. Scott’s offering of Ten Saturdays with Buxtehude, in which he plays the complete organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707), in the 300th anniversary year of the composer’s death. These free recitals are on January 20; February 3, 10, 17, 24; March 31; April 28; May 12, 19, and 26, from 4:00-4:45 p.m. He will perform on the Saint Thomas Taylor and Boody organ, which he describes as the perfect vehicle in New York City for the works of Buxtehude. Buxtehude, says Maestro Scott, “was one of the most influential musicians and composers of his generation. Musicians throughout Europe, including both Bach and Handel, traveled long distances to hear his music and learn from him.” This is a great gift to the city and community by our Organist and Director of Music.

THE MUSIC SCHEDULE

The schedule of liturgical services and music from September through December 2006 has been sent to you. This continues to serve our staff, members and friends as an indispensable companion (a vade mecum) for life at Saint Thomas. There are two things to note. The first involves the fact that this year Christmas Day, December 25, is a Monday, and Christmas Eve is therefore Sunday December 24. The Choir of Men and Boys will sing the Service of Nine Lessons and Carols, on Saturday, December 23 at 4:00 p.m. There will be a morning service on Christmas Eve, Sunday, December 24 at 11:00 a.m., a Choral Eucharist for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, sung by the Gentlemen of the Choir. At 4:00 p.m. on Christmas Eve the Choir of Men and Boys will sing the service of Nine Lessons and Carols, in conjunction with the Blessing of the Creche and the Rector’s Address for the Children. Then, at 10:30 p.m., there is the Festival Music followed at 11:00 p.m. by the Solemn Eucharist (the Midnight Mass) sung as ever by the full Choir of Men and Boys. On Monday, December 25, the full Choir will sing the Solemn Eucharist of Christmas Day at 11:00 a.m.

Second, in order to enrich our offering of the full Anglican Choral repertoire, we have made some changes in the way we will celebrate Morning Prayer (Choral Mattins) and the Eucharist, the first occasion of which is Sunday, November 19 at 11:00 a.m. In a word, we are going to use the beautiful choral settings of the versicles and responses at the beginning (O Lord open thou our lips…) and after the Apostles’ Creed. There is a rich tradition of music (for Choral Mattins) specifically set for these texts which we miss out on because we simply say and read them. You will still have to sing the Venite, and recite the Creed, but we will make an advance on our claim to present the full Anglican choral tradition. I believe you will like the changes, but I want to prepare you for them.

CHRISTIAN EDUCATION

The fall 2006 brochure for Theology at Saint Thomas: Adult Christian Education has been printed and is available at the church. I commend this program to your attention and urge you to take part. Courses for Sunday mornings at 10:00 a.m., and offerings for Monday evenings, Tuesday evenings and, in the case of a four-session course on Dostoyevsky’s great novel, The Brothers Karamazov, Wednesday evenings, are described in the brochure. The Rector’s Christian Doctrine Class, a 16-session course on the essentials of the faith, begins Tuesday evening October 31. The course is especially for newcomers and those desiring Confirmation or Reception in the Episcopal Church, and the schedule is in the brochure. Thanks to Father Victor Austin for his preparation of this ambitious program.

Father Jonathan Erdman, back from a trip to New Orleans with three of our high school students and seminarian assistant Chip Connelly, has prepared a full season of activities for our young people, including Sunday School, overnights and retreats, and even occasional brunches. All these will be announced, like our Adult Christian Education, in Sunday leaflets as we go along and on the Children and Youth Website which is part of the Saint Thomas website www.SaintThomasChurch.org.

FELLOWSHIP AND SERVICE

This is a good place to emphasize ongoing programs of fellowship and service whose schedules are regularly noted in Sunday leaflets. The Women of Saint Thomas will have fall luncheons at 1:00 p.m. in the Parish House (they may wish to attend the 12:10 Eucharist in the Chantry beforehand), on the Thursdays of October 5, November 2, and December 7. The fall Evening Group Event is Thursday, October 26. All these require reservations as noted in the Sunday leaflets, and they are regularly filled. Thanks to Father Robert Stafford and Linda Morfi for their planning and oversight of these and other events.

One of our longest running ministries is the Saturday morning Soup Kitchen, a group of volunteers who gather at 9:30 a.m. in the Parish House living room and dining room, where they prepare bag lunches consisting of fruit cup or soup, sandwiches and cookies. Distribution to between 250 and 300 homeless persons along eight routes in mid-Manhattan begins at 11:00 a.m. and finishes by 12:15 p.m. On an average Saturday, we have about two dozen volunteers; new volunteers are always welcome.

PARISH PUBLICATIONS

Photo journalism arrived over the past two years at Saint Thomas with the appearance of Saint Thomas News. By the time you receive this Rector’s Chronicle, you should have received the next (“rethought and revamped”) step in this publication of parish “human interest,” the Saint Thomas Life newsletter. It presents a review of parish life of the past several months which is lively and literally colorful. It is very readable.Thanks to John Shannon, who continues as editor, assisted by John Neiswanger and Father Erdman.

Speaking of rethought and revamped publications, the Saint Thomas Yearbook for 2005 is soon to make its appearance. The Communications Committee, chaired by John Neiswanger, has worked to make this Yearbook more attractive and user-friendly, particularly as a help to the Every Member Canvass as it presents the financial picture of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. The Letters of the Rector, the Director of Music and the Headmaster have been consolidated into one “The Year in Review” report which I hope you will find easier to read as a whole account of the life of Saint Thomas in 2005. Thanks to all those who have contributed to this development.

THE EVERY MEMBER CANVASS FOR 2007

Each year on the first Sunday of October, which is called the Feast of Dedication, I preach my sermon for the Every Member Canvass, the campaign for pledge support to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School for the upcoming year. Last year, in a sermon entitled, “Make Saint Thomas Stronger,” I appealed not only for your pledge support but also for your contributions to the cause of the Church in New Orleans and other areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Your responses to both were heart-warming. Last Year’s Canvass went past the $1 million milestone for the first time. A real difference was made by those of you who heeded my appeal for leadership pledges of $5,000 and upwards. We also need those who cannot afford to give that much; we need all our people’s pledging support. Bear with me while I explain the issue before us.

Saint Thomas Church and Choir School as we know it could not possibly be here without its endowment and invested funds. The unhealthy part of our budget is where, beyond endowment income, plate offerings, school tuitions, and pledges, we draw down too heavily from our invested funds. By doing this, we are simply not doing our part. We are relying on the dead to pay too much for the living and mortgaging the future. The Vestry has worked hard, has curtailed, even cut, expenses, so far without cutting back program and ministry; and its Investment Committee has worked to maximize the value and growth of our invested funds. But on the income side, I know we can do better, and I know where that is. It is in pledging. We need to move our total annual pledge from just over 10 percent of our operating budget income to 25 percent. In terms of current dollars, this is a leap from $1 million to $2.5 million, which the Vestry set in 2005 as a five-year goal. Don’t faint; read on!

We have done well over the past decade, especially the past two years. But we can improve. If you divide our total pledged income for 2006, $1,060,000, by the 569 pledging units for 2006, you have an average of $1,852 per pledging unit. That is a good increase from just under an average $1,500 per pledging unit for 2005, which was our best pledge campaign to date ($850,000). I am very grateful for what we have received. Still, I am sure we at Saint Thomas can do better.

I particularly revere the sacrificial offerings of the poor, the sick, the elderly, those on restricted incomes, and those who bear heavy burdens and responsibilities. We do well to recall that Jesus commended the poor widow’s mite (Lk 21:1-4) precisely because of the proportion it represented (her whole living) compared with what the wealthy were giving (a much larger sum than the widow’s in flat terms, but a fraction of their means). So we need everyone’s pledge. Our leadership pledgers have responded very well – thanks be to God. But we need the prayer and support that is represented by everyone’s honest, heartfelt pledge, no matter how small. Jesus said, where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. That is what we must have at Saint Thomas – more treasure that represents pledges of a true heart. Let our generation take its rightful place in our good heritage. Let us make Saint Thomas stronger than when it first found us! The Every Member Canvass has an excellent mailing that is soon to reach you. Please respond by returning a prayerful, generous pledge that represents your love for Jesus Christ and your support of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School.

SUMMER BOOK REPORT

I read at least a dozen good books, novels and non-fiction on Monhegan this past July. Nancy Mead was my indispensable reading guide. The classic was Louis Auchincloss’ The Rector of Justin, the story of a father-founder of a great American Episcopal School. I also recommend Tobias Wolff’s Old School, concerning writers and truth-telling in a venue similar to that of Auchincloss’ Rector. Elizabeth Strout’s Abide with Me is a story of a Maine Congregational minister, his recently deceased wife, and gossip and slander in their congregation. (Strout writes as though she knows the scene from the inside of a parsonage.) Philip Roth’s Everyman is new but already a classic. Its ending is starkly superb. Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace is about rape and turning the tables in the new South Africa. Adam Haslett, a new young writer, has written a fine collection of short stories, You Are Not a Stranger Here. (I don’t usually like short story collections; I couldn’t put this one down and stayed up one night reading it.) Anne Tyler, one of our good veteran authors, has written a gem about immigrants (Tyler’s deceased husband was Iranian, so she has an insider’s view) and adoption, Digging to America. The Swallows of Kabul by “Yasmina Khasha” (a female pseudonym for the male author, an Algerian soldier in the French army), is a gripping story about the destruction of the personal (especially a woman’s) life under the Taliban in Afghanistan. Mark Mill’s Amagansett is a page-turner of a post-World War II murder mystery involving some native fishermen and a family of the country club set on Long Island.

In between these books, as a kind of palate-cleanser, I enjoyed Stephen Pratt’s SuperFoods, a book about feeling great as a result of eating right. I also listened once again to Dante’s Divine Comedy on tape, to brush up in preparation for a few classes next spring.

In the non-fiction department, I recommend our own Jon Meacham’s American Gospel, a timely, persuasive study of “public religion” in America since the time of the founders. Nathaniel Philbrick’s Mayflower isan arresting chronicle of the Plymouth Colony’s first fifty years. Immensely sad is the second half of the story, which is about the disaster of King Philip’s War, in which 4000 Native Americans and 1000 white colonists perished. A poignant part of the tragedy: King Philip was a Rhode Island sachem, the son of the great Massasoit, the sachem who helped the Mayflower pilgrims to survive their first winters in Massachusetts. Finally, I read Joseph Ellis’ American Sphinx, a life of Thomas Jefferson. I even read a theology book, Raymond Brown’s Introduction to New Testament Christology, which I mention because I recommend it for interested lay people.

Busy as life back in the harness here is, I hope to have at least a few books to report to you in my Advent Rector’s Chronicle. We have a great season ahead of us, and it’s invigorating to start up again. I am very grateful to God for the privilege and joy of having served as Rector of Saint Thomas for ten full years, and more particularly to those who have planned the September 29 banquet to celebrate the tenth anniversary. I love my vocation here and, the Lord providing, would be happy to serve for another decade as well. This comes with my love and blessings.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead