Rector’s Chronicle: December 2006

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

What a wonderful, eventful autumn season it has been at Saint Thomas. As I write, we are turbo-charging our ministry for the mid-December splendors of pre-Christmas services and music. By the time you receive this, we will have enjoyed the Mozart orchestration of Handel’s Messiah. I want to begin and end this Chronicle by wishing you all God’s blessings for this holy season of Advent. Be sure you take advantage of what the church offers at this time, not only on Sundays but on weekdays, keeping us focused on the heart of the matter, Jesus Christ our Lord and God.

BANQUETS!

This is my first chance to put in writing to the whole community my appreciation for what was done for my wife Nancy and me at the banquet celebrating the Tenth Anniversary of my Rectorship on Michaelmas, Friday evening, September 29, at the University Club. You may, if you wish, access the addresses by Senior Warden Bill Wright and Vestryman Jon Meacham, as well as my response, on our website, www.SaintThomasChurch.org, where the speeches, the prayers and blessings by the bishops, and some photographs are displayed. Mr. and Mrs. Stanley DeForest Scott are very generously underwriting the publication of a beautiful commemorative booklet containing the addresses at the banquet.

When you begin as a Rector of a parish, they give you a party. When you retire as a Rector of a parish, they also give you a party. But to have such a party at this point in one’s tenure is truly extraordinary, and I’m thrilled that it was done by this great and good parish. The invitation by the Wardens and Vestry, the spirit of affection and goodwill in the air all evening, the good words by brothers Wright and Meacham, the organization of the event itself by Joan Hoffman and Hope Preminger (we had 250 in attendance and we broke even financially, thanks to many extra generous donations) – all this combined in what was the best thing that has been done for Nancy and me in 35 years of parish ministry. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you to all those who made that memorable evening what it was.

A second banquet, the October 18 Harvest Ball of New York’s Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), was a happy occasion for the Meads and over forty Saint Thomas parishioners. Parishioner John Shannon, on behalf of the FPWA, presented yours truly with the organization’s annual “Lifetime Achievement Award.” Dinner, dancing, and a good time seemed to be had by all; and I thought our Saint Thomas folks added a lot of snap, crackle and pop to the FPWA’s evening.

VESTRY TRANSITION

This year’s Annual Election of Saint Thomas Church saw the rotation off the Vestry of B. Franklin Reinauer, who served six years (two consecutive three-year terms as allowed by the parish by-laws) and gave a great deal of time and loving care for which we sincerely thank him. Among other tasks, Frank’s work on the Building Committee (including chairing the committee) and as Treasurer deserves mention. He continues to serve on the Building Committee as a non-Vestry member, and is perhaps best known as a leader of our Saturday Soup Kitchen.

Elected to the Vestry were Jon Meacham and Karen Metcalf (to second three-year terms), and Kazie Metzger Harvey (to a new three-year term in the vacancy left by Frank Reinauer). Kazie served for six years on the Vestry before rotating off two years ago, and it is good to welcome her back. Finally, William H. Wright II was elected to a third two-year term as Warden, a position in which he continues to show strong leadership, not least in raising Saint Thomas’ business administration (including bringing Barbara Pettus to us as Executive Director of Administration and Finance) to a new level of efficiency, transparency, and good spirit both at the Church and the Choir School.

Let us thank all these good people for their willingness to give time, talent and treasure to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. This is a good place and time to repeat the Vestry Prayer with which we begin our meetings (after we first pray the Pentecost collect for the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make a “right judgment in all things”): Almighty God, who alone workest great marvels, and who hast called us to the mission of thy Church in Saint Thomas parish: we beseech thee to sustain our Church and Choir School with the financial resources to continue in true fidelity in this sacred mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. Please join us in this prayer.

ANSWERS TO PRAYER

Speaking of the above-mentioned prayer, many of you are helping to make it come true by your responses to our Every Member Canvass for 2007. On Advent Sunday we passed last year’s record milestone of $1 million. As of this writing we are above $1,020,000 with 519 pledging units. Pledging units, the total amount pledged to the Church and to the Choir School, and the amount of the average pledge are all up over last year’s Canvass. I believe we can stretch to $1.5 million by Lent, if everyone pitches in. The EMC committee, chairmen Helen Broder Fuller and Edward Valentine, and Vestry stewardship chair Colin Fergus, are doing a great job.

Remember that our goal in the Annual Canvass is to move to 25% of Saint Thomas’ annual budget in terms of what is represented by the annual giving of the living. The Vestry has set the year 2010 as a target for that goal, which means attaining $2.5 million in annual pledges. It’s a big challenge, but if we reach $1.5 million this year, I really believe we can make it. Prayer moves mountains and opens hearts, including wallets. Thank all of you who have helped us make such progress. I am so proud of our congregation.

A NEW MAINTENANCE FUND FOR THE CHOIR SCHOOL

In January of 2006 Saint Thomas was contacted by Extell Development (the largest multifamily/condominium developer in New York City) to see if we owned any air rights at the Choir School. At the time we were unaware that any existed but, after Extell had a survey done, we learned that the school did have 11,984 transferable developable rights (the technical term for air rights, TDRs). Extell was in the process of buying property in the Choir School block and offered us $1,250,000 for the air rights. With the Standing Committee’s approval, we hired an air rights consultant (Staubach) to help us evaluate the offer.

After several extensive negotiations with Extell, Staubach was able to negotiate up from $104.31 to $185 @ sq. ft. for a total of $2,217,040 (and Extell would pay conveyance taxes).

As the Saint Thomas Standing Committee and I discussed what we would be giving up if we sold the TDRs, we learned that the amount of air rights we had only represented the opportunity to add a floor or a floor and a half to the existing choir school – and that, in order to add on top of an existing structure, great costs were involved in adding to the support at the base with extra pilings, bringing in huge cranes, etc – not worth the major cost for the addition of so little extra space. And we all know that our 20-year-old building is in need of some major restoration – this seemed like a fairly painless way to pay for some of the repairs.

Because air rights are viewed as an asset similar to real estate, Diocesan Standing Committee approval was required for this transaction. Their approval was obtained with the comment that 1) “the Choir School property is not part of the ‘patrimony’ of the parish” and 2) “the sale represents a one-time permanent extraction of value from the property that should be preserved.” We agreed wholeheartedly; the principal will be preserved. The Vestry approved the transaction in July and the lawyers and our Business Administrator, Barbara Pettus (to whom we give special thanks), spent the next several months working on the (voluminous!) documentation.

The deal closed on November 16th. While we have not yet paid all the associated expenses, we expect to be opening a Choir School Maintenance Fund very shortly with about $2,100,000 from the sale of these air rights.

Headmaster Charles Wallace, whom Vestry Choir School Chairman Jon Meacham delights to call “Father Chips” (as in the boarding school classic Goodbye, Mr. Chips), is very pleased with this new fund. Father Wallace himself displays sterling fund-raising skills on behalf of the Choir School. On Friday, December 1, he thanked our many Choir School benefactors at an early Christmas party for fifty at the Rectory, where John Scott and several of our talented boy choristers (who are also fine pianists) played for the assembly.

HANDS ACROSS THE SEA

Saint Thomas has long had a special bond of affection for and connection to the mother Church of England. Our Rector emeritus, now my junior curate (!), did much in his 24-year tenure to enhance this relationship. Father Andrew not only was English (he is now at least as much an American, certainly a New Yorker) but also had served many years as chaplain to the venerable Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey. Since 9/11, when at the request of the British Consul we held a service for British victims of the terrorist attacks (a service broadcast in its entirety throughout the United Kingdom), Saint Thomas seems to have become quite well known in the UK. At the time, I was deluged with letters and cards from Britain expressing prayers, thanks and good will.

Recently, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) asked us to record a Thanksgiving Day service for Sunday morning broadcast on BBC Four. We recorded a large portion of what we actually do on Thanksgiving Day, and it was broadcast entitled, Come Ye Thankful People Come, throughout the UK the Sunday before Thanksgiving. Once again, I have been overwhelmed by the e-mails, cards, letters, and even packages that have come in thankful appreciation from the UK. Our recording included a full homily which explained our American Thanksgiving and its importance in our history.

One of my favorite communications is from an elderly widow (who apologized for her handwriting due to painful arthritis) from Bedford, the home of John Bunyan, the 17th century author of the immortal classic Pilgrim’s Progress. She included very attractive literature about her church, the Bunyan Meeting Free Church, an independent puritan congregation founded in 1650 of which the great dissenter Bunyan himself was the minister from 1672 to 1688. It flourishes to this day. “What a joyful service and quite apt for Thanksgiving,” she wrote. “I so enjoyed the message and the readings and sang along with you all – such great hymns! – full of the ‘joy of the Lord’…Oh! I loved it all so much! It lifted me up!” God bless her. I relish our Maestro John Scott’s newfound American mission and outreach to the Church of England and the United Kingdom as a whole.

BEYOND CHRISTMAS AND THE NEW YEAR

There is a lot coming after the Christmas break, for which I want to give you a heads-up. On Sunday, January 14, 2007 the full Choir of Men and Boys will return from their well-deserved post-Christmas break to sing the Epiphany Procession with Carols at 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. (with the Festal Eucharist in the morning). The next Sunday, January 21, the Sunday during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, our guest preacher will be the Rev’d Father Columba Stewart OSB of the famous Roman Catholic Benedictine liturgical and theological center, St. John’s Abbey, Collegeville, Minnesota. Father Columba will preach at both the 11:00 a.m. Choral Eucharist and at 4:00 p.m. Choral Evensong. Joel Daniels, whom Saint Thomas is supporting as a candidate for Holy Orders, is in his senior year at The General Theological Seminary. Joel is scheduled to be ordained Deacon, Saturday, March 10, 2007, at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine. Joel’s ordination as a Priest is scheduled for September 22. We will have a reception for Joel and his wife Lystra and their family and friends that Saturday afternoon in Andrew Hall after the ordination. Looking even farther ahead to Good Friday, April 6, 2007, our preacher for the three hour service of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross will be our Rector emeritus, the Rev’d Canon John Andrew. Mention of Good Friday means that Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is sooner than you think, on February 21, with a Dinner and Hymn Sing the evening before, Shrove Tuesday, in Andrew Hall. The Women of Saint Thomas have luncheons scheduled for Thursday January 4th and Thursday February 1st, and the Evening Group Fellowship will have a Parish Dinner Thursday January 25th.

Making mention of the fellowship events reminds me to thank my excellent full-time fellow clergy for their vigorous work and good successes this past fall. Father Stafford has the Women of Saint Thomas (WOST) and Evening Group Fellowship events humming with participation. The WOST finished 2006 with luncheon for forty on Thursday, December 7, at the Rectory with the singing of Christmas carols led by Gentleman of the Choir Stephen Herring and Assistant Organist Fred Teardo at the piano. In adult education, Father Austin’s classes are enthusiastically and well attended; we have had shortages of chairs on Sundays. In youth ministry Father Erdman’s work is bearing fruit from the nursery all the way up to the young adults. We are very blessed in these faithful, hard-working priests.

IN CLOSING

While the Choir School is on a well deserved post-Christmas break, Nancy and I will be in Rincon, Puerto Rico, resting and celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary. We call Rincon, where we have gone the past several years, “Monhegan South,” and we take a pile of books with us. I’ll have a full book report for you in my Lenten Chronicle.

Mrs. Mead and I received the best Christmas present of all on November 13, when our third grandchild, a baby boy, Liam DeCoursy Mead, was the first-born child to our son (the Rev’d) Matthew and daughter-in-law Nicole DeCoursy Mead. These younger Meads are at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin (“Smokey Mary’s”) near Times Square, where Matthew very happily serves as the junior curate. In wishing you all a joyous and blessed Christmas, let me repeat my thanks for the honor and joy of serving as your Priest and Rector. Both Nancy and I send you our heartfelt love and affection in Christ.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
Andrew C. Mead