Rector’s Chronicle: March 2007

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

The climax of the Season of Lent approaches, appropriately called Passiontide and Holy Week. In these days the Church’s liturgies focus our attention on the great events at the end of our Lord’s life, when his three-year ministry came to its moment of truth, a moment which wondrously lives – after two millennia – in the services of his Church and in the hearts of the world’s now nearly two billion Christians. How many tragic and unjust sacrifices and deaths are lost in the dust of human history! And yet the death of Jesus of Nazareth is not only the most famous death in our human race; it is proclaimed in the Gospel to be Jesus’ “hour,” his “glorification,” so much so that the day of his crucifixion is called Good Friday. These terms are used in the light of the fact that three days later, early on Sunday morning, the disciples found Jesus’ tomb empty and then encountered the Lord triumphantly alive and risen on the other side of death. So it is that the sacrifice of Jesus constitutes God’s victory over sin and death, a victory we are all invited to receive and make our own.

TAKE TIME FOR HOLY WEEK

The sublime liturgies of Holy Week, which once again we take loving care to perform in music, ceremony, and preaching at Saint Thomas, are offered to help each one of us (in the words of the Book of Common Prayer) “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” the many-faceted mystery of the death and resurrection of Christ our Savior. Schedules are distributed at church and are on our website www.SaintThomasChurch.org.

I urge you to take time out for these rites. Obviously the Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) and Easter Day are the most popular; but let me underline the benefits of our very well attended evening solemn liturgies at 5:30 p.m., magnificently sung by our Choir of Men and Boys: Wednesday in Holy Week (Tenebrae); Maundy Thursday (Foot-Washing, Institution of the Eucharist and Procession to the Altar of Repose, Stripping of the Sanctuary and Watch); Good Friday (Chanting of the Passion According to Saint John, the Reproaches before the Cross, and Communion); and, especially, the Great Vigil of Easter (Lighting of the New Fire and Paschal Candle and chanting of the Exsultet, the Easter Prophecies from the Old Testament, Blessing of the Font and Renewal of Baptismal Vows, Litany of the Saints, and the first Eucharist of Easter). I will be the celebrant and preacher for the 5:30 p.m. solemn liturgies of the Triduum, the Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Saturday’s Great Vigil of Easter, as well as for the liturgies of Easter Day.

Monday through Thursday in Holy Week, at 12:10 p.m., the Gentlemen of the Choir will sing medieval plainchant mass settings each day. Then on Good Friday, from 12 noon to 3:00 p.m., our Rector emeritus, Father John Andrew, will preach the seven meditations on the Last Words of our Lord from the Cross for the Three Hour service. The Three Hours includes Passiontide hymns, readings of psalms and prayers, and periods of silence.

What a privilege and joy it is to celebrate Holy Week and Easter, the heart of the faith, at Saint Thomas Church! Many make great efforts to take part in some way. May the Lord bless us richly with his grace, and may he use our ministry to draw many to himself; as he said, “I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto myself.”

OUR CHOIR AND CHOIR SCHOOL

This Lent our Choir of Men and Boys has twice taken trips away to sing and spread the good news about its life and work. Right after Ash Wednesday, they made a domestic tour performing concerts in Fort Worth, Louisville, St. Louis, and Baton Rouge. More recently, they performed J.S. Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion on March 17 in Mexico City, with the combined ensembles of the Wiener Akademie and the Musica Angelica Los Angeles directed by Martin Haselbock. This same concert, the details of which are published in our 2006-2007 Concert Series brochure, will have been performed at Saint Thomas Friday March 23.

Here is a good place to praise not only the leadership of Maestro John Scott and the hard work of his good support staff in our music and concert series departments, but also Father Charles Wallace, our Choir School Headmaster, and his faculty and staff. The demands of these tours and concerts are considerable. These demands are met with grace and skill, and the boys’ performance in school indicates good oversight, care, and order in every way. Not only on tour and away, but here at Saint Thomas for Sundays and weekday evensongs, the boys perform superbly while enjoying their life at school as well. The Choir School is a busy, productive, happy place. We see and hear the good results at services and concerts, but I particularly commend the vigilance and care which make these happy results possible. Thanks to Father Wallace and the Choir School for excellence in making the mission of Saint Thomas what it is.

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, May 15, at 7:30-9:00 p.m., when the Choir, under the direction of Mr. Scott, sings Rachmaninoff’s Vespers. A reception for Friends of Music (at all donor levels) will follow the concert. All year, we have heard sprinklings of Rachmaninoff in discreet places in our services, beautiful samplings which make you want to hear the whole masterpiece. It is fitting for Eastertide, as the brochure says: “Written during the darkest days of the First World War, Rachmaninoff’s Vespers is a mystical journey from darkness into light.” Don’t miss it.

ANGLICAN HERITAGE TOUR WITH THE CHOIR

This summer, the Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys, under the Direction of John Scott, will tour Scotland and England and sing in some of Britain’s most ancient and beautiful houses of worship. There is an opportunity for parishioners to accompany this “Anglican Heritage” tour from July 6 to 23. In addition to attending all musical performances, the tour includes visits to some lesser known historical sites. For further information please contact Amanda Slattery at Travel Emporium Inc. 914.245.8825 or tvlemporium@yahoo.com. If your schedule does not permit a sixteen-night vacation, please inquire about the possibility of taking part of the tour.

FULL HOUSES FOR BUXTEHUDE?

That’s right, full houses for Buxtehude – five times so far, as performed by John Scott at Saint Thomas Church on Saturday afternoons at 4:00 p.m. These 45-minute organ recitals, each briefly introduced by Mr. Scott before he walks to the Loening-Hancock Organ in the gallery under the Rose Window to play, began on January 20 with an appreciative audience in excess of 800 people. A prominent article in The New York Times about the ten-recital series certainly helped this surprising start, but the attendance has held steadily at about 500 for each subsequent recital from January 20 to February 24. There has been a month-long break in March.

The second half of the ten recitals begins Saturday March 31 at 4:00 p.m.; then April 28; and finally May 12, 19 and 26. The Concert Series department has produced a thorough and attractive brochure, Ten Saturdays with Buxtehude. The series comprises the complete organ works of Dietrich Buxtehude, who was born 300 years ago and inspired J.S. Bach. Bach famously walked 280 miles from Arnstadt to Lubeck to meet Buxtehude and did not return home for four months (Bach was AWOL from his own church music position, but his was surely one of the most productive sabbaticals in history).

EVERY MEMBER CANVASS 2007

My heartfelt thanks go to all of you who have responded with your generosity to the Every Member Canvass for 2007. We are just shy of $1,150,000, which is our best record to date, with over 600 pledging units. Thanks especially to Colin Fergus, the Chair of the Vestry’s Canvass and Development committee, to Canvass Co-Chairs Helen Broder Fuller and Ed Valentine, and to all the members of the EMC 2007 committee. Well done. I am grateful for and proud of you for your strong support. You all know we have a way to go: Can we double this annual harvest in four years? With God, with prayer, and with willing hearts, I believe so. Remember the very beginning of the Gospel, when Mary asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” He answered that Christ would come by the power of the Holy Spirit who would overshadow her, “for with God, nothing shall be impossible.” Not only that, Mary’s Son teaches that prayer moves mountains, and it does.

SAINT THOMAS ON THE WEB

At the beginning of the Choral Season last September, we began to test what could be the most significant expansion of Saint Thomas’ outreach in many years: the regular webcasting of our choral services. Initially we have made these available live as well as on demand for at least seven days after the services occur. I am surprised and delighted at the response. Last month, February 2007, we had a total of 1,800 people around the world “tuning in” to an average of more than three choral services each. Our listeners come primarily from the United States (more than three-quarters of these are outside the tri-state area), but also from the UK, Canada, Australia, Thailand, and even the Solomon Islands! I have been moved by the numbers of expressions of thanks and support e-mailed to us by those who hear our liturgies, whether they are members of the Saint Thomas family in some way or distant lovers of Anglican choral music. The grandmother of one of our boy choristers writes, “If we could, we would be in the pews quite often,” but she hears her grandson’s choir on the webcast: “the music is so beautiful, peaceful, and uplifting.” Meanwhile a listener in England writes that “New York is a wounded yet vibrant city that I know only from what Hollywood and the BBC show me. However, your webcasts have taught me that the image conveyed is so incomplete, and that God channels his grace daily along Fifth Avenue, not least through the superb musicianship of your choir of men and boys…their time is well spent, and their effort and achievement are hugely appreciated here as much as there, and surely in heaven too.”

After only half a year’s webcasting, we already have an audience large enough to fill every seat in our church, were they all gathered physically together. I thank Max Henderson-Begg, our Verger and Communications Manager, for his steering of the project from its inception, and Bill Vannice, Gentleman of the Choir, for day to day technical engineering. With the enthusiastic support of our Wardens and Vestry and Maestro John Scott, we are considering how best to grow this ministry over the coming years, and knit our online flock more closely into the life of the Church. Thanks be to God for this good beginning which has advanced our mission, “to worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage,” in a new light and to a wider audience. That’s www.SaintThomasChurch.org.

CONFIRMATION

On Sunday May 6, at 11:00 a.m., the Right Rev’d Richard F. Grein, retired Bishop of New York, will come to celebrate the Festal Eucharist, preach, administer the Sacrament of Confirmation and receive new members into the Episcopal Church. We’ll have an enthusiastic class of young people and adults to present to him for Confirmation and Reception. Join us in supporting them. It will be a pleasure to welcome back Bishop Grein, a good and old friend of Saint Thomas, to our pulpit and altar.

A KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOUR

We’ll prefer English spelling over American for this article. George Shearing, legendary jazz pianist and composer, was included in the list of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s New Year Honours in London this past January. He is to have the honour of Knighthood conferred upon him by Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. George and his wife Eleanor (Ellie) are faithful, beloved members of the Saint Thomas family. When asked his reaction to this news, he said that receiving this honour “defies comprehension…my mind keeps flashing on my beginnings as pianist playing in a pub for the equivalent of $5.00 a week. What a journey it has been from that pub to Buckingham Palace.” He said that it was also amazing that he was to receive this honour for something that he had absolutely loved doing: “Receiving such an honour as a Knighthood might also show young people what can be achieved in life if one learns his craft and follows his dreams.”

Ellie told me, “We had a phone call from George’s nephew in England who told us that George’s father had delivered sacks of coal to the Palace. Wouldn’t he have been proud of his lad!” She also told me: “A poor, blind kid from Battersea named George Shearing, the youngest of nine, with four years of formal musical training but with a tremendous will to make good is to become Sir George Shearing…now that’s a fairy tale come true.” We’re grateful and proud to know you, Sir George and Lady Shearing! Congratulations and Godspeed across the ocean and back.

FINALLY

It was a particular, paternal pleasure for me to baptize Nancy’s and my third grandchild, Liam DeCoursy Mead, Sunday, February 18, at the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin near Times Square. Liam is the first-born to our son Matthew (who serves as curate at Saint Mary’s) and his wife Nicole.

This comes with my love and blessings in Christ for a joyous Holy Week and Easter.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead