Rector’s Chronicle: September 2007

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Recently our daughter Emma, preparing to send off our oldest grandchild to kindergarten, reminded us that she loves September. I love September too – the crisp, cool air, the return of the regular pace and the shortening of the days yet without the long nights – all this is part of the mood. Mostly it’s about school. For many of us I suspect it has something to do with the four Septembers of our college years, of which I have many happy memories.

SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER

At Saint Thomas we have our own version of the “See You in September” spirit, much of it revolving around the return of our Choirboys of the Saint Thomas Choir School and the resumption of our full choral schedule: Sundays with the Choral Eucharist at 11:00 a.m. and Choral Evensong at 4:00 p.m., and Choral Evensong on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 p.m. This means the fresh start, for the 2007-2008 season, of a key component of our mission, which is “to worship, love and serve Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.”

Fresh starts are helped by fresh reminders. What makes our choral tradition literally unique is Saint Thomas Choir School, the only residential choir school for boys in the Church in North America. Saint Thomas Choir School is not a school with a choir; it is a choir with a school. Its purpose is to house, nurture and educate the choirboys of Saint Thomas Church. Equally important with such other entrance requirements as academic and psychological capacity for the life of a Saint Thomas choirboy is the vocal audition. It is a choir with a school.

At the Choral Eucharist on “start-up” Sunday, September 9, I spoke directly to the choirboys in my sermon: “Boys, you give us the gift of your singing. But here at Saint Thomas you receive a gift, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. When you first arrive here, you may not yet realize what a gift this is; but it will grow on you. You enter into a tradition that goes back over a thousand years, singing the praises of God with voices that will last only a few short years before you mature into young men. But for those few years your voices will sing sacred music, ancient and modern, written by great composers. This music honors the majesty of God. It sets sacred texts to flight using the finest instrument in the world, the human voice. In your case, this voice is the boy treble, flowering for a few years at the crown of your young lives. You are trained by one of the true masters of Anglican choral music, in a wonderful school setting led by our good Headmaster and his staff, and you sing in this glorious temple of Jesus Christ. By the time you leave us, you have a much fuller, even poignant, appreciation of what you have received here. Each year, we hear our graduating eighth graders bear witness to this truth.

“As you sing, we also want you to learn. You will get a good all-round education. You will be in an environment that believes and teaches the virtues of respect, good manners, kindness, generosity, honesty, mercy. You will learn why such words as Please and Thank-you are not just words but signs that we respect the dignity of every human being, including the person in front of us right now. You will hear the name of God and of his Son Jesus Christ (the names whose glory you sing) used with reality. We say prayers and we do pray; we know the Lord is a presence and a force to be appealed to and reckoned with. We want you to catch that spirit yourselves and take it with you all through life.”

The Music Department has sent out the Choral Service Schedule for September through December, as well as a beautiful Concert Series brochure for the 2007-2008 season. The choir, after only two Sundays back, sounds stronger than ever (the UK Choir tour in July kept them in good shape, too). I look forward to seeing you in this exciting upcoming season.

FELLOWSHIP, SERVICE, EDUCATION

Everything has a fresh start in September, including our many activities of fellowship and service, and of education for adults and young people. Father Stafford has a whole new season planned for lunch, brunch, and dinner for the Women of Saint Thomas, the Men of Saint Thomas, and the Evening Group Fellowship. Father Austin has prepared and advertised an upcoming fall season of classes on Sunday morning, and Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. Father Erdman has this fall’s program for youth and young adults up and running. I’ve noticed the junior high group is particularly lively already. Stay tuned to the weekly leaflets, which, like this Rector’s Chronicle, you can read online at www.SaintThomasChurch.org. All these activities have been major factors over recent years in building up our common life and attracting new members, and I am grateful for my clergy colleagues’ initiative and hard work.

THE EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

The Every Member Canvass (EMC) is soon to begin. Actually it is already underway. In August, I wrote direct appeals to our Leadership Donors, those who pledge $5,000 or more to Saint Thomas each year. There are 68 of us, accounting for over half of our annual pledge total, which is just about $1.174 million for 2007. We have made wonderful progress over the past decade and especially in the last three years. Time was when I could count on my fingers the number of us who pledged $10,000 or more to Saint Thomas per year. Now there are 31 in that category. So now let me ask those of you who are able and have means: Can you increase your pledge to Saint Thomas for 2008? Can some of you join us above the $5,000 level? If so, praise the Lord!

But the point for all of us is: What proportion of my means do I return as thanks to the Lord? As I say nearly every year, the Lord in the Gospel commended the “Widow’s Mite” as a larger gift than the big sums put in the temple treasury by the wealthy – because her offering represented all she had. It was the proportion that the Lord appreciated in her. So whatever you can pledge, let it be in that same spirit. The EMC pledge brochures, with return envelopes, will reach our mailing list at the end of September. Let us see if we cannot make a great stride this year towards a $2 million total in pledges to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. I am so pleased by and proud of the progress we have made. God bless you and thank you for your support.

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS AND THE GREAT ORGAN

In the Gospel of Saint Luke, Jesus at a critical point tells his disciples that they need to count the cost of following him. He says we must shoulder our own crosses after his pattern, and then he uses two striking examples, one of a builder planning a tower and one of a king faced with a battle: “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build, and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends an embassy and asks terms of peace.” (St. Luke 14:27-32)

The Rector, Wardens and Vestry and other leaders at Saint Thomas are now carefully counting the cost of what is required to sustain and advance our mission here, as the one hundredth anniversary of our magnificent church building approaches in 2013. Scaffolding will be appearing this fall, cantilevered on the upper north clerestory; the start of a three-year project. All our glorious stained glass windows are aging and in need of restoration from many decades of weathering and big city dust and dirt. If we ignore them, they will eventually fall out; we would deserve the mockery of the foolish tower builder mentioned by Jesus in the Gospel.

Similarly, a bit further on, our Great Organ has reached a life crisis. Having taken a lot of time with expert consultants, our Organ Committee and Vestry have decided we must replace it with an instrument which more fully supports our choral tradition as well as continuing to thrill the hearer with its great power and flourishes. All this involves planning, fundraising, hard work, and long term effort. Like the king in the Lord’s example, we have a campaign on our hands, and we are moving to meet the challenge. As the months and seasons go by, you will be hearing more on this. But it is an honor to be called on to rise to such an occasion on behalf of Saint Thomas. Earlier generations did. Now it falls to us.

A NEW PRIEST

The Rev’d Joel Daniels, whose vocation to the ordained ministry Saint Thomas’ Rector and Vestry have recognized and supported for more than five years, was ordained priest, with five others, Saturday, September 15, by Bishop Sisk at the cathedral of Saint John the Divine. It was my pleasure to be one of the two priest presenters for Joel at the ordination, along with the Rev’d Charles Colwell, Rector of Saint Barnabas Church, Irvington-on-Hudson, where Joel serves as Associate Rector. I remember when Joel, newly graduated from Columbia, first came to my Rector’s Christian Doctrine Class nearly eight years ago. I thought then he had “Priest” written all over him in capital letters. And now it has come to pass. It was a great joy to see Joel’s family at the cathedral, some of whom have seen his vocation in the works since he was a boy. He serves under one of our Diocese’s venerable rectors for his first full time position. We send him and his wife Lystra our best wishes and blessings.

BOOK REPORTS

A July of peace and quiet on Monhegan Island, Maine, always means a lot of good sleep in cool sea air, walks, and sails in our tiny (eight feet) dinghy. Planning each meal is a major event and a pleasure, since it usually involves fresh seafood. And then there is the reading. Nancy and I both let ourselves enter an author’s world, not in little bits and pieces, but for unbroken stretches, days at a time. Such reading is truly re-creation. Here are my favorites.

Those Who Save Us is a splendid first novel by Jenna Blum, and it is gripping from the first page to the last, beginning with the Nazi holocaust of the Jews at Buchenwald and ending in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. It is the story of how a German woman did what she had to do to save her daughter, the child of her love affair with a Jewish doctor who became a Buchenwald inmate. It is also the story of how the people who save us keep secrets. Amy Ephron’s One Sunday Morning is a finely wrought novella about New York in the 1920s and about how wrong people can be jumping to conclusions. The Miracle, by John L’Heureux, is an upside-down, inside-out Catholic story reminiscent of Graham Greene, about love and what happens to a priest in the wrong vocation, and others, in the aftermath of a miracle on the scale of the raising of Lazarus. [A key is to remember that in the Gospel story, Lazarus, after being brought back to life, had to die again.] Jodi Piccoult, whose novels I have enjoyed before (especially My Sister’s Keeper), has written a new one, Nineteen Minutes, about a gun massacre in a high school. The killer provides a fascinating study in what happens when a young man is mercilessly, endlessly bullied and teased by some of his peers. What is the What?: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng, by Dave Eggers, is an epic story of an amazing survivor of the wars in southern Sudan, one of the so-called Sudanese Lost Boys, who winds up in Atlanta. The suffering he endures is beyond imagining, exhausting to read, yet he somehow endures. What is the What? has a cleansing, encouraging effect, when you realize that the true author is a real person who actually lived the story, and that his humanity remains, full of honesty and nobility.

HARRY POTTER: THE YEAR’S AND THE DECADE’S BEST

The book of the year is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final volume of JK Rowling’s series which I think can only be called a masterpiece. Her books are the literary triumph of the past decade. It is bizarre that some Christians have denounced Harry Potter for wizardry and even Satanism. This censure is rubbish; it is hard to believe these critics have actually read the books. The series stands with the fiction (and magic and wizardry, and morals and theology) of CS Lewis, Charles Williams and JRR Tolkien. Harry Potter is a hero equal to (perhaps stronger than) Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter’s themes are based solidly on catholic Christian theology and ethics: the fall, the freedom of the will and responsibility, the need to confront and resist evil, the value and dignity of every person, the immortality of the soul, and even resurrection. At the center of everything is the triumphant, redemptive power of self-giving, sacrificial love – which is the secret of Harry Potter’s survival, maturation, and eventual crisis and life’s climax. One senses the profound influence, whether acknowledged or not, of the old Church of England culture in Rowling’s monumental work. I recommend it to all. Having read the whole series over the past eight years, I am starting it again. While on Monhegan, I saw three teenagers, two girls and a boy, sitting at a picnic bench; one, the older girl, was reading out loud to the other two. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I approached them and said, “I know what you’re reading.” They grinned. I saw they were about a hundred pages into Deathly Hallows. I was almost finished, so I said, “I don’t want to spoil it for you, except to say that it’s awesome.” Rowling’s achievement, recognized by countless millions of young people who have taken to reading her the old fashioned way, is indeed awesome. Adults do well to read Harry Potter for themselves. One feels improved by knowing the hero and his friends.

BE PREPARED

May 2007-2008 be a great season for us all at Saint Thomas, and here’s an early warning: Easter is March 23, 2008. (Ash Wednesday is February 6, 2008.) March 23 is Easter’s next-to-earliest possible date. According to the Book of Common Prayer, “Easter Day is always the Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21, a date which is fixed in accordance with an ancient ecclesiastical computation, and which does not always correspond to the astronomical equinox.” Easter hasn’t been this early since 1913. I thought you would like to know and be prepared. Happy September!

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead