Rector’s Chronicle: March 2009

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

It is mid-Lent, the 40-day (plus six Sundays) period of preparation for Easter. Easter Sunday, the third day after the crucifixion and death of our Lord, is the day he rose victorious from the dead. The first Easter was quite unexpected, though Jesus had predicted his death and his rising again on the third day. His disciples, thinking to complete their work of embalming Jesus’ body which the onset of the Sabbath cut short Good Friday evening, early in the morning Sunday went to the tomb and found it empty. Although they were at first perplexed and afraid, Jesus began to appear to them, very much alive, beginning with Mary Magdalene and then Peter, the other apostles, and many others. Jesus’ Resurrection resurrected his Church, which, since the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, has reached billions of souls down the millennia and worldwide. One of its manifestations, a very special one, is its mission at Saint Thomas Church, New York City.

The Church keeps Lent traditionally as a time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving. These disciplines attend to our relationship with God, with our own selves, and with other people. Lent, reflecting the liturgies of the season, is a time for simplifying, for setting aside luxuries, trifles and distractions; for focusing on first principles, priorities and substantial realities.

The continuing economic crisis has forced everyone to focus on their priorities. This has deeply affected us, our families and friends, and our fellow church members. Yet when people engage in conversation, at least with me, I sense that nevertheless they are counting their blessings, the most important of which are priceless. Important as money and material wherewithal may be, when I ask how people are doing, high and low and rich and poor, they respond by giving thanks for their friends and loved ones, their faith and their church, their life and health and the blessings of the day. With this in mind, I wrote my recent sermon, Live One Day at a Time, which is noticed on the first page of our website www.SaintThomasChurch.org. Many people said that sermon helped them.

Our Lord says repeatedly in the Gospels that, if we want to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our own cross, and follow him. [See the sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent, March 8, 2009, entitled Self Discovery]. Although neither this nor his prediction of his Passion registered with the first disciples until after the first Easter, the invitation is the basis of the holy season of Lent. The invitation is actually the heart of the Gospel, the Good News. Our faith gives us many advantages in coping with our changing circumstances. Jesus never promised us financial ease, security or prosperity, but he did promise us eternal life and joy by abiding in him and his love. So Lent is particularly timely this year. We can look forward to the glories of Holy Week and Easter 2009 with a new-found appreciation and gratitude.

SAINT THOMAS AND FINANCES SINCE DECEMBER

I wrote an extensive description of our financial position in my December Rector’s Chronicle, describing some freezes and cuts in our expenditures. Our 2009 budget, though approved by the Vestry, continues to be a work in progress. We have reduced expenditures significantly and will keep on looking for ways to ensure, as I have said repeatedly, that we do all we can to bring Saint Thomas Church and Choir School through this financial crisis, whole. “Whole” means carrying forward our signature mission: “To worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.”

Only God can insure the success of the endeavor, but I have dedicated myself – and the Wardens and Vestry and parish leadership are right with me – to the commitment. You, the people of Saint Thomas, have done wonderfully to encourage us by your responses to the Every Member Canvass for 2009! As of this writing, we are near the Canvass for 2007, respectably close to the 2008 Canvass, the record-breaker before the world changed last fall. We are at $1,147,000, and a number of our supporters are still waiting to pledge. Every pledge matters, and I thank you all for your support. Our gift to the Church is part of our relationship to the Lord; and thus we need the blessing of supporting the Body of Christ, whatever our circumstances.

Since Eastertide 2005 I have used a prayer at the monthly Vestry meeting compiled for us by Father Austin. Since we began praying it, the Every Member Canvasses made a leap to over $1 million. The prayer, simple and to the point, acknowledges our utter dependence upon the Lord and bears repeating as well as sharing. Would you join us by including it in your own prayers: 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.

SPECIAL LECTURE

I have invited all recorded contributors to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School to hear a lecture at Saint Thomas, Thursday, March 26, at 7:00 p.m. by Jon Meacham, Editor of Newsweek and Vestry member, on his best-selling book, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House. A reception for our contributors follows the lecture. This lecture is a gift to Saint Thomas by Jon, who has been a strong supporter of Saint Thomas since he and his family joined us over a decade ago.

THE CHOIR SCHOOL

The work of our Headmaster, the Rev’d Charles F. Wallace, and his staff at the Choir School, is evidenced mostly at the Church by the superb singing the boy choristers do. But the choirboys’ general welfare, morale and success as students and members of the Choir School family – as well as their performance as choristers – is vital. In February the Choir School underwent a thorough evaluation, which occurs every five years, by visitors from the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS). While the final report of the NYSAIS evaluation is still to be received, we were gratified to hear from the visitors their observations on the overall health of the Choir School. The credit for this goes to the whole team of leadership and staff of the Choir School, including the governance vested in the Rector, Wardens and Vestry and its Choir School Committee, but it begins and ends with our Headmaster. We are truly blessed by his vision, administrative and fund-raising (and cost-cutting) ability, pastoral oversight, and care for detail in every department. Father Wallace works very well as a colleague within the all-important “triune” relationship of Rector, Director of Music and Headmaster. While I realize that none of us is indispensable, this is a word that comes to mind when I think of Charles Wallace as my trusted Headmaster, fellow priest, and good friend. Though most of his hard work is, as it should be, out of sight to the parish, we do well to pray and give thanks for his ministry on behalf of Saint Thomas.

The reason, in our mission statement, we say that our choral heritage is “unique,” is that this is literally true. The Choir School, a ministry of Saint Thomas Church, is the only residential Church Choir School for boys in North America. The school exists to house, nurture and educate our boy choristers – it has no other students. This is a tradition coming down to us from Christendom’s High Middle Ages, and may the Lord enable us to hand it on to future generations as it has been given to us. On another continent, across the ocean in London, we have a cousin, the Westminster Abbey Choir School; and that, similarly, is the only such residential chorister-only school in the United Kingdom.

MUSIC AT SAINT THOMAS

When the Choir School is in residence, the Choir of Men and Boys of Saint Thomas Church, under the direction John Scott, normally sings five full liturgies each week – the Choral Eucharist and Choral Evensong on Sundays at 11 am and 4 pm, and Choral Evensong on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 5:30 pm. There are variations from time to time when the boys are away or on break. Sometimes we have visiting choirs. Sometimes the Gentlemen of the Choir sing the liturgy (and very beautiful these are) when the boys are off. It is very important to understand that these choral liturgies are themselves part of the overall, continuous offering at Saint Thomas of the offices of Morning and Evening Prayer (Mattins and Evensong) and the Holy Eucharist. This Prayer Book worship is the heart of the express mission of Saint Thomas to worship our Lord through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage. The choral liturgies are within an overall structure of Sunday and Weekday prayer and sacrament. These all comprise the fundamental work of God, what Saint Benedict (the real father of the Prayer Book tradition) called the Opus Dei, the reason we are here on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street. It is the crown jewel enshrined by our glorious church building.

The weekly choral liturgies are the raison d’être for the Choir School. Above and beyond this sacred mission, the choir has offered in recent decades a superb Concert Series which has been particularly strong, both in performance and in management, in recent seasons. It is important to understand, popular as the Concert Series is (for most concerts are better attended than most liturgies), that the excellence of the Choir of Men and Boys at these concerts stems from their weekly singing of the worship of the Church and its truly amazing repertoire. The concerts, which we all love, depend on the choral liturgy and mission – not the other way around. I am pleased to report that the Concert Series, an outreach ministry of Saint Thomas, has been financially self-supporting, thanks to our Friends of Music. It would not be possible for the concerts, including the Messiah concerts with their larger audiences, to be self-supporting through ticket sales alone.

This Lent is blessed by the bookends of two concerts, one of which we just enjoyed on March 5, the Henry Purcell 350th Anniversary Concert; next comes the Bach Saint Matthew Passion on Friday, April 3, just before Holy Week. You may purchase tickets on our secure website. How fortunate and blessed we are to be able to hear such music! This excellence in the beauty of holiness, the offering of sacred music, is possible only because of our mission as a Church and Choir School, and now, because of the devotion and ability of Dr. Scott – not only a brilliant artist, but a fine colleague and friend.

HOLY WEEK: APRIL 5- APRIL 12

Be sure you avail yourself of every opportunity to attend the great liturgies of Holy Week. There is at least one choral liturgy every day from Palm Sunday, April 5, through Easter Day, April 12. Schedules are posted on the website and available at the Church. The full Choir of Men and Boys will sing Palm Sunday at 11 am and 4 pm, and then Wednesday Tenebrae, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the Great Vigil of Easter on Holy Saturday, all at 5:30 pm. The Gentlemen will sing Monday to Thursday in Holy Week at 12:10 pm and accompany hymns on Good Friday from 12 noon to 3 pm for the Three Hour Service on the Last Words of Christ from the Cross. Our preacher for the Three Hours will be Dr. Royal W. Rhodes, Professor of Religion at Kenyon College, a Roman Catholic lay scholar who preached for us in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity in January 2008.

Two special Musical Meditations, part of our Concert Series, are offered (no tickets required; a free-will donation is much appreciated) Monday and Tuesday in Holy Week at 6:30 pm, following Evening Prayer and the Eucharist at 5:30 pm. Monday, Frederick Teardo, our Associate Organist, will play Marcel Dupre’s Le Chemin de la Croix (The Way of the Cross). Tuesday, Francois Couperin”s Lecons de Tenebres will be performed by Jolle Greenleaf and Jennifer Ellis Kampani, sopranos; Emily Walhaut, gamba, and John Scott, continuo.

On Easter Day, the Solemn Eucharists are at 8 and 11 am and Evensong is at 3 pm (note the early hour). I am pleased to report to you that, because of special efforts by a group of parishioners in response to my December appeal to raise $6,000, we will have brass/instrumental music for the morning liturgy of Easter Day. Here, as with the Every Member Canvass for 2009, people have demonstrated their love for our risen Lord and for Saint Thomas by this extra generosity.

THE MINISTRY OF CLERGY AND STAFF

My full-time fellow priests in the ministry at Saint Thomas Church, Fr. Robert Stafford, Fr. Victor Austin, and Fr. Jonathan Erdman, are each and all together a great strength. Father Stafford’s continuous pastoral care for all sorts of people, from parish leaders to the sick and poor, is a great gift, as is his oversight of fellowship events for the Women of Saint Thomas and other groups. Father Austin’s manifold classes not only educate many on a wide variety of theological matters; he also attracts new people to the parish and builds up a consequent fellowship of members new and old. Similarly, Fr. Erdman, working with the parents of the Sunday School and with adults in their 20s and 30s, has helped lead a noticeable growth at Saint Thomas of younger parishioners. Our Verger and Manager of Communications, David Daniel, has been a most worthy successor to Max Henderson-Begg. David’s work in both areas has been well received. I speak for all the clergy in saying he is a joy to work with.

Our Executive Director of Administration and Finance, Barbara Pettus, has been a pillar of strength. She and her able staff have brought a new order to the business management of both the Church and the Choir School, for which the Rector, Wardens and Vestry, as well as the staff, can be grateful. We were as prepared as we could be for this financial crisis, and the people of Saint Thomas can be assured that their tithes and offerings go to a well managed institution run with prudence. Thanks to Barbara and all her staff in the business department.

I am very grateful to be Rector of Saint Thomas, to have such fellow clergy and staff colleagues and lay leadership. We all cherish your support and your prayers. May Saint Thomas always be a source of peace and strength as a temple of the Lord, a family of the Body of Christ – a place where Jesus Christ is worshiped, loved and served to the glory of God and for the blessing of God’s people.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead