Rector’s Chronicle: September 2009

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

I hope you have enjoyed the summer, much of which since June has been cooler than usual in New York and in the Northeast. Nancy and I had a soggy, cool, restful time in July on Monhegan Island, Maine. I also like the quiet of August here in the city; it is a good time to prepare for the sudden start-up of our full schedule in September. I thank my fellow clergy, including Fr. Anthony Fletcher from England, for their help in the summer liturgies and preaching.

Now off we go in September 2009. Weekday Choral Evensongs begin Tuesday September 8. The full Choir of Men and Boys starts Sunday September 13. Welcome back, Maestro and Headmaster, and the best Anglican choir in the land! For all the justifiable concern about our finances (and everyone else’s) in this Recession, we are still “whole” for another season, thanks to the care and hard work of our Wardens and Vestry and the Staff at both the Church and Choir School in holding down expenses, and to the generosity of our 2009 pledgers and contributors. All of this sharpens one’s sense of gratitude for what Saint Thomas is: a God-given haven for prayer and the beauty of holiness in liturgy and music, a center of teaching, ministry and service, and in all a family of our Lord Jesus Christ with a great heritage and a unique mission to the city and the world.

Soon our website, www.SaintThomasChurch.org, will have a new look. I am told that our “old” website has a very fine look for the 1990s. So there we are, with thanks to many who have helped with the project, particularly David Daniel, our Verger and Manager of Communications. One of the most important means of outreach through the website is the webcast of our choral services, including the sermons preached, and we appreciate the large number of people we reach this way – we do hear from them, including their financial support.

FATHER STAFFORD IS RETIRING

While he told me about his plans last winter and has kept it no secret since Easter, I have seen no reason to announce the departure of our well-beloved Pastor any earlier than now. Robert Stafford’s official date of retirement, due to Church Pension Fund rules, is March 1, 2010, but the Vestry is giving him his final three months as a retirement sabbatical; which means he leaves us for his new house in Palm Springs, California, at the end of November this fall. A special coffee hour reception in his honor will follow the 11 o’clock Festal Eucharist, Sunday, November 22.

Father Stafford has requested that anyone wishing to contribute to a purse donate to a new fund at Saint Thomas in honor of Our Lady of Fifth Avenue (the shrine in the entry of the Chantry Chapel) to be used at the discretion of the Rector to underwrite in any way the cost of Christmas Eve services.

Robert has been with me, first as part-time Assisting Priest and later as full time Pastor, since my first year as Rector, 1996. He also served Saint Thomas as an Assistant under Father Andrew from 1985 to 1991. He has been a good colleague, priest-brother and friend. I shall miss him for many reasons, as will very many of you. Not the least reason is his side-splitting sense of humor. He once quoted his father on himself in a 9 o’clock sermon, “Bob has big-city ideas.” Very true, but he carries Minnesota in his bone-marrow; the combination, not unlike Garrison Keillor (his contemporary at the University of Minnesota in the 1960s), can fell a whole group with laughter.

Father Stafford’s expertise in pastoral care, his leadership of fellowship and hospitality events (including especially the Women of Saint Thomas), and his preaching and celebration of the Eucharist are all irreplaceable, but I will do my best to see that the ministries he has fostered so well continue – particularly with the help of Linda Morfi, Pastoral Care Coordinator, who has worked closely with Father Stafford to strengthen pastoral ministry and service at Saint Thomas. You should know that I will take time after Robert’s departure before calling a new priest into his office; in fact, I will for a few months sometimes occupy the office myself, in order more fully to see first hand, assisted by Linda’s familiarity, the demands that come the way of the pastoral care department.

HOSPITALITY

I have convened a new Hospitality Committee, led by Ann Kaplan, our Director of Development, to plan hospitality events. Committee members with Ann are the Rector, Linda Morfi, Douglas Robbe, Nancy Mead, and Kari Gold. The Hospitality Committee’s purpose is to plan for each season and to coordinate events held for the various departments of Saint Thomas in various venues. In addition to the Reception in honor of Father Stafford on November 22, the committee has several events planned for this 2009-2010 season, two of which are important to mention here:

First, the Parish Dinner and Hymn Sing, which has for years occurred on Shrove Tuesday, is being moved to Thursday, October 1. Throughout September, notices for reservations for the Dinner/Hymn Sing (led by yours truly and Maestro Scott in Andrew Hall) will be appearing in Sunday leaflets.

Second, instead of the Hymn Sing, on Shrove Tuesday next February 16 we will have a Mardi Gras Dinner Party on the second floor of the Parish House and in Andrew Hall. More information will be forthcoming in Sunday leaflets and on the website.

THEOLOGY AT SAINT THOMAS

The clear teaching of biblical, classical theology – orthodoxy – has always been one of my priorities. I have excellent help from Father Austin, who organizes and shares classes with the Rector and other clergy and lay scholars and himself teaches up a storm with courses on Sunday mornings, Tuesday evenings, and Wednesday evenings. His brochure, “Theology at Saint Thomas: Fall Courses in Adult Christian Education,” is on the website and on tables at church. To one special guest course this fall we draw your attention:

On Tuesday evenings in Andrew Hall from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., from September 29 through October 27, the Rev’d Thomas F. Pike, DMin, DD, honorary assistant priest at Saint Thomas, will teach a course called “Theology of Place: The Role of Art & Architecture in Forming Community.” To say the least, such a title is pertinent to Saint Thomas. In his course, Father Pike intends “to think afresh on the relationship of environment and spiritual community.” Thomas Pike was Rector of the parish of Calvary/St. George’s from 1975 until his retirement in 2008. He is a venerable priest of our Diocese, and among his many positions beyond the parish was his service as the commissioner of landmarks for the city of New York. This October 28, the Historic Districts Council of New York City will bestow its 2009 Landmarks Lion Award on Father Pike as a preservation advocate and pillar of the community.

Advance notice: The Rector’s Christian Doctrine Class, 14 one-hour classes on the basic Church Catechism leading to full membership at Saint Thomas and in The Episcopal Church, starts Tuesday, January 5, 2010. The Bishop comes to confirm and receive new members the first Sunday in May.

MISSION TRIP

Just returned from New Orleans are a group of twelve young people, led by Father Jonathan Erdman and assisted by parishioners James Cornwell and Stella Gold. From August 19 to 23, they worked on a mission/relief effort. Saint Thomas youth have traveled to New Orleans annually since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina of August 2005. This year’s group was the largest from Saint Thomas to date. By all reports it was an excellent experience. They worked with the Episcopal Diocese of Louisiana through its All Souls Church in the Lower Ninth Ward, a devastated and poor area of the city. All Souls is a refurbished Walgreens that became the site of Diocesan relief efforts, and it is now a community center as well as a worshipping church, whose parish mission is to work with children and families to break the cycle of poverty and lack of education.

Our youth did landscaping and sanding on the property, and organizing and stocking of All Souls’ store of clothing and books. They also painted a home and cleared heavy brush from a lot that is to be rebuilt. They toured a plantation and spent some time in the French Quarter for fun on Saturday before returning. While they were on their trip I received a voicemail message from Fr. Lonell Wright, the priest at All Souls, who said he and his church had been visited by ministering angels in the persons of the young people from Saint Thomas. There will be a slide presentation of the mission trip Sunday, September 20 in Andrew Hall after the 11 o’clock liturgy.

THE 2010 EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

The Every Member Canvass (EMC) for 2010, the theme of which is God First, has been getting ready all summer, thanks to Director of Development Ann Kaplan and to the Canvass Chairs, Jesse Adelaar and Roberta Brill, and to their committee. The brochures with pledge cards are being sent out this month. The Canvass officially begins Sunday, October 4, with the Feast of Dedication and the Rector’s Canvass Sermon, continuing through Christ the King, the Sunday before Advent, November 22. I am so grateful to our supporters for their generosity for 2009. I hope you will most prayerfully consider your pledge for 2010 and do the very best you can. The financial difficulties many people have experienced have also served to clarify how much the Church of Jesus Christ means in our lives. Let us, as Christ teaches us in his Sermon on the Mount concerning temporal matters, “seek first the kingdom of God…and then all these things shall be added unto you.”

To be “rich in the things of God” is what matters. Pledging to Saint Thomas Church is one way that reveals that “where our treasure is, there will our heart be also.” What I call “leadership pledgers,” those eighty pledgers who give at least $5,000 per year to the parish, have made an enormous difference in raising our EMC above $1.2 million for 2009 and above $1 million since 2006. Please, if you can, join me and them in this effort – for we do need to be on our way toward $2 million and beyond ($2.5 million, actually) to attain the level of annual giving which is the sign of financial health for Saint Thomas Church and Choir School. Whatever your circumstances, what your gift represents as a proportion of your substance is spiritually decisive. That is why the Lord commended the poor widow and her “mite,” for she had given more than the wealthy, by putting in all she had.

THE HANCOCKS RETURN

Having left Saint Thomas five years ago in 2004 for the University of Texas in Austin, Gerre and Judith Hancock are visiting us the weekend of October 9-11, at the invitation of Dr. Scott. It is a Choir School Alumni Weekend as well, an opportunity for many old boys to see Maestro Hancock, our distinguished Organist and Master of Choristers for 33 seasons under three Rectors. Dr. Hancock will lead the Choir of Men and Boys on Sunday, October 11 at both the 11 o’clock Choral Eucharist and the 4 o’clock Choral Evensong, which will include the Admission of New Choristers and will be followed by a joint organ recital at 5:15 p.m. performed by both Doctors Hancock. It will be very good to see Gerre and Judith. If anyone has the right to be honored as a stalwart of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School and our mission, it is “Uncle Gerre,” and we look forward to his return.

BOOK REPORTS

The cool and damp in Maine in July encouraged reading. In honor of John Updike, who died last January, I read his four Rabbit Angstrom novels, now published in one large volume by Everyman’s Library and regarded as a classic description of the WASP middle class in America from the 1950s to the 1990s. I also read a new, posthumously published collection of Updike’s short stories, entitled My Father’s Tears, fine writing indeed. I refer you to my sermon, “For John Updike,” on the website for this past Eastertide, April 26. It quotes Updike’s amazing poem on the Resurrection of Christ, Seven Stanzas at Easter.

I owe thanks to my wife, who reads many books and who kindly guides me towards new titles she thinks I’ll like. Losing Mum and Pup by Christopher Buckley is a story, told with affection and skill, of the author’s famous parents, William F. and Patricia Buckley. The great conservative was an astonishing risk-taker. The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog, is a fictional story based on some facts about the days just before 9/11. My summer’s recommendation is City of Thieves, a short novel by David Benioff, a gripping, memorable tale about the siege of Leningrad, based on his grandfather’s reminiscences. It will surely become a movie, but read the book first. And of course there is our own Jon Meacham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Jon’s book helped inspire me to read Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny by Frank Freidel, considered by many the best one-volume work on the great president.

We were happy to hear while we were on Monhegan that our son Matthew accepted a call to be Rector of The Church of the Good Shepherd, Granite Springs, in Westchester County, New York. After five years as curate with our neighbors at The Church of Saint Mary the Virgin near Times Square, Matthew, with his wife Nicole and the their sons Liam and new-born Nicholas, begins at Granite Springs this September.

May the Lord prosper his Church in this 2009-2010 season.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead