Rector’s Chronicle: December 2009

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

The Church has just begun a new Christian Year with Advent Sunday. December’s shortening days and receding light, so fitting for Advent’s countdown to Christmas, press upon us an annual sense of haste. Fast away the old year passes. I marvel at the Church’s placement of her observance of Christ’s Nativity precisely at the Winter Solstice, the old pagan festival of Sol Invictus. Just at the moment – at least in the Northern Hemisphere! – that the light has waned most, we celebrate the Nativity of the Light of Light, Very God of Very God born in our human nature.

Saint Thomas as ever celebrates this season by worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness. The Book of Common Prayer’s Venite antiphons from Advent through the Nativity and on into Epiphany express the Gospel mystery beautifully. Our King and Savior draweth nigh…Unto us a Child is born… The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us…The Lord hath manifested forth his glory: O come, let us adore him! You may explore our new website and find all our concerts and services, for schedules, and to listen to our choral liturgies. We have learned that our internet congregation at least equals the numbers of people present for those services. It appears as well that an effect of our webcasts has been an increase in the numbers of those physically in church.

Nota bene this one thing in particular. The Christmas Eve Midnight Mass will be as beautiful as ever, but it will not have an orchestra this year to accompany it. We will have a trumpet soloist. I commend John Scott and the Music Department for their hard work in holding down and cutting expenses in these continuing financial hard times. The orchestra on Christmas Eve, a lovely tradition in recent years, is expensive. But even as we have undertaken this fiscal discipline, we have managed to have a most beautiful season in both concerts and liturgies this year so far. It was gratifying to read that The New Yorker magazine, in a notice of the November Music for Remembrance concert, called the Saint Thomas Choir “the finest Choir of Men and Boys in the country performing the meltingly beautiful Requiem Masses of Howells and Duruflé.”

CLERGY CHANGES

Fr. Robert Stafford’s taking leave of us on Sunday, November 22, must go down as one of the most gracious (I want to say classiest) departures I have ever had the privilege of witnessing; and I am by no means alone in saying so. His last two sermons (for the Festal Eucharist on November 22 and for Choral Evensong the Sunday before, November 15) are on the website, audibly recorded and as written texts. My words for him at the Reception are also available. For him, for me, for many of you as well, it is an enormous change for Robert to retire. He has given us two decades of faithful service, and he is irreplaceable; but he has skillfully provided the means to carry forward his good work. Under Father Stafford’s guidance, Linda Morfi has become our Pastoral Care Coordinator, and he has commended her to me. Linda and I will work closely now to see that pastoral care flourishes as it has in the past. I plan to measure the needs as well as respond to them.

My friend and honorary assistant priest, Fr. Anthony Fletcher from England, will be with us for two stretches, in January and in March through Easter. Our seminarian, Mr. Daron Vroon, a senior at The General Theological Seminary, will be made Deacon by his Bishop in Atlanta on December 19. We will train and use Daron as a Subdeacon and Deacon over the next six months in our Sunday liturgies, beginning first at the nine o’clock Eucharist. In addition to Canon Andrew, we have other distinguished honorary clergy who are ready to assist, including Fr. Thomas Pike, who has already led a course in church architecture this fall. As I wrote in my September Chronicle (which you can reference on the website), I will take time before calling a new priest to succeed Father Stafford. And of course I take comfort in the full-time faithful assistance of Father Austin and Father Erdman.

TWO RECTORY RECEPTIONS

We thanked our Leadership Pledgers to the Every Member Canvass, those eighty-plus parishioners and friends who give at least $5,000 a year to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School, at a special reception at the Rectory apartment in October. I honor these donors, and I want to increase the number of us. Leadership pledgers are responsible for the stronger Every Member Canvasses of the past several years. As of this writing I am happy to report that the Every Member Canvass for 2010 is ahead of the 2009 Canvass, and it is abreast of the record Canvass for 2008 (a year in a different economic world). This is good news. I pray that all our members and friends, including those in our internet congregation, will pledge and give whatever they can for 2010. We need your support; even more, we need the spiritual power represented by your financial gift: “For where your treasure is,” said Christ, “there will your heart be also.” Saint Paul adds a salutary note: “God loves a cheerful giver.”

All of us in all departments are doing our best to hold and to cut expenses, both at the Church and the Choir School. Given the reduction of our invested funds, on which we draw too heavily, this discipline remains an urgent necessity. I thank the whole staff for their good spirit in this matter. And I commend Saint Thomas Church and Choir School to you, not only as a mission for Christ to the present time, but as a ministry in which we can confidently invest our tithes and offerings to the Lord.

Another Rectory reception was held in November for the newly formed Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie Guild, a fellowship for those members and friends who have remembered Saint Thomas Church in their wills. A similar Planned Giving guild has begun for the Choir School, appropriately named the T. Tertius Noble Guild. Cornelius Duffie was our first, founding Rector in 1823; T.Tertius Noble, distinguished Organist and Choirmaster, together with our Ninth Rector Dr. Ernest Stires and Churchwarden Mr. Charles Steele, co-founded the Choir School in 1919. The Book of Common Prayer, which is the standard of all Anglican/Episcopal doctrine, discipline and worship, orders its Ministers, “from time to time, to advise the People, whilst they are in health, to make Wills arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, and, when of ability, to leave Bequests for religious and charitable uses.” (BCP, 1928, p. 320; also BCP, 1979, p. 441) So I advise you not to neglect this responsibility; and if you are able, to include Saint Thomas Church and Choir School in your plans. Literature on the subject is available from Ann Kaplan, Director of Development; or directly on the website.

SPEAKING OF THE NEW WEBSITE

We have received a cascade of compliments about our new website. Max Henderson-Begg, who would have rejoiced to see it, defined the vision and nurtured much of the underlying work for the new website. There are many people to thank, but I must single out two: Verger and Manager of Communications, David Daniel, and New Media Coordinator, Andrew Kimsey. David and Andrew each have put in great amounts of time, using their skills to make the website the bright, clear presentation that it is of life at Saint Thomas. You can read and listen to Saint Thomas in every department of our life.

THE RECTOR’S DOCTRINE CLASS

Assisted by Father Austin, I teach this class each year in order to offer instruction leading to full membership at Saint Thomas – that is, in addition to Holy Baptism itself, Confirmation or Reception by the Bishop. While Baptism is full initiation by water and the Holy Spirit into the visible Body of Christ, and while it is our policy to invite all baptized Christians to receive Holy Communion if they so desire; nevertheless, Confirmation, the public affirmation of one’s faith in the presence of a Bishop in Apostolic Succession and the reception of the Bishop’s laying-on-of-hands, is expected of all who would undertake an active role and membership at Saint Thomas.

If one can be said to be christened, i.e., made a member of the universal Church, the Body of Christ, through Baptism by water and in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, one could be said to become an Episcopalian and member of the Anglican Communion through Confirmation or Reception. [Those confirmed in the Roman Catholic or Orthodox churches are not re-confirmed but Recognized and Received by our Bishops.] Working from the local toward the universal Church: Saint Thomas is a Parish of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. The Diocese of New York is one of the more than one hundred Dioceses and Missionary Districts, gathered into nine Provinces that comprise The Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church, in the Preamble to her Constitution, defines herself as “a constituent member of the Anglican Communion, a fellowship within the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, of those duly constituted Dioceses, Provinces and Regional Churches in Communion with the See of Canterbury, upholding and propagating the historic Faith and Order as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer.”

I have taught my Rector’s Doctrine Class in one parish or another since 1978, and it is truly one of my chief joys to prepare members for Confirmation and Reception and present them each year to the Bishop. So, if you are considering this step for yourself, I invite you join us this year. We cover the Church Catechism (The Outline of the Faith) from The Creation to The Last Judgment. Though the Faith is ever the same, the presentation of the Faith is always new with each class. Even if you’re already Confirmed and Received, a veteran Episcopalian/Anglican, you may need a refresher course. Or you simply may be interested in the topic of the day’s class. Or you may only be a seeker, not ready to join; still, this is a good course for you. There are 14 sessions, beginning on Tuesday, January 5. The schedule is on the website. It leads up to Bishop Sisk’s visit on Sunday, May 2. The classes go from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m., and they usually follow the Tuesday Choral Evensong.

SPEAKING OF BISHOP SISK

I admire our Bishop for his grace and skill as a pastor and writer. His gifts came to the fore earlier this fall, in response to the highly publicized announcement by the Vatican of an Apostolic Constitution, Anglicanorum coetibus, for groups of Anglicans wishing to come into union with the See of Rome and also to retain elements of the Anglican tradition, especially of the Book of Common Prayer, as Roman Catholics. There has been a great deal of buzz on the subject, sometimes by those who seem less interested in Christianity, either Anglican or Roman Catholic, than in ecclesiastical controversies. Into this arena, and of pastoral necessity, came Bishop Sisk, whose permission I have to publish his words in this Chronicle. I think he sees to the heart of the matter, and I say Amen.

October 26, 2009

As the Episcopal Bishop of New York I am happy to welcome the Vatican’s recent acknowledgement of a considerable overlap in faith between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church; clearly our 40 years of ecumenical conversation have borne fruit. This overlap has been implicit since the Roman Church established its so-called “Pastoral Provision” for former Episcopalians in 1980. The thrust of the recent press release of October 20th seems to underline that provision and to extend its potential to greater dimensions and numbers beyond the few “Anglican Use” parishes that have been added to the Roman fold in this country in the intervening years.

The implications and motivations of the Vatican’s recent statement have been widely debated. I see no reason to assume anything other than the stated purpose of providing a pastoral response to those members of the Anglican Communion who wish full communion with the Holy See.

My hope for all people is that they come to an ever deeper awareness of the profound embrace of God’s love for each and all of us, and for creation itself. Clearly the Church of Rome is a community that has nurtured countless souls in that hope. If there are those in our midst who wish the particular perspective of the Catholic faith that the Church of Rome provides, I would be less than faithful to my pastoral duties not to encourage them to make that submission. However, at the same time, I feel impelled to say that I believe that the perspective on the Catholic faith that the Episcopal Church offers has its own equal integrity and authenticity. Our two traditions share much in common; yet each also offers to its adherents distinct gifts and demands. It is, therefore, not at all uncommon to have members move from one community of faith to the other.

Certainly it is only fair to say that The Episcopal Church in general, and the Diocese of New York in particular, have been enormously enriched by the gifts and the perspectives of the many people of faith who, after conscientious reflection, have chosen to join our ranks; I would wish no less for our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters.

I am happy to say that here in the New York diocese, our relations with the Roman Catholic archdiocese remain on very good terms, and I look forward to the further development of a warm collegial relationship with Archbishop Dolan, whose installation I was pleased to attend.

+Mark
The Rt. Rev. Mark S. Sisk

IN CONCLUSION

In the spirit of the Bishop’s remarks, I look forward to The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity this January 18-25, from the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter to the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul. We will have a distinguished Lutheran ecumenist for the Choral Eucharist at 11 o’clock, Sunday, January 24, the Rev’d Dr. William G. Rusch. I hope to be able soon to announce a distinguished Roman Catholic preacher for Choral Evensong at four o’clock that same Sunday. In the meantime, Nancy and I wish you a blessed and joyful Christmas and New Year. May our Lord Jesus Christ be born anew in our hearts, and may he consecrate his Church, especially Saint Thomas, for another year of grace.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead