Rector’s Chronicle: December 2010

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Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Saint Thomas Church does many good things, and one of them is to give thousands of people (in the pews and in our extended congregation on the internet) plenty of opportunities to celebrate Christmas. Let us count these December blessings: 1) two performances of Messiah, this year well reviewed in The New York Times; 2) the choirboys performing Benjamin Britten’s sublime Ceremony of Carols; 3) two services of the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols, as well as two shorter services of Lessons and Carols, all in the last week of Advent, and then one more which includes the Blessing of the Crèche on Christmas Eve. Finally there are the Solemn Eucharists of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I count ten opportunities, and that is only up to the first of the Twelve Days of Christmas. The real reason for all of this can be summed up by the Church’s confession: The Baby in the manger is none other than Almighty God: born in the substance of our human flesh, for us and our salvation. I wish you all the joys of this holy season of our Lord’s Birthday.


The big news at this past November’s annual Convention of the Diocese of New York was the Right Rev’d Mark S. Sisk’s announcement that he is calling for the election of a Bishop-coadjutor, to be held at a special convention of the Diocese, October 29, 2011, at the cathedral. A Bishop-coadjutor is a bishop with the right in due course to succeed the Diocesan Bishop as the “Ordinary,” the Bishop who heads the Diocese. A Committee to Elect a Bishop has been named to provide a slate of candidates which will be presented to next October’s special convention for voting. Voting is “by orders,” which means 1) the clergy of the Diocese and 2) the lay delegates from the parishes and missions of the Diocese. An election cannot occur without majorities in both orders during the same ballot.

Bishop Sisk also stated that his retirement is not imminent. He may stay on as Bishop for up to three years after the election of the Bishop-coadjutor. A good period of overlap for transition is normally helpful. In any case, Bishop Sisk, who is 68, must retire as the Ordinary at age 72, which is required by Episcopal Church canon law for all clergy. Following Bishop Sisk’s address, the Suffragan Bishop of New York, the Right Rev’d Catherine Roskam, announced her retirement as of January, 2012. Thus funding for the newly elected Bishop-coadjutor could be provided by the vacancy left by retiring Suffragan Bishop Roskam. Both Bishops Sisk and Roskam are to be credited for their wisdom in planning so orderly a transition.

I hope that we will have Bishop Sisk as our Ordinary for as long as possible. The Diocese, including our beloved parish here at Saint Thomas, has been blessed by his care. Speaking for myself, I am grateful for his Episcopal ministry not only to the parish, but to me as one of his priests. I cherish his counsel and friendship in Christ. May the Lord provide us with a bishop with the wisdom and caring that we have seen in Mark Sisk.


At the annual election of Saint Thomas Church in the City and County of New York (that’s our official name), William H.A. Wright II was elected Warden for a term of two years. Elected to the Vestry, each for terms of three years, were Colin Fergus, Fred Isquith, and Inge Reist. Thanks to all who consented to be on the slate presented by the Vestry’s Nominating Committee, including Marie Louise Victor Carroll and Kari Gold. Mrs. Carroll, an attorney, has been appointed to succeed Mr. Isquith as Clerk. As provided by our parish By-Laws, Wardens may serve up to six consecutive two-year terms. Vestry members may serve two consecutive three-year terms, after which they must rotate off the Vestry. I want to take this opportunity to thank Jean C. Grainger and Linda Ketchum-Pompili, who both rotated off after two consecutive three-year terms. Jean and Linda have been strong supporters, by word and example, and as leaders and workers, for the Every Member Canvasses and the Capital Campaign. On behalf of the congregation, I thank them. Both will continue to be tremendous assets to the parish in the years ahead.


This past September 23, we held a thank-you reception for all the donors to the Capital Campaign. The campaign, commenced in January 2008, raised over $10.2 million in pledges and cash. Given the Great Recession of 2008 and following, this is a remarkable achievement by our parishioners. Thank God and thank all of you, great and small, who contributed. It is a landmark in the history of the parish, the first such campaign since 1930. Historical note: The Rev’d Dr. Roelif Brooks, our ninth Rector, began a campaign to build the Saint Thomas endowment, with $600,000 in hand. From 1930 to 1944, throughout the difficult years of the Great Depression and World War II, Saint Thomas raised approximately $900,000 in addition to that initial $600,000. Then, just at the end of the war, a major bequest from the president of the Men’s Association for $1.5 million put the endowment at a total of $3 million, which had been the stated goal in 1930.


Of the $10.2 million we raised at the completion this past summer of “Phase One” of our campaign, approximately $3 million is designated by the donors for the new Great Chancel Organ. We need another $5 million to realize this urgent organ project. “Phase One” was a campaign within the congregation of communicant members. Now we are beginning a fresh, different “Phase Two,” beyond the confines of the parish, to raise the remaining $5 million for the organ. Please read the special appeals by the Rector and the Director of Music on the website to see the beginning of this targeted effort on behalf of the organ. We are appealing to our friends, to those who love our ministry of music, and to potential major benefactors around the country (and the world) to build the new organ. To this end, there is a new Ad hoc Committee chaired by Vestry Member and organ benefactor William R. Miller. In Mr. Miller’s words at the Ad hoc Committee’s first meeting, may this committee’s work be blessed by success and therefore may its existence be for as short a time as possible. Amen!


As of this writing, the Every Member Canvass for 2011 is ahead of last year’s. We broke the $1 million mark before Thanksgiving Day, the earliest time for this milestone in parish history. This attests to the generosity, sacrificial and cheerful, of so many of the faithful of Saint Thomas. The love of the people for this Church and their dedication to its mission are bright and clear, and nothing evidences this more powerfully than the annual giving of our members. We continue also to do everything we can to hold down expenses, for which I am grateful to the Vestry for its leadership and especially to our Director of Administration and Finance, Barbara Pettus, and to our staff for their imaginative thrift. With the Recession’s drop in the value of our endowment, the proportionate value of our pledges to the Every Member Canvass grows, playing a larger part than ever before in our operating budget. We learn afresh in such a time the things that truly matter. We all “own” Saint Thomas as the stewards of its mission, and I thank you for taking your part through your generous pledging.


This past year our Theologian-in-residence, the Rev’d Dr. Victor Lee Austin, has published two books, both available in our bookstore. The first, Up with Authority, began as a paper he delivered to the Society of Christian Ethics, then a lecture to The Church Club of New York. Victor has expanded this into a major reflection on the nature of authority that is deeply, although not specifically, Anglican. He has a section, for instance, that works with Anglicanism’s great and defining Elizabethan theologian, Richard Hooker (1553-1600). Up with Authority has been positively reviewed and is serious reading. Father Austin will give a lecture, “What’s Up with Authority?” on Wednesday, January 19, at 6:30 pm; a class on the book will follow in subsequent weeks. Just this month Victor published a second book, Priest in New York, a gracious, moving collection of vignettes about life in New York City and Saint Thomas in particular. With a foreword by former Vestryman and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jon Meacham and design by parishioner Heather Cross, this book is a delight both to behold and to read. It would make a good present as well. Bravo, Father Austin.


1) On Sunday, January 16, following the 11:00 o’clock Epiphany Procession and Festal Eucharist, we shall have a special reception in Andrew Hall to celebrate the 80th birthday of our beloved Rector Emeritus, the Rev’d Canon John Andrew. JA, whose actual birthday is January 10, is hale and hearty, has preached at big services twice this past fall and celebrated a goodly number of masses – and he is well ready to take on a fresh decade. Come and join in singing Happy Birthday with gusto.

2) Roberta Brill has begun her work as our new Verger very well, and as she settles into the position, David Daniel is free to begin our ministry to the many thousands of people who, between services, climb the Fifth Avenue steps to visit the Church. The Wardens and Vestry heard David’s presentation last spring on this outreach project. The nave outreach, like the website already does, should make connections with many people for the Church at large, for Saint Thomas in particular, or in ways known to God alone. We all are glad to begin the work this January. I first announced this outreach in my Rector’s Chronicle for last May. Transition in the Verger’s office postponed things for six months, and I am very grateful to David for all he has done for both Vergers, Tony Jones, who is now teaching at the Dresden Ballet School in Germany, and Roberta.

3) As has long been our custom, we take the opportunity to invite distinguished guests, often but not always outside the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion, to preach on the Sunday during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. This coming January 23, a fellow Anglican, the Right Rev’d Robert Arthur Gillies, Bishop of Aberdeen in the Episcopal Church of Scotland, will be our guest preacher, not only at the 11:00 am Choral Eucharist and 4:00 pm Choral Evensong, but also, by his own firm offer, at the 8:00 am and 9:00 am Eucharists as well. Though a longtime servant of the Episcopal Church in Scotland, Bob Gillies began his ministry in the Church of England. The Scottish Episcopalians must be made of strong stuff, having to occupy the ground between the much larger bodies of the Scots Roman Catholics and the (Presbyterian) Church of Scotland. In 1784, it was the Bishop and Bishop-coadjutor of Aberdeen who, with the Bishop of Ross and Caithness, in Aberdeen, bestowed the Historic Episcopate (Apostolic Succession) on Samuel Seabury, the first American Episcopal/Anglican Bishop. The Scottish Episcopal Church, like the American Episcopal Church, has the adjective Episcopal rather than Anglican in its title for historic political reasons, although both churches are two of the oldest constituent members of the Anglican Communion, now numbering 80 million souls around the world. Bishop Gillies was marooned last spring in New York because of the grounding of transatlantic flights by the Icelandic volcano. He was visiting the US to participate in the consecration of the new Bishop of Connecticut, whose first bishop was in fact Samuel Seabury. Bishop Gillies was a delightful guest at the rectory during the period of Father Andrew’s recuperation there – and we all had a great time.

4) In 2011, Easter is April 24, almost as late as it can be. Just a few years ago Easter was about one month earlier, about as early as it can be. This means that the season after The Epiphany and before Lent is as long as it can be. This will move the late Eastertide feasts of Ascension and Pentecost, as well as Trinity Sunday and Corpus Christi, well into June. This unusually stretched calendar in winter and spring affords an opportunity to have a topical preaching series at our Sunday Choral Evensongs, which we shall begin Sunday, January 30, all through Epiphany season and Lent – taking a break for Palm Sunday’s and Easter Day’s Evensongs – and resuming for the duration of Eastertide. The series will be devoted to the Apostles’ Creed, taking it phrase by phrase; and the preachers will be not only the clergy of Saint Thomas but a guest or two as well. The series will be noted in the weekly Sunday leaflets.

5) Speaking of the Creed, the Rector’s Christian Doctrine Class, fourteen Tuesday evening sessions from 6:30 to 7:30 pm, begins January 11 and finishes May 3. The course covers the Church’s Catechism, from Creation to the Last Judgment, and takes the perspective – as we say in the Saint Thomas mission statement – of “the Anglican tradition,” especially concerning the Sacraments and Church History. The Rector’s Christian Doctrine Class is for all interested persons, inquirers, and those seeking refreshment in the basics of the historic faith and order. It leads to the Sacramental Rite of Confirmation, or to Reception (for those already confirmed by a Bishop of an historic but non-Anglican Church); i.e., full membership in the Episcopal Church/Anglican Communion and Saint Thomas Church. Confirmation and Reception of new members will be Sunday, May 8, 2011, at the 11 o’clock Festal Eucharist – the Right Rev’d Michael Colclough, sometime Bishop of Kensington in the Diocese of London and now Canon of Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London, will be with us to preach, confirm, and receive new members. I have been teaching this course since I first became a Rector, at the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, PA, in 1978. Although the substance of the classes – the Church Catechism – remains constant, no class is ever the same, and the give-and-take with the participants is the best part. I appreciate Father Austin’s assistance throughout this course, and I want to tell you that teaching this class is near the top of my favorite tasks in the ministry. It is a particular joy to prepare and present candidates to confess their faith before the Bishop and then to kneel before him for Confirmation or Reception. Join us if you can.

6) And speaking of the ordained ministry, 2011 is a year of significant anniversaries for both Father Austin and yours truly. Victor will be 25 years a priest; I will have logged 40 years. It doesn’t seem possible; where does the time go? On Sunday, February 13 (the Sunday nearest his February 8th date of priestly ordination in 1986), Victor will be the celebrant and I will preach. I was ordained Deacon June 11th (Saint Barnabas Day) and Priest December 18th, in 1971. Thanks be to God for his call and bestowal of Holy Orders! And I thank the Lord for the particular blessing of ministering as a Priest at Saint Thomas Church in the City and County of New York.

My wife Nancy and I, my fellow clergy and their families, Maestro and Headmaster, and all the staff of Saint Thomas Church and Choir School, wish you God’s blessings for a joyous Christ-Mass and a Happy 2011, a New Year of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead