Rector’s Chronicle: Lent 2011

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

We are deep into Lent, and Holy Week, the week of all weeks in the Christian Year, is nearly upon us. This year, Easter Day, April 24, is almost as late as it can be. Two years ago it was almost as early as it can be, having occurred on March 23. Easter Day is always the Sunday after the 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. This full moon may happen on any date between March 21 and April 18 inclusive. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday following. But Easter Day cannot be earlier than March 22 or later than April 25.[1]

Every day in Holy Week, from Palm Sunday (the Sunday of the Passion) to Easter Day, is graced by at least one solemn liturgy. Schedules are on the website and in the church. Particularly from Wednesday through Saturday evening at 5:30 pm, from Tenebrae on Wednesday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to the Great Vigil of Easter on Saturday, there are powerful liturgies which set forth the steps of Christ’s sacrifice for us and our salvation. I urge you to take the fullest possible part in these services. Each will repay your investment of time and attention.

On Good Friday from 12 noon to 3:00 pm, the service of the Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross will feature seven addresses by the Rev’d Canon Andrew M.L. Dietsche, Canon for Pastoral Care for the Diocese of New York. Canon Dietsche has accompanied Bishop Sisk at Confirmation visits to Saint Thomas and has preached at Saint Thomas once before – at Solemn Evensong on All Saints Day 2009. He is a valued resource and support to many, probably most, clergy of the Diocese, including yours truly. It is good to welcome him to the Saint Thomas pulpit again, and on this most holy occasion.

The liturgies on Easter Day itself are at 8:00 and 11:00 am for the Solemn Eucharist, and at 3:00 pm for Festal Evensong.

EARLY WARNING: HEAR THE DIFFERENCE YOURSELF

As you know, we are trying to raise $5 million to build and install a successor to the present Great Chancel Organ. We really do not know how much life the incumbent instrument has left, maybe months, maybe only weeks; longer than that, I pray. And what would we do then? Well, you will have an opportunity to hear for yourself this summer when the great organ blower undergoes a rebuild. The blower, original equipment in 1913, will be dismantled after the Choir of Men and Boys sing the services of the Day of Pentecost, Sunday, June 12, and then depart for the summer. The blower is to be rebuilt and reinstalled by Sunday, September 11, when the boys return for the fall. Between those dates, the electronic organ currently at the Choir School will do such duty as it can in our chancel in place of the great organ. The electronic instrument will provide accompaniment for some of the visiting choirs over the summer, while the gallery organ can be used for hymns and voluntaries. I deliberately do not call the electronic organ a “replacement” for the great chancel organ. That would stretch truth too far.

RENAISSANCE: A DRAMA IN LENT

Parishioner Lucky Gold is a distinguished playwright, script writer, editor and all around “man of parts” for motion pictures and television, having received an NEA grant, three Emmys and two WGA awards. He and his wife Kari were the chairs of our Every Member Canvass for two years, including the to-date record EMC for 2008. As a young man Lucky wrote Renaissance, a play about 15th century Florence centering on the charismatic ruler and art patron Lorenzo de Medici and the fiery reformer Girolamo Savonarola.[2] Caught between them is the renaissance humanist Pico della Mirandola. I was struck by this script a few years ago when Lucky showed it to me, and I thought then it could be presented in some form at Saint Thomas: the story and text are extraordinary. For several weeks a group of parishioners and clergy have been rehearsing a staged reading of Renaissance, under Lucky’s and Kari’s direction,to be performed Friday, April 8, at 7:00 pm at the chancel steps. The play has two acts, with a fifteen minute intermission. Admission is $10 and the proceeds from the production will go to the fund for the Great Chancel Organ. As it happens, the climax of the play – Lorenzo’s death with Savonarola in the room at Lorenzo’s request – occurred on that very date, April 8, in 1492. Not realizing Lorenzo’s “year’s mind” at the time of planning, we had first scheduled the play for Friday April 1, but providence forced the change to a week later. When we discovered the coincidence, we thought: Wow.

EVERY MEMBER CANVASS FOR 2011

It is still a work in progress, even as it nears its conclusion, but the Every Member Canvass for 2011 is very close to surpassing the above-mentioned milestone Canvass for 2008. I believe this year will be a new record for us (stay tuned to the weekly leaflets and announcements), and I want to thank our EMC Co-Chairs Jesse Adelaar and Heather Cross. This 2011 Canvass is Jesse’s second and final year and it is Heather’s first year as Co-Chair. Heather will be joined next year by Steve Kelly as Co-Chair for 2012’s Canvass. Thanks also to the EMC committee members, who help contact and remind our parishioners concerning their pledges. Thanks as well to Ann Kaplan, our Director of Development, for her organization, hard work, and good spirit. Thanks, above all and in all, to all of you who pledge to the support of our beloved parish, to make its mission possible: “to worship, love and serve Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.”

SIR GEORGE A. SHEARING AND LADY SHEARING

One of the most memorable events at Saint Thomas this Lent was the Service of Thanksgiving for the Life of Sir George A. Shearing, 1919-2011. We have received many appreciative comments and several contributions to the organ fund in Sir George’s memory. On the website, you can access this Choral Memorial Service on Wednesday, March 23, in its entirety, the service leaflet as well as the text of the homily. The Rector’s weekly audio message on the website makes mention of Sir George’s memorial in connection with the general topic of a Christian’s death and funeral. I would like to take this public opportunity to say, under such circumstances, what a joy it was to work with Lady Shearing on the planning of the service. Her faith and her churchmanship, together with her fine eye for detail and her foresight in planning, made every difference.

Speaking of Lady Shearing, Ellie has been instrumental in the birth of a Prayer Shawl Ministry. This has become a group of knitters and crocheters, female and male, working with Linda Morfi, our Pastoral Care Coordinator, and Fr Michael Spurlock, our Curate, who meet on the second and fourth Tuesday afternoons each month in the parish house. They knit shawls which are then given to the hospitalized or homebound. They have already produced quite a supply. They pray and knit and enjoy themselves. The shawls, put together with their good will and prayers, are blessed and given in the same spirit – that the recipient might be warmed and comforted by the care of the church’s fellowship. Notices of this ministry are in weekly Sunday leaflets and also on the website calendar.

THE ALTAR GUILD

After decades (many years: we do not know exactly how many) of leadership, Patricia Eden has handed over the mantle of Directress of the Saint Thomas Altar Guild to Jean Grainger. As Jean is now Directress, I have named Pat our Directress Emerita. The Altar Guild will honor Pat for her faithful service as Directress at a dinner on May 4 in the Parish House. Saint Thomas has nineteen celebrations of the Holy Eucharist every week, not counting services of Morning and Evening Prayer (Evensong). Each of these services requires the setting up of the vessels with linens, together with bread and wine and water before and then cleaning and re-setting after each Eucharist. The Altar Guild does this work week in and week out, in close collaboration with the Verger and the clergy as well as the acolytes for these services. Members of the Altar Guild serve at the invitation of the Rector in consultation with the Directress. As with all other parish organizations whose members officially represent Saint Thomas, Altar Guild Members must be baptized and confirmed communicants in good standing who are recorded, current financial contributors to the support of the parish. I encourage ladies who may be interested in Altar Guild service and who meet these requirements to make inquiry to me or to Jean Grainger. The service of the Altar Guild is a particular blessing in its closeness to the mystery of the Eucharist and in its special calling to safeguard and enshrine that mystery, which is the Real Presence of Christ in the Sacrament, for the whole congregation. Our Rector Emeritus joins me in thanking Pat Eden for her dedicated leadership of the Saint Thomas Church Altar Guild.

ORDINATIONS AT THE CATHEDRAL

Bishop Sisk invited me to preach for the March 5 ordination of four Deacons at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, which was a joy and privilege to do. I did in fact also preach at Saint Thomas on Sunday, February 13, on the subject of the ordained ministry, since Father Austin was on that occasion celebrating his 25th anniversary as a Priest, and later this year I will have been ordained for forty years – both as a Deacon (June 11) and a Priest (December 18). I used the gist of the (more personal) Saint Thomas sermon, with retooling for the new ordinands, for the sermon at the cathedral; namely, concerning the four ways that the Lord sustains an ordained minister, Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, for the long haul. These are 1) Holy Communion each Sunday and Major Holy Days; 2) The public or private reading and praying of Daily Morning and Evening Prayer; 3) regular Sacramental Confession to a Priest of the Church; and 4) tithing my income to the Lord through the Church. It was gratifying to hear back strong appreciation from the Bishop, diocesan leaders and other clergy present about the importance of these basics of ordained life and leadership, as was also the case here after the sermon at Saint Thomas. The texts of both homilies are on the website.

PEREGRINA

Nancy Mead is walking from Milan to Rome, the last 500 miles of the Via Francigena, the medieval route from Canterbury to Rome – which begins with a marker near the door of Canterbury Cathedral. She has taken this pilgrimage in three sections: from the fall of 2009, the spring of 2010, and this spring; and she is scheduled to be home April 15. On Thursday, May 19, following Choral Evensong, Nancy will give an illustrated talk on all of this pilgrimage. There will be a reception in the Parish House following the talk, which will be given in the Church. All are welcome.

NOW BACK TO LENT

In Sunday leaflets and greetings I have been referring to Fr Victor Austin’s book, Priest in New York, as the Rector’s recommended book for Lent. It is a gracious and insightful collection of vignettes of life at Saint Thomas and in the city. Not only is it spiritually profitable, it is readable. It has a foreword by Jon Meacham. Fr Austin takes us out around the parish, into the nave, into the streets of the city, to where life’s grace notes are constantly happening; and it connects them with what we do at the Altar. You may purchase it at our bookstore.

Having mentioned life’s grace notes, I want to say a few things about what we priests get to witness on Ash Wednesday. First of course are the penitential liturgies of the day, with their profound calls to new life on the first day of Lent: “Turn Thou us, O good Lord, and so shall we be turned…” More than 700 people attend those three liturgies, two of which are beautiful choral offerings. In between the services, the clergy take turns sitting at the front of the church at the chancel steps, vested in white surplice and purple stole, ready to impose ashes for those who could not make it to the liturgies on Ash Wednesday. About twice as many people come in at these times, in between the services. They come in one by one; they come in groups. They stand and look for a while, they stride purposely to the priest; they take time to kneel and pray in a pew. They come into the church on the first day of Lent to have ashes smudged on their foreheads and to be told these words as the ashes are imposed: “Remember, O Man, that dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Sometimes the recipients have tears in their eyes. Sometimes they smile and say, “Thank you.” Often they make gestures of devotion. Sometimes they thank us by name and wish us a good day. There are old people who struggle up the aisle – it may be their last time for this. There are young ones at the prime of life; death seems so far away from them. There are parents with little children or carrying babies. More often than not, they also want ashes for the children and even the babies. Sometimes, they ask for a pinch of ashes to be put in a tissue or cloth to take home to an aged family member or friend who cannot make it to church. Sometimes, it is a regular Saint Thomas parishioner, who is at the same time personal and friendly and also obviously moved by what is occurring. “Remember, O Man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

For all your priests, I know the assignment to sit for an hour in the church on Ash Wednesday is one of the most powerful and moving assignments of the year. Fr Charles Wallace, our Headmaster, and I had a brief exchange about this in the clergy vesting room. We agreed that moment, when the priest imposes the ashes and says the words, as we look at the faces of those hundreds (thousands) of people, we are seeing human beings at their very best – they are, of their own free will, turning towards God. The Lord, somehow, has prompted them to do this. They are turning towards the truth. And if they keep their faces in that direction, if they walk all the way from the ashes of that day to Holy Week, they will see God’s mighty love on their behalf – the Death and Resurrection of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.

I wish you a most blessed and joyous Holy Week and Easter. The Lord is risen indeed. O come, let us adore him.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead



[1] The Book of Common Prayer, 1979 edition, p. 880.

[2]There are images in the Saint Thomas reredos and pulpit of Savonarola. Until now, he has only been in our church in wood and stone. On April 8, he’s here in the flesh.