Rector’s Chronicle: Summer 2011

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

It is time, whether or not we are on vacation, to summer. Summer: a noun which makes a fair verb. To summer means to submit to Mother Nature’s heat, to slow down and cool it. So let us recharge our batteries as July and August are upon us, so that we may approach September’s fall start-up refreshed. Rest is not a divine suggestion; it is a commandment.

Saint Thomas continues its full weekly schedule of nineteen celebrations of the Holy Eucharist – three on Sunday and three each weekday Monday through Friday, and one on Saturday – but these services also partake of summering. The quiet Low Masses in the Chantry Chapel on weekdays at 8:00 am, 12:10 and 5:30 pm – the morning and evening Eucharists prefaced by short forms of Morning and Evening Prayer – offer peaceful experiences of prayer. Enjoy them when you can. Or come in between services just to be silent, reflect and pray in a sanctuary free from the heat, humidity and noise of Fifth Avenue. Over 300,000 people climb the Fifth Avenue steps each year to visit the nave in between services, far more than the approximately 80,000 who attend the services in a year. Saint Thomas is a busy place even in peace and quiet; the Holy Spirit is active in the silence in countless ways. The Church being open from morning to evening is one of God’s greatest blessings and means of mission.

THANKS ARE IN ORDER

Thanks to all my staff colleagues, both clergy and lay, our lay leaders on the Vestry and other committees, and our volunteers, for what has been a notably good season. There is a spirit of teamwork and of optimism in our portion of the Kingdom of Christ.

My fellow clergy are a joy and comfort for their diligence and spirit. Since Robert Stafford’s retirement in 2009 and Jonathan Erdman’s departure in 2010 for Louisville, KY, Michael Spurlock has shouldered aspects of both their ministries in pastoral care and oversight of youth ministry. Fr. Spurlock has had a good first year since last June when he and his wife Aimee and their children Atticus and Hadley arrived in New York. The Spurlock family has become part of the Saint Thomas family. They will be moving into a Choir School apartment this summer.

Another good beginning has been made by Joel Daniels, who is a doctoral student at Boston University. Joel, who was confirmed at Saint Thomas while an undergraduate at Columbia, was ordained by Bishop Sisk as a Deacon and Priest sponsored by Saint Thomas. He and his wife Lystra live in an apartment at the Choir School. Fr. Daniels will be at choral services, celebrate several Masses each week and be on the regular preaching schedule.

Victor Austin is in his seventh year as Theologian-in-residence. He assists me with oversight of the liturgy as well as the teaching of the faith. Fr. Austin teaches classes Sunday and, during the school year, many Mondays, and most Tuesdays and Wednesdays in the evenings each week. He is a great support in the annual Rector’s Doctrine Class. This past season he published two books, Up with Authority and Priest in New York. At the luncheon following the Chrism Mass of Collegiality at the Cathedral on Tuesday of this past Holy Week, Bishop Sisk gave a copy of Up with Authority to each of the clergy of the Diocese, who in appreciation gave Victor a standing round of applause.

Canon John Andrew, our Rector Emeritus, rebounded brilliantly from injuries resulting from being struck as a pedestrian by a truck a year ago, and since his accident he has become a member of the Mead-Hoxsie family. He is a full participant in our fellowship and is fully back as my “Junior Curate.” John is a cherished source of counsel.

Thanks to our Wardens and Vestry. They are extraordinary, devoted lay leaders whose love for Saint Thomas is unsurpassed. A Warden of Saint Thomas takes on a second full-time job without pay; far from it – it is very costly in time, talent, and treasure. It is a privilege to have them as fellow-workers, especially in these still-challenging economic times when we seek to finish the restoration of our stained glass windows and to replace the great chancel organ.

Finally, thanks to the members of our congregation and all those who have made the Every Member Canvass for 2011 a record-breaking milestone, as of this writing over $1,359,000. The combination of cutting and holding down expenses and such steadfast support as this EMC indicates has been a major reason for Saint Thomas Church and Choir School to come through these difficult economic years whole. May we continue on this path, and thank all of you who pledge and give to the parish.

I have one more word of thanks to the congregation, from Nancy Mead: “I would like to thank you all for the cards and letters that you sent to me when my mother died at the end of April. She died as fast as she lived – 100 miles an hour. Her death, while unexpected, was peaceful and at home in her own bed. All of your various expressions of sympathy were much appreciated. Thank you again.”

MAESTRO SCOTT’S NEW MASS

A highlight of this past Easter was John Scott’s composition of his Missa Dies Resurrectionis, performed in part at the Great Vigil on Easter Eve and then in full on Easter Day at both 8 o’clock and 11 o’clock. Years ago, having heard John’s other compositions, I asked if he would compose an Easter Mass, using the Greek and Latin texts for the Ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus/Benedictus, Agnus Dei, but Credo to be said in English). Suddenly, in a great burst of inspiration and work, even in Holy Week itself (!), John’s Mass was born after a long period of preparation. It is delightful, employing phrases ancient and more modern from Easter chants, hymns and carols. I hope one day Dr. Scott and the Choir will make a permanent recording of it. Thanks, John, and congratulations.

GOOD NEWS AT THE CHOIR SCHOOL

Gorden H. Clem, Headmaster of Saint Thomas Choir School from 1967 to 1995, turned 80 this past April. Headmaster Fr. Wallace and a group of our younger choristers traveled to Lenox, Massachusetts, to sing for Mr. Clem at Trinity Church, his home parish. Fr. Wallace announced on Prize Day, June 11, that a student bursary scholarship of $15,000 has been given for next year and named in Gordon’s honor.

At the same Prize Day a beautiful silver cup for The Rector’s Award to a graduating Choir School eighth grader was given by an anonymous donor in thanks for the 11th and 12th Rectors, Canon Andrew and yours truly.

This leads me to say Congratulations and Godspeed to our three fine graduating eighth graders: Will Paris, Alex Simcox, and Ryoan Yamamoto. I thought the speech by Dr. Scott about the progress of the boys in the choir and the valedictory remarks by Fr. Wallace displayed, as the Psalm says, that “mercy and truth are met together.”

Not the least blessing of Graduation Weekend was the visit of the Very Rev’d John Hall, Dean of Westminster Abbey, who spoke to the eighth graders on Prize Day and then preached Sunday at 11 o’clock for Pentecost. The Dean appreciates the similarities between Saint Thomas and the Abbey, especially in that we both are choral foundations in the midst of two great cities, and we have the only two residential Church Choir Schools in the English-speaking world. It was a pleasure to host him.

MORE CONGRATULATIONS

Vestry Member William R. Miller was on Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday Honors list this June as a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), for “service to United Kingdom/United States relations in business and philanthropy.” The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire has four ranks: Member (MBE), Officer (OBE), Commander (CBE), and Knight (KBE). Bill was already an Officer (OBE), and has been advanced in rank to Commander, a title which fits him well.

THE KING JAMES BIBLE

This year is the 400th anniversary of the Authorized (King James) Version of the Bible, mandated in 1611 for use in The Church of England by King James I. The dominance of the King James Version (KJV) in English-speaking Christianity (Anglican and Protestant) well into the twentieth century has given way to many contemporary translations. By far the most elegant American successor, seen by its translators as a revision in the tradition of the KJV, is the Revised Standard Version (RSV) of the mid-twentieth century, now updated, with inclusive language paraphrases, by the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The RSV achieved wide ecumenical acceptance for its accuracy and style as “The Common Bible” among Catholic and Protestant, Eastern and Western Churches. The NRSV, though now widely used in the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, has yet to gain such broad ecumenical acceptance as its predecessor RSV enjoyed. The American Roman Catholic Church has its equivalent revision, the New American Bible (NAB), while American Evangelicals widely prefer the New International Version (NIV). In the United Kingdom, there has been the New English Bible of 1970 (NEB), succeeded in 1989 by the Revised English Bible (REB). In 2001 the Oxford University Press published the English Standard Version Bible (ESV), which is praised for accuracy, readability, and literary rendering of the texts.

I recommend all the above-mentioned versions of the Bible. I use them all for study and private reading of Scripture. But none have had or likely will have the formative influence on the English language of the King James Bible. In the words of author Adam Nicolson,“Nothing in our culture can match its breadth, depth and universality, unless, curiously enough, it is something that was written at exactly the same time and in almost exactly the same place: the great tragedies of Shakespeare. That is no chance effect. Shakespeare’s great tragedies and the King James Bible are each other’s mirror-twin.”[1] Only slightly less universal would be a third classic influence, making, especially in England, for a triplet or trinity; namely, The Book of Common Prayer. The Museum of Biblical Art’s new exhibit, on the King James Bible, opens Friday, July 8.

At Saint Thomas we use the KJV at High Altar liturgies. Recently we began using The Washburn College Bible, a printing of the KJV in its natural phrasing, pleasing to the eye and easy to read – a work completed in the 1970s. This we use both at the lectern and in the Gospel and Epistle Books at the Choral Eucharist. You can get a copy of this attractive edition of the KJV for yourself online for a reasonable price. It has one drawback, however: it lacks the Apocrypha, a widespread and often unrecognized deficit in Protestant Bibles for which English/American Puritanism is responsible: see my Excursus on the Apocrypha in the subsequent paragraph. In the Chantry Chapel, we use the RSV for all services. The RSV harmonizes well not only with Rite One, the traditional language rite used at the 8:00 am and 5:30 pm services, but also with Rite Two, the contemporary modern language rite used at 12:10 pm. As the more contemporary language rites are used, the more modern scripture translations will be used as well. Of these there are several and among Anglicans I believe the preference will be for the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for the time being.

Excursus concerning the Apocrypha:

The Apocrypha, or the Deuterocanonical Books, were among the Old Testament scriptures used by the earliest Christian Church. Their influence may be seen in the New Testament. However, after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, the rabbis of Palestinian (and later) Judaism excluded these books from what Jews accepted as authoritative Holy Scripture, partly because no Hebrew original – the sacred language of inspiration – for most of these books is known. Their oldest known texts were in Greek. The Church continued to use the Apocrypha, even though these books were no longer accepted by the Jews of the Christian era. The Eastern Orthodox Churches regard the Apocrypha/Deuterocanonical books as Holy Scripture. At the time of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century in the Western Church, the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent decreed the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books to be authoritative Old Testament Scripture. The Church of England retained the Apocrypha for reading in the Church “for example of life and instruction of manners, but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”[2] Luther retained the Apocrypha. Calvinist Puritans, in the Westminster Confession of Faith in 1647 during the Commonwealth Interregnum of Oliver Cromwell, excluded the Apocrypha entirely, and until the mid-twentieth century, this exclusion held sway with such influential publishers and distributors as The American Bible Society – which is why The King James Bible Apocrypha has been unfamiliar except to Anglican/Episcopalian churchmen.[3]

Why a decision made by rabbis in the first century – the Apostolic Age of the Church – should dominate Protestant Christianity is perplexing. The exclusion of the Apocrypha does not stand the test of Church history or catholicity and is a departure from the same early Church practice which Protestants claim to emulate. The Authorized Version of King James most definitely includes the Books of the Apocrypha, and The Cambridge University Press publishes a handsome edition of this complete Authorized Version which is available in our bookstore. Whenever you purchase a Bible, be sure it says it includes the Apocrypha. These books include The Book of Wisdom, Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus), I and II Maccabees, Tobit, Judith, The Story of Susanna, Baruch, The Song of the Three Young Men, The Prayer of Manasseh, Bel and the Dragon, Additions to The Book of Esther, and also I and II Esdras.

The various Reformations of the Sixteenth Century – Anglican, Lutheran, Calvinist, and Roman Catholic – all contributed to a plethora of Bible translations. In England, over the century preceding the 1611 Authorized King James Version, one in particular, that of Bishop Myles Coverdale in 1535, developed into what was known as The Great Bible of 1539 and was authorized for use in the Church of England. The Psalms and biblical Canticles such as the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer and in the American Prayer Book of 1928 (with some minor Psalm revisions) are from Coverdale. That is why when our choir sings Psalm 23 we hear, “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing” (1535 Coverdale) rather than “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” (1611 KJV).

The Coverdale Psalms yield themselves to chanting more easily than do the KJV’s Psalm translations, and we may well ask why. I put this question to the Very Rev’d Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury Cathedral. Dean Willis, a hymn-writer and connoisseur of Church Music who knows the Psalter to the marrow of his bones, says that Bishop Coverdale, in 1535, was much closer to the Benedictine chanting of the Psalms of the Latin Vulgate,[4] than were the KJV translators 75 years later in 1611, by which time the memory of the old ways of the Medieval Church had died out. Coverdale could still, as it were, hear the old chants as he translated; and his Psalms are far more rhythmic and suggestive of chanting than are those of the KJV.

Traditional or contemporary, Scriptural faithfulness is the chart and compass for the Church’s pilgrimage through all her historic developments of doctrine, discipline and worship down the centuries since Christ’s Incarnation. The mission of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church of our creeds is neither revisionist nor reactionary but rather to carry the truth of Christ’s Gospel, the Word and Sacraments, forward with intelligence, clarity and faithfulness into whatever new context she finds herself. The words of the Anglican/Episcopal Articles of Religion,[5] printed in the back of The Book of Common Prayer, are an ever-present challenge as well as a godly admonition. They state the comprehensive standard of both ecclesiastical and personal Christian freedom: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” And again: “The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of Holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation.” I say Amen to that.

Summer well. Get some well-deserved rest. I hope to have some book reports for you in September.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead



[1] Adam Nicolson, God’s Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible, HarperCollins, 2003, p. 239.

[2] Articles of Religion, Article VI, “Of the Sufficiency of Holy Scripture for Salvation” and “Of the Names and Number of the Canonical Books,” Book of Common Prayer (1979), p. 868.

[3] F.F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture (Glasgow: Chapter House Ltd., 1988), pp. 47-118. Professor Bruce, on pp. 112-113 of this masterful and readable book, recounts the story of the Coronation of King Edward VII: “When the British and Foreign Bible Society undertook to provide the copy of the Bible for presentation to King Edward VII at his coronation in 1902, the Archbishop of Canterbury (Frederick Temple) ruled that a ‘mutilated Bible’(one lacking the Apocrypha) was unacceptable for the purpose, and as the Society was prevented by its constitution from providing an ‘unmutilated’ edition, a suitable copy had to be procured at short notice from another source.”

[4] Saint Jerome (347-420 AD), the greatest biblical scholar of the Early Church, translated the Old and New Testaments from their original languages into Latin, a version which has lasted over 1500 years. To this day the Psalter in the Book of Common Prayer retains the Vulgate’s opening words of each Psalm as the titles for each one; i.e., Dominus regit me for Psalm 23.

[5] Articles of Religion, Articles VI and XIX, Book of Common Prayer (1979), pp. 868, 871.