Rector’s Chronicle: December 2011

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

Christmas is nearly here! At Saint Thomas our anticipation of the festival of Christ’s Birth has been building since Thanksgiving Day, when the Advent Season began that holiday weekend. The Choir of Men and Boys and Dr. Scott received an excellent New York Times review for their December 6th performance of Handel’s Messiah. What was especially pleasing about the review was the recognition in the first paragraphs of the unique contribution of the boys’ treble voices, producing a sound unattainable by the best choirs. And that sound is disciplined. We have children who are singing at the level of professionals. There are two reasons for this: 1) our residential Choir School, the only one in America and one of two such Church schools in the English-speaking world (the other being Westminster Abbey Choir School); and 2) our Director of Music. So congratulations to Director John Scott and the Music Department and to Headmaster Charles Wallace and the Choir School. And thanks be to God!


A NEW BISHOP-ELECT FOR NEW YORK

The big church news this fall was the Episcopal election last month at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, and it is good news. It also provides an occasion for some reflection on our Church’s polity, on what it means to be an Episcopalian.

After the freak snowstorm of October 29 forced the postponement of the Special Convention to Elect a Bishop Coadjutor[1] to November 19 (which had been the date of the regular Diocesan Convention – now postponed to January 14), the clergy and lay delegates of the Diocese of New York, including Saint Thomas’ representatives, gathered in the Cathedral to elect a Bishop who in due course will succeed the Right Rev’d Mark S. Sisk as the Bishop of New York. A Nominating Committee had presented a slate of five candidates, one of whom withdrew shortly before the Convention. Two others, including the winner of the election, the Rev’d Canon Andrew Dietsche, had been nominated by petition and had participated fully with the five committee nominees in the rigorous process of introduction to the voting clergy and delegates in the weeks prior to the Convention. Saint Thomas’ clergy and delegates[2] took a full part in this process.

Andrew Dietsche has been Bishop Sisk’s Canon for Pastoral Care for the past decade. His job has been that of extending the Bishop’s pastoral support to the clergy of the Diocese, and in this position Andy has won the appreciation and confidence of many of the clergy. Andy knows every church in the Diocese and how to get to it without a map. He was our preacher at Saint Thomas last Good Friday for the Three Hour Service; his seven homilies on the Last Words of Christ from the Cross were justly well received. He has always accompanied Bishop Sisk to Saint Thomas for Confirmation visits. Canon Dietsche won the election for Bishop Coadjutor on the third ballot, and it is fair to say he won by a landslide. The winner of such an election must obtain majorities of both orders (voting clergy and lay delegates) on the same ballot. A plurality is not enough. Episcopal elections therefore can run to many ballots and have done so in the past. Not this time; we were finished by 4:00 pm. The first ballot had begun at 11 o’clock, following registration at 9:00 am, the Convention Eucharist, and two seconding speeches for each candidate. Timing was strict: if a seconding speech went over the allotted time, signified in advance by a warning bell, the microphone was gradually cut off!

Bishop-elect Dietsche begins with a supermajority of support from the clergy. He nearly attained a clergy majority on the first ballot and did attain it on the second ballot. The lay delegates put him over easily on the third ballot: he had 176 clergy out of 262 voting, and 131 lay delegates out of 233 voting. The next closest numbers were 58 clergy and 69 lay voters. I have written to congratulate Canon Dietsche and to express my affection and support. He is a true priest and pastor who will care wholeheartedly for the clergy of the Diocese.

The vote was also one of confidence and appreciation for Bishop Sisk. Here I’ll speak for myself, but I believe other rectors in the Diocese, especially some in Manhattan, would join me. In the Episcopal Church we have been living through a decade of sharp divisions which have resulted in the splitting away of priests and their parishes and even bishops and their dioceses from the national Church. These church splits often have been accompanied by dismal and ruinous lawsuits over property. It is no small achievement that under Bishop Sisk’s aegis, which began in the summer of 2001, the Diocese of New York has been free of such schisms and the credit for this very largely is his. We are a diverse Diocese, perhaps the most diverse and one of the largest, and our Bishop has worked hard to ensure that everyone has had “a place at the table.”

In addition, the Diocese has been tried sorely, especially since the Great Recession of 2008, by financial shortfalls. The “resourced” parishes, who contribute heavily to the Diocesan budget through annual assessments, have been undergoing contractions which inevitably affect the Diocesan budget. The answer is not further to “tax” these parishes into decline, but rather to face and make some difficult decisions with regard to Diocesan expenses. Bishop Sisk has given a good lead in this direction. More will be required in the years ahead.

Most important of all, we need in our Bishop a leader who is clear about the centrality of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, crucified, risen, and reigning. What I see and hear in Andrew Dietsche is quite Christ-centered in both his preaching and ministry. We do not have to agree in the Church about everything; it’s healthy that we don’t. But without the authentic word and works of Jesus Christ uniting us, we are lost at sea. In season and out of season, in times of prosperity and of adversity, the Gospel of Christ is the way forward. A Bishop of a Diocese or a Rector of a Parish who is explicit in preaching Jesus Christ, fully divine and perfectly human, and who is anchored in the faith will lead with an appropriate optimism which stems from the Lord’s Resurrection.

Now what happens? A majority of the Bishops and Diocesan Standing Committees of the national Church must consent to Andrew Dietsche’s election as our Bishop Coadjutor. Assuming this happens in timely fashion, he would be consecrated this March 2012. With Catherine Roskam’s retirement as Suffragan Bishop[3] this January, the Diocese will have, as now with Mark and Catherine so subsequently with Mark and Andrew, two full-time Bishops. Bishop Sisk has not announced a date for his retirement, but by canon law he must retire within three years, and then Andrew Dietsche, Deo volente, will become the Bishop of New York. In the meantime, I’m pleased that Bishop Sisk will be coming to Saint Thomas this spring on Sunday, May 6, to preach and celebrate the Festal Eucharist and to confirm and receive new members. And let us pray for Andrew, our new Bishop-elect, and his wife Margaret as they undertake a challenging new life and ministry on behalf of Christ’s Church.

The Episcopate is the historic ministry of the Apostolic Succession. It can be traced all the way back through the Christian centuries to our Lord himself, to the Upper Room. It is the lineage of the Sacrament of Holy Orders. Mark Sisk can trace his ministerial genealogy to the Twelve Apostles; there are even charts that show it. This is one of the essential features of The Episcopal Church and Anglicanism. The Historic Episcopate runs back before the founding of the United States and the organizing of the American Episcopal Church in 1789 through more than a century of colonial “nursing care” by our mother Church of England. And it runs back further still: past the Protestant Reformation, through the Middle Ages, past the Great Schism between Byzantine Eastern Orthodoxy and Latin Western Catholicism, through the first millennium back to the beginning of the Early Church, to the Apostles commissioned by Jesus himself.

Together with the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds, and the Sacraments of Baptism and Communion, the Historic Episcopate is reckoned as one of the four principles of catholic unity “incapable of compromise or surrender” by The Episcopal Church[4] and the worldwide Anglican Communion – the 80 million member fellowship of our sister provinces which stem from the Church of England and are in communion with the historic See of Canterbury. Anglicanism itself is but one part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, a global Christian family of more than two billion baptized people. It is quite a tradition that will be carried forward next March at our Cathedral. Let us pray for our bishops, “that they may, both their life and doctrine, set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments.”

THE EVERY MEMBER CANVASS FOR 2012

The official conclusion of the Every Member Canvass was the Sunday before Advent, November 20. As of this writing we are about $50,000 shy of last year’s record Canvass at this point. I thank all who have pledged, and I ask those of you who haven’t yet pledged, please, to do so. The Every Member Canvass will have a “Candlemas Campaign” in February, contacting those of you from whom we not yet heard. Beat them to the punch and save them a phone call. It is a difficult financial time for many, and I am grateful for the evident love for Saint Thomas reflected in a good response to our appeal.

When I was a young curate 35 years ago, my beloved mentor at All Saints Ashmont in Boston, Father John Purnell (now departed to the Lord), came home from a holiday in England inspired by an epitaph he found on a tombstone. Underneath was buried the benefactor of a little Anglican church built during the Commonwealth interregnum of Oliver Cromwell, whose Puritan Protectorate from 1648 till 1662 outlawed The Book of Common Prayer, the historic Episcopate and Priesthood, and much else dear to Anglicans. The epitaph said of the donor that “it was his singular glory to have done the best of things in the worst of times.” If that could be done then, we have every reason to be thankful and generous now.

A CONJUNCTION OF NUMBERS

“I’m not an astrologer,” wrote Father Robert Stafford to me recently, “but it would appear to my untrained eye that you are about to enter a cosmic conversion; birthday, ordination anniversary, and fifteen years at the helm of Saint Thomas.” Yes and a big wedding anniversary is coming as well: sixty-five years of life on December 8, forty years of Priesthood on December 18, forty years of Holy Matrimony on January 1, and fifteen years as your Rector since 1996. I have been thinking a lot about all this.

1) I am amazed by and grateful for life. The older I get the more life amazes me. And it goes by faster and faster, which means you want to pay attention and not miss out. More and more I believe in God, realizing it’s all his.

2) The Priesthood and Ministry are for me as is life itself. I remember the moment in college after Jesus powerfully reintroduced himself to me. I thought, “This (Gospel) is so good, it has to be shared. And that’s what I am going to do.” I feel more that way, because time is short and eternity is long.

3) I am so grateful to Nancy Hoxsie Mead for saying yes, she would marry me. I have chased her since the summer of 1970. Although I married her in 1972 and we have two wonderful children and four beautiful grandchildren, I cannot keep up with her. For example, as many of you know, Nan has completed seven 500-600 mile pilgrimages since the year 2000. I call her Peregrina. Walking is but one example. The pursuit continues, and it prevents me from getting too old…

4) …and this is part of why I still love being Rector of Saint Thomas. Some say 65 is the new 55; maybe so. Man proposes, but God disposes; still, I think Saint Thomas and I have a good way to go together. A parish leader, now gone to the Lord, used to ask me with a mischievous grin, “Are we still having fun?” Yes, I am having fun, and I get that sense of enjoyment from my fellow clergy, the Church and Choir School staff, our parish lay leaders, and the flock. The Gospel of Jesus is Good News, and Christ’s ministry, the very way of the cross, paradoxically is none other than the way of life and peace. So I say, and may God grant: long may we wave! And may we all have a holy and joyous Christmas. What a privilege to keep the feast at our beloved Saint Thomas.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead



[1] A Bishop Coadjutor is elected with the right to succeed the Diocesan Bishop as the Ordinary, that is, the Bishop in charge of the Diocese. The succession must occur within three years of the Bishop Coadjutor’s consecration.

[2] Clergy entitled to vote must be “canonically resident” in the Diocese of New York and have a pastoral position in a parish of the Diocese. Saint Thomas’ four lay delegates and two alternates are appointed each December by the Vestry. These were Wardens William Wright and Kenneth Koen, Vestry members Kazie Harvey, Fred Isquith, Frank Reinauer, and former Vestry member Willem Brans.

[3] A Suffragan Bishop is elected by a Diocesan Convention to assist the Ordinary (the Bishop in charge) in specific areas defined by the Ordinary. An Assisting Bishop is not elected by the Diocese but is appointed by the Ordinary to assist in specific areas (as was Bishop Don Taylor). A Suffragan Bishop has tenure as does the Ordinary. An Assisting Bishop is already consecrated and serves at the pleasure of the Ordinary.

[4] The Book of Common Prayer (1979), pp. 876-878: Historic Documents of the Church, “The Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral 1886, 1888.”