Rector’s Chronicle: Summer 2012

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

It has been a year of distinction for our Choir of Men and Boys. Following Choir School graduation, the Choir will be touring and singing in venues in Germany and Denmark. The high point will be at Saint Thomas Church in Leipzig, where Johann Sebastian Bach was Organist and Choirmaster. That Church is celebrating its 800th anniversary this year. I congratulate all who make for the success of our Choir, especially Director of Music John Scott and Choir School Headmaster Charles Wallace and their staffs.

MY FELLOW CLERGY

A word of thanks is in order for my fellow clergy. Their faithfulness day in and day out, combined with the collegiality we enjoy, makes life as good as it is at Saint Thomas. Fr. Victor Austin teaches a wonderful variety of classes as Theologian-in-residence, on top of which he assists in ordering the liturgy, scheduling the clergy for services, and assisting with pastoral work. Since he came to us at the start of 2005, Victor has written three books; the latest, Christian Ethics for the Perplexed, is due to be published later this year. Up with Authority has been well reviewed (it is fair to say critically acclaimed) several times. But my favorite is still his Priest in New York, a collection of lovely vignettes of life at Saint Thomas. Not least is a little story involving his wife Susan, who is a cherished member of our parish family.

Fr. Michael Spurlock, who joined us at this time of year in 2010, has succeeded both Robert Stafford and Jonathan Erdman in doing general pastoral care as well as youth ministry. I hear constantly how well his ministry has been received by young and old. Michael is eager both to work and to learn and in doing so he is a quick study. His wife Aimee and son and daughter Atticus and Hadley are very much a part of our parish life, from the Soup Kitchen to the Youth Group to the Senior Luncheon Fellowship. Michael, Victor and I are the full time clergy. We meet and confer often and enjoy mutual trust. We love Saint Thomas and consider it a joy to serve in this great parish.

Joining the three of us full-timers in part-time presence and work are Fr. Joel Daniels, our Assisting Priest, and Fr. John Andrew our Rector Emeritus. They both are with us for most choral services, while Joel in addition is able to take several masses each week as he continues to work towards his Ph.D. at Boston University. Fr. Andrew once worried to me that he can’t do as much as he once could; I replied that his benign presence is the blessing we want, and so these two, one young and the other venerable, round out the Saint Thomas clergy team which puts us in a good spiritual place as a community. Add our honorary clergy, some near and some far but all well-loved, and we are blessed indeed. As Rector I lead the list in saying thanks be to God for them.


THE 1662 BOOK OF COMMON PRAYER

This year 2012 is the 350th anniversary of the ratification, in 1662, of what is still the official Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. Why should that matter to us? Because the 1662 English Prayer Book is the direct ancestor of every Book of Common Prayer of every province in the worldwide Anglican Communion, including our own, down to the present. Because the 1662 Book, still widely used especially in English cathedrals for choral evensong, remains part of the living patrimony of the Anglican tradition.

The first English Prayer Book was issued in 1549 and was thoroughly catholic. It was followed quickly in 1552 with a protestant edition – especially in the Communion Service. These two Books were issued under Henry VIII’s short-lived son King Edward VI. After a return to Rome and the Latin Mass under Queen Mary, a third Prayer Book was issued under Queen Elizabeth I, in 1559, and corrected some of the protestant excesses of 1552. The 1559 Prayer Book served until the overthrow of the monarchy and the Anglican Establishment by the ultra-protestant puritans at the conclusion of the English Civil War in 1649 (when King Charles I was executed). The monarchy in the person of King Charles II was restored in 1660, and thus a more catholic Prayer Book was ratified for a restored Church of England in 1662.

Together with the Authorized Version of the Bible of 1611 under King James I, the 1662 Book of Common Prayer has shaped English religion and literature ever since. Even with modern language revisions of the Prayer Book, which have occurred in most Anglican provinces including our own Episcopal Church, the influence of BCP 1662 continues. For example, the Psalter of our 1979 Prayer Book was translated with an ear to the cadences of the old Coverdale Psalter in 1662 (a translation from the Bishops’ Bible of over a century before). Anglicans continue to sing and to recite the psalms, and we want to feel and hear those cadences and rhythms in our singing and recitation.

At Saint Thomas, we keep the old 1928 Prayer Book in our pews for the reason that it contains the essential Coverdale Psalter, which is so much a part of our Anglican choral tradition. Thus people can follow the psalms. But we use some of the 1662 Prayer Book in choral evensong because of the musical repertoire for which 1662 BCP (like the old Greek and Latin ordinary of the Mass) forms the textual basis. The rest of our liturgies, that is principally the Eucharist, follow Rite One and also Rite Two of the Episcopal Church 1979 Prayer Book; for forty years now, we have employed user-friendly cards for the purpose.

As important as the great texts themselves is the structure of Prayer Book worship. Whether one uses traditional or contemporary language (Rite One or Rite Two), one is deeply shaped by the nearly 500-year-old Prayer Book spiritual inheritance. It is the work of no one person, although a lion’s share comes from Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1549/1552. Prayer Book spirituality shapes the user by thorough use of the entire canon of Holy Scripture in worship following the liturgical Church Year.

One wonders, in the age of desk-top publishing, what the future of Prayer Book publishing may be. Yet it seems to me that the Anglican/Episcopal Church, whatever publishing may be done in whatever great variety of usage, still needs something like a canon for worship, an agreed-upon standard for common prayer. What shape that will take remains to be seen. In the meantime, let us keep the patrimony alive for the grandchildren! They may surprise by what they make of it.

Have a restful summer.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead