Rector’s Chronicle: Lent 2013

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

It is past Lent’s midpoint. We are fast coming to the heart of the Church’s Christian Year, the time when we walk with our Lord Jesus on his way into Jerusalem and to Calvary, where, for us and for our salvation, he overcame sin and death; and to his Empty Tomb, where he revealed his Resurrection and opened to us the way of everlasting life.

GOOD FRIENDS VISITING SAINT THOMAS

Father Anthony Fletcher has arrived from England and will be here through Easter Day. It is an honor to have him with us. When I began as a graduate student at Keble College, Oxford, in 1971, Father Fletcher, then the young priest-in-charge of Saint Alban’s Church in the Cowley section of Oxford, invited Nancy and me to live in the attic of the priest’s house there, which we did through 1973. Our daughter Emma was born in Oxford that year. Nancy put food on the table by working as a florist in the Oxford covered market in a shop, Je-mi-ni, which is still there. Father Fletcher’s example as a parish priest moved me to enter parish ministry myself. We have kept in touch all these years. But who could have predicted that after his retirement he would join me at Saint Thomas as an honorary assistant? Deo gratias!

Former Saint Thomas Vestryman Jon Meacham will give the meditations this year for The Seven Last Words of Christ from the Cross, the Three Hour Service on Good Friday, 12 noon-3:00 pm. Jon and his family moved from New York to Nashville in 2012, but Jon continues to visit New York regularly as Vice President of Random House. This Lent he was in town to speak about Thomas Jefferson, about whom he has just written an acclaimed biography, Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power; (this follows Jon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Andrew Jackson, American Lion). Jon and his wife Keith came to Saint Thomas in my first year as Rector, in 1996, when he was beginning as an editor at Newsweek. Their three children, Sam, Mary and Maggie were born and baptized here. Now, it is fair to call Jon Meacham one of America’s most appreciated public intellectuals. He continues to contribute his support where he can to Saint Thomas’ campaign for a new organ – you can access his six-minute video about it on our website. Jon has long made the fact of his faith and churchmanship public; he keeps up on biblical studies, theology and ecclesiastical issues. He preached for Choral Evensong at Saint Thomas on September 11, 2011.

UP WITH AUTHORITY

Our Theologian-in-residence Victor Austin has published three books since coming to Saint Thomas in 2005 – Up With Authority: Why We Need Authority to Flourish as Human Beings; Priest in New York: Church, Street and Theology; and Christian Ethics: A Guide for the Perplexed, which is currently available on kindle and soon to be released in other markets. Up With Authority, published in 2010, though ecumenical and catholic in appeal, is profoundly Anglican in substance. In it Father Austin brings to bear upon the issues of the contemporary world and church the insights of (among others) Richard Hooker, the sixteenth century divine and defender of the Church of England, Anglicanism’s premier theologian on the subject of law and authority. Hooker’s The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity is a text of the canon of classical western thought. Father Austin’s contribution here has been recognized in high Anglican places – Up With Authority is short-listed for the biennial Michael Ramsey Prize to be awarded this May at the UK’s “Hay Festival.” Judges include Lord (Rowan) Williams of Oystermouth, former Archbishop of Canterbury, and his wife, Mrs. Jane Williams.

MUSIC DEPARTMENT NEWS AND STORIES

John Scott has appointed two able young men, Benjamin Sheen and Stephen Buzard, as Assistant Organists. Since the simultaneous departure early last fall of Fred Teardo and Kevin Kwan, Dr. Scott has made do – very ably – with various substitute organists, one of whom has been Ben Sheen. Congratulations to Dr. Scott on his new Assistant Organists, and thanks to him, aided by Music Office Coordinator Laurel Scarozza, for working so diligently, shorthanded, to keep Saint Thomas’ music to its standard. This is an achievement of concentration and hard work. Our Director of Music not only has kept us on the mark through this transition, but he continues to introduce new repertoire – for the full choir of Men and Boys and also for the Gentlemen singing when the Boys are away on Choir School break.

Dr. Scott and I meet each week, a discipline which keeps us abreast of business and strengthens our collegiality in serving Saint Thomas’ mission, “to worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.” Recently John told me a story I didn’t know from a few years ago when Saint Thomas’ Choir was touring in the UK. They were at Windsor Castle and Saint George’s Chapel, which is not far from Eton College. At Eton is the Eton Choirbook, a fifteenth century treasure of late medieval polyphony. The Eton Choirbook is the subject of intense interest and scholarship among music lovers of things English and Medieval. John and some Gentlemen of the Choir walked from Windsor to Eton, where they received permission to stand next to and turn the pages of the 600-year-old monastic original. They were able to follow the music as one of them held an iPad playing a recording of William Cornysh’s Salve Regina from the Choirbook. This is a charming example of a phenomenon the philosopher Kierkegaard called Recapitulation.

Speaking of Recapitulation, it was recently brought to our attention that T. Tertius Noble, who was called to be Organist and Choirmaster of Saint Thomas a century ago in 1913, did a radio broadcast of an entire service. Read these words from the November 18, 1922 issue of Radio World: “The singing of the choir and congregation, the sermon of Dr. Ernest M. Stires, the organ playing of Dr. T. Tertius Noble, and every word and sound of the service was picked up by nine microphones placed in different parts of the church, carried by wire to Newark and there sent broadcast for thousands of miles in all directions. This was the first time a complete service was sent over the world by radio. It is said even the clinking of coins dropped in the collection plates was heard… This opens possibilities in the religious field similar to the service by the Associated Press and the syndicate to the newspapers…” And now we have the webcasts, which take our services to individuals all over the earth, users who can hear or skip or return to any spot in the hymn, the anthem or the sermon at will. We hear from these listeners frequently. They write to us; they contribute to our support. We have our own “radio broadcast” of services stretching back months which can be heard anytime by that unseen congregation. This is why I always mention them in my welcome at the Greetings during services.

HISTORY’S MYSTERIES

The Centennial of the dedication of our glorious landmark church building in 1913 occurs next fall, beginning with the Feast of Dedication, Sunday October 6. There will be two new major sections on the website concerning the church building and the history of the parish. A special committee will soon announce plans for various Centennial observances throughout the 2013-2014 season.

Our church was built over the rubble of the catastrophic fire of 1905 which destroyed the earlier building. We have been delving into and re-organizing Saint Thomas’ archives, and there is one thing I want to share from the minutes of a special meeting of the Vestry on April 26, 1906, in the wake of news about the devastating San Francisco earthquake:

“The Rector then proceeded to state the object of the call for a special meeting. Actuated by a sense of Christian duty, he called attention to the calamity which recently befell not only the people of San Francisco at large, but to the church in general in the diocese of California, expressing the wish that something substantial be done to aid the rebuilding of one of the destroyed Episcopal churches in San Francisco. He eloquently, and with sincerity, stated the case. Lengthy discussion by the members present developed the consensus of opinion that it is not in our province to divert any of our building fund to assist in the erection of any church in the devastated city. Great sympathy was expressed for the many losses sustained by the churches in San Francisco, this sympathy being particularly keen owing to the sad loss which we met in the destruction of our own Church by fire last August. Therefore, on motion, the following resolution was offered by Mr. J.C. Fargo and seconded by Mr. H.C. Fahnestock.

“RESOLVED that the Vestry of St. Thomas Church, having recently experienced the distress caused by the burning of their Parish Church, have particular reason for profound sympathy with their fellow-Churchmen in San Francisco, to whom a similar calamity has come, and the Vestry request the Rector to state that he is receiving subscriptions to assist in rebuilding one of the Parish churches in San Francisco.”

When I came to Saint Thomas in 1996, persistent parish lore which stems from a century ago had it that Dr. Stires had given away the Saint Thomas building fund to the cause of rebuilding in San Francisco; and then, word of this extraordinary gesture spread and inspired much greater contributions to Saint Thomas’ own re-building cause. It appears from the Vestry minutes quoted above and from contemporary newspaper accounts that Dr. Stires may well have expressed that wish. Indeed, the Bishop of California, the Right Rev’d W.F. Nichols, who spoke at the 1913 Dedication of Saint Thomas’ new church, was quoted in The New York Times, “St. Thomas’s was one of the very first to think of this need for our [San Francisco] church rebuilding. The wish that St. Thomas’s congregation might appropriate to it a part of its ownrebuilding fund was flashed far and wide as a notable and noble thought.”[1]

But the parish lore exaggerates unhelpfully. Saint Thomas did send $3,000 to the Episcopal Church cause of rebuilding in San Francisco. This was the sort of “substantial” sum Dr. Stires requested of the Vestry at their special meeting in 1906 – an amount roughly equivalent to about $77,000 in current dollars. In addition, in February of 1912, it was reported that Saint Thomas had given to charity and to missions more money than it had set aside for its own rebuilding. But neither our own records nor those of the Diocese of California[2] indicate such a huge – and irregular – donation as the parish lore would have it. In the Epilogue to Professor Robert Wright’s parish history I wrote, “We have been unable to find, either in parish records or contemporary newspaper accounts, written evidence to confirm the story [of donating our own rebuilding funds]. But the story…may well be reflective of a courageous altruism and benevolence that was born of the same spirit that generated the parish’s commitment to the cost of a magnificent new church…”

And now, I return to where we began this Chronicle. May our Lord Jesus Christ himself bless you this Holy Week and Easter. What a joy it is to keep these great days at Saint Thomas Church! And may each one of us use these remaining days of Lent to draw nearer to the Lord.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead




[1] Bishop Nichols’ address is noted in Professor Wright’s magisterial history of 2001, Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, p. 132.

[2] Correspondence from John Rawlinson, Archivist of the Diocese of California, to Professor Wright, August 19, 2000.