Rector’s Chronicle: September 2013

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

I did not write a June Rector’s Chronicle as I usually do, because of the preparations I was making, and consequent preoccupations, concerning the June 26 announcement of my intention to retire next June 2014. As usual, however, Nancy and I took our July vacation on Monhegan Island, Maine, where I did quite of bit of reading (see below). I also had time, as I trust you have had, to absorb the reality of my decision. It is one thing to make such a decision and to reflect and pray on it by oneself for a good year, as I did. It is quite another thing to make it public to the community, especially within the Body of Christ. Then it really becomes an event which changes everything. The experience has reinforced to me how grateful I am for having been called to serve as Rector of Saint Thomas, and how very much as a parish family we are members together of the Body.

We still have a whole season together yet to go, and it is a notable one over and above being our last season together. It is the Centennial of our glorious church building, a building whose location and architecture have profoundly shaped what and who we are as a parish and are basic to our mission in the center of Manhattan. A committee has been meeting for over a year planning the various events of this Centennial observance. Throughout the coming season, our website will be unfolding what I believe is an excellent presentation of the building and its Centennial observances. There is no need for me here to list or to detail items in the presentation, except to commend it to your attention elsewhere on our website. How dramatic a change the website with all its features has brought to communications! It makes accessible and transparent our mission and ministry to public inquiry. It also makes it unnecessary for The Rector’s Chronicle to be the town crier or newspaper for the parish, freeing it to be more of a pastoral letter and therefore, in my view, more readable.

OUR CHURCH BUILDING: HOW DOES IT STAND?

On the first Sunday of October we customarily celebrate the Dedication of our church. I have included each year the propers – the lessons from Scripture and the Collect for the Day – for Saint Thomas the Apostle, our Patron, as we will do this year. It is also the Sunday when we have the Rector’s sermon for the Every Member Canvass. And there will be special music with brass, including William Walton’s Coronation Te Deum. Check the Music Schedule on the website.

Concerning the Canvass itself, we are now very nearly at $1.5 million for the 2013 Canvass for the Church and Choir School together. This is three times what it was in 1996, my first Canvass as Rector. I devoutly hope that this coming year 2014 in particular we will see good progress over $1.5 million towards $2 million. The abiding issue of our too-large draw-down on our invested funds continues. But the faith and generosity of our people have made headway against this challenge, including in very difficult economic times over the last five years. I am grateful to the Lord and proud of you, and I hope more of you who are able will join me in making a leadership pledge (at least $5,000) to Saint Thomas Church and Choir School for 2014. It wasn’t long ago when I counted on the fingers of my hands the number of leadership pledges. Now it is around 100. That is what has lifted our annual pledging to where it is now. Onward and upward we go.

I feel much better about our generation taking its part in responsibility for Saint Thomas’ mission and ministry both within and outside the parish. When I first arrived, one of our leaders told me a hair-raising story concerning a conversation he overheard in the pews on Sunday. One person complacently leaned back and told the person in the pew behind him, “This is a wonderful church. You don’t have to give a thing.” Well, we may have a way to go, but we have also come a good distance from that dismal story.

BOOK REPORTS

It all began with the television series, Downton Abbey. Like many of you I found myself drawn into all its twists and turns, a high-end period-piece of a soap opera on Sunday nights, a good way to unwind. As reported in other Rector’s Chronicles, I have in recent years been enjoying novels by Charles Dickens, most recently Our Mutual Friend and The Old Curiosity Shop. The former I reported on last year. The latter I read through last fall – and it has one of the nastiest villains of all time, Daniel Quilp, who, in spite of Dickens’ beloved victim Little Nell, is really the novel’s main character. Then, influenced by Downton Abbey, I decided to return to Anthony Trollope.

Forty years ago I read Trollope’s The Warden and Barchester Towers. Inspired by Father Austin’s reading group on Good Books, I joined in re-reading The Warden, whose main character is a saintly clergyman, Septimus Harding, flayed alive in The Jupiter newspaper but vindicated in the hearts of the faithful in Barchester, a fictional cathedral town. Trollope wrote two six-novel series from the 1850s through the 1870s. The first was the “Barsetshire” series in which the Church and “county living” are the scenes of action. The second was the “Palliser” series, in which Parliament and London are the main scenes of action. I was persuaded after last Christmas by a friend to try the Palliser series, and I could not put them down. By the time I got to Monhegan this past July, I was finishing the last of the series, The Duke’s Children. I was on a roll, and it was all inside my little Kindle with its big print! So I then turned to Barsetshire, reading the final four novels and then returning once more to The Warden (the third time!) and Barchester Towers. So since January I have read, on my Kindle, twelve Trollope novels. I need a change, but they are all excellent, and I cannot recommend them too highly. Trollope is a superb psychologist and an accurate describer of the way life is. He is not as well-known as Dickens and is less dramatic, but I find him every bit as readable if not more so. And he has the same gift for names, as in Lord and Lady Dumbello, or Mrs. Proudie.

If you are inclined to try Trollope, I would recommend from the Barset series Barchester Towers. You may find it uncannily like Saint Thomas, as one Vestryman years ago said at a meeting. Actually, he said, “This is Barchester.” My son Matthew thinks it should be required reading for all clergy. You can wet your whistle by watching the BBC video from the 1980s which combines both The Warden and Barchester Towers in an accurate condensation. Alan Rickman makes his debut as the odious Rev’d Mr. Obadiah Slope.[1] The Last Chronicle of Barset concludes the series with a “holy fool” worthy of Dostoyevsky – the Rev’d Mr. Josiah Crawley, the Perpetual Curate of Hogglestock. My favorite clergy, Archdeacon Grantly and Dean Arabin (who “sat at the feet of the great Newman” at Oxford), shine forth in this finale. For the Palliser series, I would, as my friend advised me, start with Phineas Finn. That got me going back to the beginning, Can You Forgive Her? and page-turning (or push-buttoning) my way all the way through. My favorite in that series is Phineas Redux, which features a sensational murder trial of our hero Phineas, the Irish MP. The great characters are the Prime Minister and Duke of Omnium, Plantagenet Palliser; his wife Glencora; and the rich widow Madame Max Goesler. Anyway, I commend Trollope and his world. When I am ready, I intend to read his The Way We Live Now. It’s not part of a series, and I’m told it’s a masterpiece. I’m also advised to move over to George Eliot and her[2] monumental Middlemarch. It’s long with fine print. But with a Kindle, who knows?

Now let us praise the Lord and ask his blessing upon this upcoming season at Barchester – oops, I mean Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Third Street! Faithfully your Priest and Rector –

Andrew C. Mead

[1] The BBC did present the Palliser series in the 1970s. However, it frequently changes Trollope’s plot line. It is good for putting faces on the various characters.

[2] George Eliot is the pen name of Mary Anne Evans, 1819-1880.