Rector’s Chronicle: June 2014

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

This is my last Rector’s Chronicle, The Last Chronicle of Barset, Take Two. I have written four Chronicles per year to you over the past 18 years. I did the same at my former parishes – Good Shepherd, Rosemont, PA, and the Church of the Advent, Boston – since 1978. That’s 144 Rector’s Chronicles over the 36 years I have been a parish rector. I have also presided over 396 Vestry meetings. Thinking about numbers over 43 years of ordination: Averaging five celebrations of the Eucharist each week (I have been privileged to serve all but one year in a Daily Mass parish), I have celebrated the Holy Mysteries 10,750 times. I have never found this sacramental repetition to be burdensome; on the contrary, the re-presentation of the Sacrifice of Jesus Christ is always soul-refreshing – so much so, that I leave each celebration, said or sung, with my spirit renewed in some vital way. Thank the Lord for the privileges of being a Priest, particularly as Rector of this amazing church of Saint Thomas.

THANK YOU

Thanks to everyone involved in the planning and execution of the Friday, May 30 Centennial-Farewell celebrations at the Church and the University Club, especially the Wardens and the members of the Rector’s Hospitality Committee. What a wonderful evening it was. Our Diocesan Bishop Andrew Dietsche and our new Suffragan Bishop Allen Shin came – and stayed. I especially thank the Wardens, the Vestry and the Parish for the gifts: 1) The beautiful 15-foot catboat, which is named, of course, Magnificat. Our eight-foot dinghy, now nearly 40 years old, by which we’ll row to Magnificat on her mooring on Narragansett’s Great Salt Pond, will be named Nunc, short for Nunc dimittis (get it?). I suppose we’ll have Evensong after all in Narragansett. You can’t overturn a catboat; on the contrary, you can have a picnic while sailing; even I can learn to sail it, perhaps while reading the Office. 2) The resin copy of the carving of yours truly to go on the new organ case. It’s an accurate likeness, giving my years 1996-2014 as XII Rector, and rendering the symbols of DePauw University, Yale Divinity School, and Keble College Oxford. This latter was a brilliant surprise, whereas Nancy and I knew about the catboat.

You can access the Wardens’ tributes on May 30 on the website in both audio and written forms. You may also access the audio and written form of my Centennial-Farewell Address in the same place. But for completeness I include that Address in this last Chronicle. Before we get to that, I have some exciting Good News, just as I go out the door! –

THE MOUNTAIN IS MOVING

At our May meeting, the Rector, Wardens and Vestry authorized the resumption, that is the completion, of the project to restore the stained glass windows beginning this coming fall. These are the Rose Window in the east (liturgical west) of the church, the chantry and gallery windows, and the great clerestory windows on the south (liturgical north) side of the nave. At the same meeting, we authorized the signing of the contract to build and to install the new organ, a project that has already started offsite and will be increasingly obvious in church as the window restoration is completed. The windows should all be restored by the spring of 2016, allowing the organ to be finished in 2018. It is named “The Irene D. and William R. Miller Chancel Organ in honor of Dr. John Scott.”

The capital campaign raised the money to buy and install the new organ, and the Buy-a-Pipe campaign has added over $700,000. The anticipated money for the air rights contract is restricted to finance the window restoration and create an endowment to maintain the church building. Our prayer, “Lord, please, move this mountain,” earnestly made since 2008, is being answered, evidenced by our people rallying to the call with generous donations.

RETIRING VERGER

As you should know from announcements elsewhere, Roberta Brill is retiring, effective July 1, as Verger, succeeded by Andrew Kimsey, who for this past year has worked alongside her while also fulfilling new media (webcast, etc.) responsibilities. Beginning this fall, Avery Griffin will succeed Andrew on webcasts and will also manage the website. Roberta has given us three good years. Her personal skills and grace, combined with her conscientious hard work at all hours, have made for a job very well done. She needs time and space to care for her mother and sister. Roberta is a beloved member of the Saint Thomas family, and we wish her all God’s blessings.

PARTICULAR THANKS

In my Farewell Speech on May 30, I avoided a thank-you list for the reasons stated. Nevertheless, here I want to thank our two Wardens, William H.A. Wright II and Kenneth F. Koen. This November, Bill reaches the end of the maximum twelve years (six consecutive two-year terms) permitted by our By-Laws for a Warden. Kenneth has three more years. Being a Warden at Saint Thomas rightly carries esteem; it is no exaggeration to say it is equivalent to a full-time job. Bill was a member of the “posse” with Martha Dodge and Joan Hoffman who came to visit me in Boston on Advent Sunday, 1995, and of the Vestry which elected me XII Rector in 1996. He has been Senior Warden in the Search and Election of Rector XIII. All along, Bill has shown extraordinary vision and leadership, not least in the matter of the air rights contract and Phase One of the stained glass window restoration. And there have been many more instances. He has always given his all, including his intelligence and wisdom, his time and energy, and his clear-sighted vision, for our beloved parish. Kenneth was confirmed out of my Rector’s Doctrine Class fifteen years ago. His vocation as a lawyer, donated to the parish with amazing generosity, has repeatedly helped us avoid pitfalls. His effort, with Vestryman Karl Saunders, on the Organ Project, has been of epic proportions. His care with language and sensitivity to people has been a real asset both to the Vestry and to yours truly. He knows what’s going on in the parish ’hood. Bill and Kenneth strike sparks off each other, and the result has been great lay leadership for Saint Thomas.

Beside the Wardens I want to thank the Vestry. In doing so, I share with you words I wrote last fall in an “On-Board” memo to Rector XIII, well before I knew who my successor was to be:

“Over the 18 years of my rectorship, I have found the Wardens and Vestry to be mainstays of support wishing the Rector the best of success and supporting him, including in times of difficulty. This is possible because we have spoken the truth, sometimes hard home truths, to each other, in charity. We have worked hard on communication and trust, and it has paid off. I leave my Wardens and Vestry with a deep sense of love and gratitude for their support and generosity, for the truthfulness and loyalty above all to Saint Thomas. None of us, including the Rector, is indispensable; all serve Christ and the mission ‘to worship, love and serve’ him.”

AND MORE THANKS

I have had many good clergy colleagues over the decades, but never have I had such a superb team of priests as the one I leave behind. Victor Austin, Michael Spurlock and Joel Daniels are not only powerful individual priests with great gifts; they are utterly collegial. They are loyal to the Rector and to one another. Our liturgy, teaching and pastoral care are in good hands and will be in these capable hands in between my departure July 1 and Canon Turner’s arrival in mid-September.

As for the Music Department and the Choir School, the appointments in 2004 of John Scott as Director of Music and Charles Wallace as Headmaster are among the best I have by God’s grace ever made. We could not ask for more outstanding leadership in the two crucial parts of our choral foundation. I regard John, along with Victor (and our two Wardens), as my younger brothers. And I regard Michael, Joel and Charles as spiritual sons. Douglas Robbe is my beloved brother (even though we have door-slamming political arguments), born in the golden baby-boomer year 1946. We have been side by side since 1985, and in 1996 I brought him with me to Saint Thomas from Boston, an excellent decision. And then there is son David Daniel, my Soren Kierkegaard in the nave, writing texts for the website.

I have sisters too – Barbara Pettus, who has brought clarity and accountability to our administration and finance; Ann Kaplan, who makes fund raising a pleasure and a pastoral outreach; and Linda Morfi, who has advanced pastoral care even to the level of sound social work – solving problems, extending a helping hand, and yes, confronting sloth as well as relieving despair.

What a team! I’m grateful and proud of our entire staff, whom I have relied on in more ways than I can count or remember. Each day when I arrived, others were already there, doors unlocked. And each night when I went home, others, such as Angel Estrada’s custodial team, stayed behind, cleaning up from one day and preparing for the next. I dare say we’ve had fun along the way, running the Lord’s errands for his kingdom.

CENTENNIAL – FAREWELL ADDRESS
May 30, 2014

Listen to a webcast of this address.

God bless you all for coming tonight, and may he also bless these proceedings with his grace. When the date for this final Centennial event was set over a year ago, Nancy and I knew something that the rest of you didn’t and couldn’t know then; and that was my intention to retire as Rector of Saint Thomas this summer. We knew that tonight would have to serve a double purpose. So the first part of what I want to say this evening has to do with the centennial of worship in this glorious church, which rose from the rubble of the great fire of 1905.

It has been quite a Centennial season of 2013-2014. We have had the fall hymn-sing using hymns from a century ago and have been surprised to find that, certainly on Christmas and Easter, we sing different hymns and use different music than did Dr. Stires and the flock in 1913; and that we prefer what has developed and what we have. We have had lectures – on the neighborhood a century ago; on the Great Reredos (we learned that Dr. Stires was the model for the kneeling Saint Thomas); and on the architects Cram and Goodhue and this masterpiece of theirs. We have had Dr. Scott lecture on Dr. Noble, who like him, came from a venerable English choral foundation to lead the music at Saint Thomas.

In the bleak midwinter we had Lucky Gold’s splendid centennial play, Redeem the Time, which dramatized the personalities and events that came together a century ago. It featured Dr. and Mrs. Stires, Misters Cram and Goodhue, Dr. Noble, Mr. Steele and others, each playing their parts. For me the play itself, as I read, rehearsed, and played my part, was an epiphany. The epiphany is this: We have not just been celebrating the centennial of our worship in this building. We have been celebrating the centennial of the mission of Saint Thomas as we have received it and as we wish to carry it forward into the future.

At least three vital components of the mission came together, like the three strands of a cable, in 1913 when worship commenced in the new church at Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street. Those three strands are the location, the gothic architecture, and the choral foundation.

First the location. As the parish history and the archives make clear, and as the Centennial Play put forward on the stage of this chancel, there was a struggle over the location of the new church after the fire. Strong arguments were presented for moving uptown: Let’s make money by selling this prime real estate. Let’s start afresh in a residential neighborhood, using the money of the sale of the property to build. And I’m sure there were other arguments as well. But Dr. Stires was steadfast in his commitment to build again here, on the old site. He knew the neighborhood was becoming less residential and more commercial a century ago. He knew towers of finance, fashion and business would be rising around us on Fifth Avenue. He wanted, in what he called “the strategic center of Manhattan Island,” a temple for the Lord Jesus Christ. Wondrously he carried the day; or should I say, the Lord, the Holy Spirit, used him to carry the day. He made some mistakes of the generous, endearing sort on the way. But here the new church was to be. And they never moved. A temporary wood structure went up in what seems like a moment; and it would be eight years while the great new church was built right over the wood structure, which would then be taken down. The story still reads like a miracle.

This brings us to the second ingredient of the mission as we have received it. The miracle would be expressed in this breathtaking architecture, a work of two of the greatest architect geniuses in American history, Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. Each previous church of Saint Thomas – except for the Upper Room at the very start – was gothic, and gothic was what Dr. Stires wanted. The architects of the gothic-revival often called this architecture “Pointed” or “Christian” architecture. They called it Christian because it was not an import from pagan antiquity or other external sources; but rather was developed within, by and for Christendom in the High Middle Ages. For Saint Thomas, Cram incarnated the high “decorated” French gothic conception into stone, glass, air and space on Fifth Avenue in the heart of midtown Manhattan; and with Goodhue, gave it most definite American expressions. Steam engines, suspension bridges and airplanes, among other icons of early twentieth century America, take their place with the gargoyles. It is, as Inge Reist titled her lecture a few weeks ago: A Gothic Phoenix that Rose from the Ashes: Cram and Goodhue’s Architectural Masterpiece on Fifth Avenue. Worshipping in such a church as this was not just an inspiration; it was a challenge. It presents the liturgy, the preaching and the music with a lot to live up to. This gothic masterpiece is a prod and whip which drives us all to do our very best for the Lord. We want to reach, along with her pointed arches which are like praying hands, into the heavens where Christ has ascended after suffering for our salvation.

Now for the third strand of the cable – the choral foundation. Dr. Noble came over from York Minister in 1913. In the play we saw and heard Dr. Stires and the Warden Mr. Steele give Maestro their word that there would be a traditional choir school to support the Anglican choral heritage here in the New World. The Choir School became a reality in 1919 – we have Dr. Noble’s handwritten invitations to parents framed on its walls. But a century ago, in 1913, the commitment was made, and so Dr. Noble stayed to see it take shape. The threefold mission was settled: the location, the gothic architecture, and choral foundation. How clearly at the time they realized it – as we now realize it and have framed it into a mission statement – I do not know. But the bases of the mission’s foundation were put deeply into the ground a century ago, and so it is the mission’s centennial that we celebrate now. Here within this gothic wonder, on this street corner in the center of New York City, we worship, love and serve Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.

In my own time I have seen how important it is to clarify, to publish, and steadfastly to reaffirm the principles of our mission. It is costly. Arguments can be raised to do things other ways. Yet I have seen that faithful adherence, true fidelity, to this sacred mission is also the secret of our success. In a time when church attendance has suffered while many in the church look about to find formulas for success and relevance to an increasingly secular culture, I have seen that the appeal of our mission to the timeless verities of the faith has made Saint Thomas flourish. Our attendance is good across the board, whether services are said or sung; over 80,000 annually. Visitors stream into this temple in between services at a rate of about 300,000 per year. The website and webcasts are lifelines to multitudes. The young are attracted to our teaching and worship. We know that the mission has built up the church. A goodly fellowship has gathered around and been shaped by it.

Now we come to the other reason we are here tonight: my retirement. When I took counsel, about two years ago, with Nancy about this matter, we first discussed the factors bearing in on our side of the equation – the age of our grandchildren, the length of time we have been here, the influence of – yes – age and repetition on one’s interior strength and outward performance. But then Nancy asked me, “What about the Saint Thomas side of the equation?” I felt, we both felt, the church is in a good place in the various departments of our life – ministry, music, choir school, administration, warden and vestry leadership. And then I realized that it was getting on time to go – time, in two years, to go; to hand on this most cherished work of my life to a new priest and rector. Besides, it is better to retire – in people’s minds – two years too soon than two minutes too late.

I do not doubt the rightness of my decision, but I am finding these last weeks hard, saying goodbye to people, places, and events. Saint Thomas means the world to me. Priests are not, and probably should not be, “friend-friends” in the broad normal sense with parishioners, though there is no doubt much in the way of brotherly affection among us. Priests know many, perhaps most, of their people in a deep and narrow sense rather than a broad sense. We know you in your souls. I find myself thinking, “Will he/she be all right?” And I pray, which is what I have been doing a lot of as I look at you at church, especially at the altar rail.

What I want you to know is that I love you, very much. And I feel your love coming back at me. I love you because Jesus loves you, and he is the one who has brought us together. We have been so privileged to worship, love and serve him in this beauty of holiness here, to be living stones in the edifice of his church in this place. I hope you will pray for us. Nancy has been so much a part of my ministry all these years, that I must use the plural. When I was asked by an old Yale Divinity School classmate: After all these years, what has sustained you? I answered right away: The Lord and Nancy Mead. And Nancy and I are bonded to you in Christ, always. Our daughter Emma and our son Matthew were both married here; and Saint Thomas sponsored Matthew for the priesthood, launching him into the Diocese of New York. Our two children and our four grandchildren, who were each born in New York City, love Saint Thomas.

I want to add that the call of our XIII Rector Canon Carl Turner – and his wife Alison – has confirmed my sense of the rightness, the providential timing, of my retirement and departure. I am deeply gratified by this succession. The Turners stayed with us this week at the rectory apartment – their soon-to-be home. To say Nan and I are excited about their coming is an understatement, and it makes us look forward to a real enjoyment of retirement with peace of soul about the church I love so much. The baton is well passed: Our Lord Jesus Christ remains, most explicitly, the true leader of Saint Thomas.

Speaking for myself in the singular, I hope you will forgive me my faults and shortcomings. On that score, I join the rest of you as a redeemed sinner grateful to Jesus for salvation. But I am afraid that if I go on to list my thanks and count my blessings, three things will happen: 1) The list will be so long we could be here all night. 2) I will forget someone obvious and vital. 3) I will start to cry. So enough! Thank God for every one and all of you. May Saint Michael the Archangel, the protector of the Church and patron of my rectorship, continue to watch over you; may our blessed Lady and all the saints pray for you; and may the blessing of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, be amongst you, and remain with you always. AMEN.

WHAT WILL FATHER MEAD DO?

I intend to take a day off at least for a full year. I will go to church, but I don’t intend to “do” church. You can listen to my comments on this subject in The Rector’s Message audio on the website. I am not going to lose my priesthood; I am going to de-institutionalize it. I will continue to say the Daily Office, to make my Sacramental Confessions, to tithe, and to be at the Eucharist on Sundays and Major Holy Days. But I’m not going to take services or to preach, at least for a year, if I can help it. I want to take time to see what presents itself. I purposely have no plan.

BOOK REPORT

What is a Rector’s Chronicle without a book report? I am finishing James Madison by Lynne Cheney – an excellent biography of the father of our Constitution. It is very readable, nearly on the level of my favorite such author, Jon Meacham. Madison was a finely tuned political genius, a true master. He gave his all to the emerging United States. Had James Madison never been a two-term president, Americans would still owe him, like Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton (Madison’s collaborator on The Federalist Papers and later his political adversary), an enormous debt. And I did not realize the wife of Vice President Dick Cheney was such an excellent scholar and author.

Former Vestryman Willem Brans is one of my best advisers on reading (Willem in an earlier life was a professor of English). He and his wife Jo, an author herself, gave me Tolstoy’s Resurrection to read last January. It is one of Tolstoy’s three greatest novels; so how can I resist the Brans’ counsel to read Anna Karenina this summer? After that, long overdue, I must tackle War and Peace.

Speaking of books: During upcoming coffee hours, a lot of my books will be on offer in Andrew Hall at a near giveaway. Many I have cherished, but there is no room in Narragansett for them. All hardbacks, including big coffee-table books, go for one dollar. All paperbacks go for 25 cents. Come one come all. The proceeds go to the organ fund. There will be notices in the Sunday leaflets.

ADIEU

As I told a friend, Nancy and I are not leaving the planet; we’re moving to Rhode Island. Knowing and loving New Yorkers, I realize that Narragansett is out there in America. But Little Rhody is (if things go right) a three-hour car or train ride from the City. If you want to contact me, you may – and it will be good to hear from you. You can get my contact information from Douglas Robbe, who is staying on to assist Canon Turner’s transition in.

If you succeed in finding us up there in New England, I’ll show you some sights and may even take you for a sail. But not in winter. God bless you all. It has been wonderful being…

Your Priest and Rector,

Andrew C. Mead