Rector’s Chronicle: Eastertide 2015

My dear friends,

Just before Holy week I celebrated my first six months as XIII Rector, so I have been using Lent as a time of reflection. Of course, I have been getting to know the parish since October 2013. That is when the Search Committee first contacted me, so it feels as if I know you all very well indeed. These past six months have been very full and satisfying, and I am thrilled to be with you in New York and to be working with such skilled and faithful colleagues.

My first six months were marked by beginnings and farewells. The parish mourned the death of The Rev’d John Andrew, XI Rector. I was so pleased to have had time to get to know Father Andrew before his death. We laughed that we were both from the same hometown of Hull in East Yorkshire. Hull is most famous for appearing in a rather scurrilous book, later to become a Television documentary, ‘The Idler Book of Crap Towns – the 50 worst places to live in Britain’ in which it came first! Since the parish was founded in 1823 there have only been 13 Rectors of which two were ordained in the Church of England– the fact that both are from Hull proves that God must have a sense of humor!

In December, we paid tribute to William H. A. Wright II who completed twelve years as Warden.
Bill has given sterling service to this parish over many, many years and had a strategic role in the success of our major capital projects including both the restoration of our stained glass windows and the project to build the Miller-Scott Organ. He was a faithful colleague to my predecessor, The Rev’d Andrew Mead, and I have benefited from his wise and timely advice.

We also bid farewell to Dave Barger, Frank Reinauer, and Karl Saunders because their terms of office on the Vestry had ended. Frank has agreed to stay on as Treasurer for a year, for which we are grateful.

A happy arrival was my wife, Alison, who has now completed her contract as Headmistress of Exeter Junior School. Alison is now with me in the Rectory, and I am thrilled that all of you will have time to get to know Alison in the months ahead.

On April 25th, the Vestry, the Clergy, John Scott, Charles Wallace and the senior staff will be on a day’s retreat. We will take stock of the parish, examine the goals set at the last retreat ten years ago, and set some targets for the future. I am very pleased that The Very Rev’d Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury will be able to spend that day with us. Dean Willis will also be preaching on April 26th at the 11am Mass.

On Sunday, May 10th we welcome Bishop Dietsche to the parish for his annual visitation. He will celebrate and preach at the 11am mass and he will also be celebrating the sacrament of Confirmation. I have been very encouraged by the number of people who have been attending the Doctrine Class and we will also be formally welcoming a number of parishioners who are becoming members of the Episcopal Church from another church.

On the following Thursday, May 14th, we celebrate Ascension Day which is a ‘red-letter day’ for Anglicans and I hope that many of you will try to come and worship at one of our services on that day. At the 5.30 pm Solemn Eucharist our preacher will be the Dean of Melbourne, The Very Rev’d Dr Andreas Loewe.

‘We are an Easter People and Alleluia is our song’.

These famous words of Saint Augustine remind us that we live in the light of the Resurrection and that every Sunday – even the Sundays of Lent – are celebrations of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lent, however, as a season of penitence is marked by an absence of that word of praise from the Old Testament. You may have noticed that it has not been uttered or sung in church since Ash Wednesday. At the Easter Vigil, alleluia becomes the key word that binds together our celebration and each liturgy of Eastertide will begin with the acclamation ‘Alleluia,Christ is Risen. The Lord is Risen indeed. Alleluia’. These words, from the Orthodox tradition, are traditionally used as the Easter greeting in Greek and Russian Orthodox Churches not just between the priest and the people but between the people themselves.

The Hebrew word Hallelujah means ‘praise ye the Lord’ with a direct reference to the name of God – Jah. It has been used in Christian worship from the earliest of days and appears in the Book of Revelation in the visions of the worship of heaven.

In monastic communities the word became associated with very elaborate plainsong melodies in which many notes or neums were used so that the word took a very long time to sing. This was quite deliberate, for by spending plenty of time singing the syllables of words allowed the singers to reflect more fully on what they were singing or, one could say, praying. This was known by the musical term ‘jubilus,’ and was an entering into the very heart of the word being sung. In the case of the Alleluia, it meant that the singer was able to allow his or her own being to enter into the praise of Almighty God more fully.

The 12th Century Benedictine Rupert of Deutz said “We rejoice rather than sing (jubilamus magis quam canimus). and prolong the neums, that the mind be surprised and filled with the joyful sound, and be carried thither where the saints rejoice in glory” and another Benedictine, Sicardus of Cremona described the jubilus in these terms: “the Alleluia is short in word and long in neum, because that joy is too great to be expressed in words.”

During Eastertide you will notice that many of the hymns have Alleluia as a refrain and we will also be using Alleluia as the Gradual; I have long been inspired by the many beautiful ways of singing Alleluia and was pleased to learn that John Scott, Director of Music, has composed some new settings which will allow the congregation and the choir to sing together. John and I hope that these will enhance our worship in the same way that the chant ‘Christus Vincit!’ has become part of the Saint Thomas tradition.

‘Looking through a glass darkly’

As many of you know, the first phase of the stained glass restoration process was completed in 2009, a significant accomplishment involving windows on two sides of the church: the north clerestory windows and the blue windows within the reredos. We now have undertaken the second phase of this project, which involves the 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue sides of the building. Now that the scaffolding has been erected, the remaining stained glass windows are being removed and shipped to various stained glass studios on the East Coast. If you have been in the nave during the day in the past few months you will have heard the terrible noise as the windows are cut from the stone tracery.

Many years ago, churches were advised to protect stained glass with a covering of Lexan. Of course, what this did was to create ‘micro-climates’ in which the windows, far from being protected, were subjected to extreme temperatures and uneven moisture. Far from affording protection against damage, many churches and synagogues found that their stained glass suffered as a result. You can see the damage in the display in the narthex. Our restored glass will not suffer that way again but we will also benefit from being able to see the glass as originally intended. This means that the newly restored Rose window will flood the church with glorious light in the early morning just as the newly cleaned and restored windows above the High altar are now an absolute delight later in the day.

Scaffolding has some advantages…

The large amount of scaffolding has meant that we have lost all but one of our notice boards. The scaffolding has given us an opportunity to experiment with the production of high quality display posters outside the Church. For the first time we will be able to tell the passer-by a little more about the church and its choral tradition. We will be able to advertise our concert series and give some much-needed interpretation as to why we need the scaffolding in the first place.

…but more scaffolding is to come.

Once the stained glass is fully restored the exterior scaffolding will be removed – hopefully by Easter 2016 – and we will, once again, be able to enjoy beautiful views of our wonderful church unimpeded from Fifth Avenue again. However, when the Choir School begins its summer recess in 2016, more scaffolding will arrive, but inside the Church this time. This will mark the beginning of the last major part of our capital campaign – the building of the Miller-Scott Organ.

Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd. are already making wind chests and pipe-work. Dennis Collier Sr. and Dennis Collier Jr. are carving beautiful tracery and pinnacles and decoration for the new case. The Miller-Scott organ will be a masterpiece of engineering and yet in keeping with the architecture of our beautiful church.

From Summer 2016 until Spring 2018 we will rely on the Loening-Hancock organ in the gallery to support congregational singing and for voluntaries and a digital instrument in the chancel to support the choir in its varied repertory. As we have been preparing for the arrival of the organ builders on site, John Scott has reminded us that the Loening-Hancock organ was, in fact, never completed according to its original specification. A whole division of the organ, known as the Brustwerk was never completed and a number of stops prepared for in the existing organ were never installed.

I am, therefore, very pleased that the Vestry has engaged the builder of the Loening-Hancock Organ, Taylor & Boody, to add these additional stops before we begin work on the new organ in the Church.
Funds for this will come from the sale of Father Andrew’s former apartment and, thus, there will be no need of any appeal. This will also mean that the Loening-Hancock Organ will be even more suited to accompanying the congregation and allow all the works of Bach and Buxtehude to be played on it. Once complete we will have one of the finest Baroque instruments in New York and, arguably, in North America.

Parties!

Over the past six months, Alison and I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know so many of you at various social events and gatherings. The lunches for seniors, which happen every two months, are a delight and always include entertainment. The Quiz Night held in January was a sell-out but also brought together people from all ages and backgrounds in a light-hearted and enjoyable evening. The Ladies’ Valentine’s Day celebration saw some real glamor in Andrew Hall with the women of the parish entering into the spirit of things.

We have a number of social events coming later this year:

Friday, May 15th Jazz at the Rectory. This will be a splendid evening with drinks, canapés, and a hot supper with music by a professional jazz trio. Tickets go on sale after Easter and are limited in number.
Festive dress is the order of the day – black tie and cocktail dresses are welcome or anything colorful.

Friday, October 23rd Quiz Night. Back by popular demand and much improved! As so many were disappointed that they could not book a table, we are doubling the size and holding the Quiz at the Choir School by kind permission of the Headmaster.

Sunday, December 13thSanta Lucia Celebration. This will be a Scandinavian-inspired party with a Smörgåsbord of traditional Scandinavian food and drink.

The Choir School and our Music.

One of the great joys of being Rector is visiting the Choir School each Tuesday and having lunch with the boys and the staff; I then meet with the Headmaster to discuss matters of mutual concern. Under the leadership of John Scott our music continues to go from strength to strength and I am amazed at the shear volume of repertoire we enjoy here. Our school is not only exemplary but the reviews we have of our music are also exceptional whether it be participating in the Sir Simon Rattle performance of the Bach Matthew Passion with the Berlin Philharmonic or a quiet evensong on a Tuesday evening. If you have not bought tickets for the performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt on Wednesday, May 13th then please do so as it is a wonderful work and Handel paints a rich picture of the great story of the Exodus.

Finally…

Thank you for all your support over my first six months with you. Alison and I have been overwhelmed by your generosity and kindness. In particular, I am very touched by your thoughtfulness to Alison as she leaves her school in Exeter to join me here. Whilst she is excited about our future in New York and loves our wonderful parish, nevertheless, I know that she is also taking an enormous step in faith.

This leads me to my very last point and that is concerning pastoral care. We have a very large parish with many people living in many different communities in and around New York. Please let us know when you need a priest to visit. If you find yourself in hospital or ill at home – let us know. If you are unable to get to mass because of failing health or you are becoming frail – let us know. My colleagues and I want to visit. We will pray with you, celebrate the sacraments with you, or simply sit with you for a while and give you whatever support we can. Sometimes I feel very sad when I discover that a parishioner has been ill but we did not know. As priests, as parish priests, it is one of our responsibilities to care for you; help us to build up this ministry and get in touch. By the way, I have a telephone by my bed; if you have an urgent need for a priest, please call the parish office and the staff will attempt to contact me or one of my colleagues.

As Spring arrives, my prayer is that the joy and love of Jesus Christ will surround you and your loved-ones this Eastertide and always.

Affectionately,
Carl F Turner