News from Saint Thomas Church for the Week of March 15, 2020


In this week’s news…

The Rector’s Message

Rector Turner
The Reverend Canon Carl Turner

Dear Friends,

These are troubling times that we find ourselves in and the situation seems to be changing no longer by the day but by the hour. Please know that I am praying for you, and I and the rest of your pastoral staff stand by at the ready should you need us.

Yesterday, Mayor de Blasio declared a local state of emergency for the City of New York and Governor Cuomo has issued guidelines and restrictions on public gatherings and some churches have decided to close their doors. I have been in close contact with the Rector of St. Patrick’s, and the Rector of St. Bart’s today and we are trying to coordinate a common sense response to this emerging crisis. Given the circumstances, this pastoral letter is longer than usual. If you want to read about this week’s schedule of worship and changes being implemented, please scroll down or click here.

On Thursday afternoon, the Lieutenant Governor of the State of New York and leading medical advisors held a telephone conference for clergy and pastors. The medical advice has not changed. At this time, the Centers for Disease Control suggests “social distancing” as the most effective way to limit the risk of exposure or spreading the virus. According to the CDC, social distancing includes “remaining out of congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings, and maintaining distance” when possible. We were reminded that we can still worship publicly but those gatherings are limited to 50% of the capacity of the church with a maximum of 500 people. We were reminded to inform people that frequent washing of hands was important and to refrain from touching and embracing, and that they should sit at a distance of six feet from one another.

The most important thing we are trying to do is to prevent the numbers of people with severe symptoms rising to such an extent that the hospitals are swamped. To that end I think it is prudent that parishioners who are frail, elderly, have chronic illness (especially respiratory conditions, heart conditions, or have diabetes, or whose immune system is suppressed) should refrain from attending large gatherings and that would include the 11am Mass on Sundays.

Bishop Dietsche has written to the clergy in the past few days:

“Bishops, priests and deacons of God…are called to a witness of strength, courage and faith, and to be a calm, non-anxious presence in times of fear. Our maintaining a normalcy about the common life of our church, and our presenting ourselves as unafraid and confident in God, may go a long way to reassuring our people and helping them, in the midst of uncertainty, to live in trust, confidence and hope. “On Christ the solid rock I stand; all other ground is shifting sand; all other ground is shifting sand.”

The Senior staff of the Church have met with the clergy and discussed our response to the current situation. The Standing Committee of the Vestry has met. Our response is likely to change again as the situation unfolds.

The Choir School is closing this weekend and the boys sang their last service for the time being on Thursday evening. It would seem irresponsible to keep them in our close-knit boarding environment when their families are spread all over the United States. Although COVID-19 does not seem to present itself (so far) as dangerous to children, if the adults who are looking after them were to become ill, we would have a serious problem. It seems best to send the choristers home to their families before the expected epidemic. (All Catholic and Jewish Schools, and many independent schools in our city are closing this weekend also). Arrangements are in place for distance-learning while the boys are at home.

We have thought long and hard about what we should do about our worship. We have discussed what our core mission is as an Episcopal Church on 5th Avenue. ‘To worship, love, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ’ is at the heart of our mission statement. Therefore, we feel that having open doors, a place of prayer and worship, and the availability of clergy to offer pastoral care and the sacraments is part of our duty of care as long as we can ensure that staff and parishioners alike are safe. I have been in close contact with the Bishop’s Office, the Rector’s of our local Episcopal Churches, and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.

From Sunday, we will have reduced opening hours to allow custodial staff to stagger their journeys in and avoid rush hours traffic. We will reduce the number of services significantly but we will aim to have one choral service webcast on a Sunday morning (we are exploring how we can video-cast that service in the event that we have to close our doors to all but a few staff). All external groups will be suspended, together with any social gatherings – coffee hours, senior lunches, etc. Adult education, study groups, Sunday School and Nursery will be suspended until further notice but we are investigating ways that we can continue certain education programs remotely. Staff who can work from home will, most likely, do so.

Three concerts have been cancelled or postponed; “Concerts at Saint Thomas” will be in touch with tickets holders in the coming days regarding the cancellations.

We feel that feeding the homeless is very important and so the soup kitchen will continue its ministry but we need your help as we have lost the regular involvement of our local High Schools and older volunteers (see below).

These are extraordinary times but your clergy and lay leaders want to ensure that you are cared for to the best of our ability, following the best advice, and keeping everyone safe. To worship, love, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ is part of our Anglican DNA and central to our mission as a parish. We have had epidemics before – some terrible ones where the loss of life was significant. The story of the ‘Martyrs of Memphis’ around the time of the yellow fever epidemic of 1878, however, is a story of the commitment of the Episcopal Church to its flock and to those in need; when others fled, the nuns and the priests, assisted by very few doctors, ministered to those who had yellow fever and especially the children who were orphaned. COVID-19 is not a disease like that and, so far, 85% of people worldwide who contract the disease have no or mild symptoms and of the 15% of those hospitalized, here in the United States, most will make a full recovery. Nevertheless, the spirit of the ‘Martyrs of Memphis’ is the same spirit of love and service that is at the heart of our mission statement.

If you do not feel able to attend worship – listen in on the webcast. If you do wish to worship, you may do so but be aware of the need to wash your hands, sit apart from others, refrain from hand-shaking etc. and use a tissue or elbow or arm (not your hand) if you suddenly sneeze or cough. If you have any cold or flu-like symptoms, please stay at home.

Holy Communion will be administered differently during this time; we will suspend communion at the altar rail so that people are not close to one another. For the time being, Communion will be under one kind – under the form of bread – and will be given at standing stations. Only the Celebrant will receive, symbolically for us all, from the cup. Remember that the Church teaches that we receive the benefits of full communion in ‘one kind’ only. However, you may also wish to make a spiritual communion with those who are participating at home via the webcast.

As I write this, I realize how things have changed in just a few days. We will let you know if anything else changes.

My colleagues and I are praying for you all; this Lent is truly a desert experience for many and, at the moment, we do not even know how we will be able to celebrate Holy Week – the jewel in the crown of the Saint Thomas Liturgical Tradition. However, be assured that our Church will remain open as an oasis of prayer for as long as it is safe and advisable to do so. We will continue to bear witness to the abiding presence of Jesus Christ who is our life and our health.

Affectionately, and on behalf of my colleagues,

Carl,
your priest and pastor.

O God, the creator and preserver of all mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts and conditions of men; that thou wouldest be pleased to make thy ways known unto them, thy saving health unto all nations. More especially we pray for thy holy Church universal; that it may be so guided and governed by thy good Spirit, that all who profess and call themselves Christians may be led into the way of truth, and hold the faith in unity of spirit, in the bond of peace, and in righteousness of life. Finally, we commend to thy fatherly goodness all those who are in any ways afflicted or distressed, in mind, body, or estate; especially those for affected by this current pandemic; that it may please thee to comfort and relieve them according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. And this we beg for Jesus Christ’s sake. Amen.

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Revised Schedule of Saint Thomas Church (as of March 14, 2020, 3:25PM)

Sunday Schedule for March 15

All public worship services have been suspended. The 11am Choral Mass will be webcast only and available on-demand.

Sunday Schedule for March 22

All public worship services have been suspended. The 11am Choral Mass will be webcast only and available on-demand.

Also suspended

All Coffee Hours
10am Theology Classes
Sunday School and Nursery Care
Guided Tours of our Church


Weekday Schedule from Monday, March 16

The Church will open Monday to Saturday 10 am to 11:45am and 1 to 4 pm

Monday to Friday:
12.00pm Shrine Prayers (Intercessions) and Mass will be a live webcast only.

Saturdays:
11.00am to 11.30am Confessions (or by appointment)
12.00pm Shrine Prayers (Intercessions) and Mass will be a live webcast only.


Until further notice, the following regular events are

Suspended

Sunday Nursery Care and Sunday School for Children
Sunday Theology Class on the Fifth Floor at 10am
All Sunday Coffee Hours
Sunday Prayers for Healing *(see note below)
Sunday Guided Tours after the 11am services
      
Weekday Masses at 8:00am
Weekday Masses and Choral Worship at 5:30 pm
Monday and Friday Lenten Study Groups at 12:45-2:00 pm
Tuesday Night Pilgrims’ Course at 6:30 pm
Wednesday Holy Hour at 11 am
Friday Stations of the Cross with Mass at 5:30 pm
All Support Groups and other outside organization meetings in the Parish House

Canceled

Easter Hat-making session after the 11am service on March 15Friends of Music Special Event on Wednesday, March 18
Joy-Leilani Garbutt Organ Recital on Saturday, March 14 at 3pm
C.P.E. Bach’s “The Last Sufferings of Christ” Concert on Thursday, March 26 at 7:30pm
“Keble College, Oxford at 150” Concert on Thursday, April 16 at 7:30pm[“Concerts at Saint Thomas” will be in touch with tickets holders in the coming days regarding the cancellations.]


*A Note about our healing ministry

It may seem odd to cancel our regular services that have the laying of hands, anointing of the sick, and prayer ministry. However, in response to CDC and the State medical authorities advice on social distancing, priests will be offering the sacramental rite of healing to those they visit who are sick or dying. Please note that all visitors, including families, are prohibited from visiting nursing homes and Assisted Facilities for Seniors except in grave circumstances. Please contact the clergy if you are sick or hospitalized.

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Saint Thomas Soup Kitchen Volunteers Requested

Due to the health precautions, several of our local students fulfilling community service hours have been advised to refrain from their various projects, including the Saint Thomas Soup Kitchen. Also, certain volunteers have health concerns or are part of age groups that are of higher risk. This leaves our Saturday morning feeding program short-staffed, which includes both pick-up and delivery of food for some of our most in-need neighbors.

If you are healthy and of lower-risk than others and you would be interested in serving in the Soup Kitchen for this Saturday morning, or a Saturday morning to come, please consider it. Any volunteers who desire to serve in this pivotal time are asked to first contact parishioner Frank Reinauer directly at (212) 249-4026, and he will coordinate and share more details.

This Saturday, our parish social worker, John Sheehan, will be available to train volunteers in sanitation and other protocols that he utilizes to serve those in need during this time of precaution.

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