Last Saturday, when I celebrated mass on Saint James’ Day, there were 13 people in the Chantry Chapel and a further 23 on-line. I have to say that it has been a delight to worship with parishioners again and it is so good to know that our daily mass attendance has not dropped through the Pandemic.
Just before I wrote this message, I was reading an article by Professor Andrew McGowan, Dean of Berkeley Divinity School, and a great friend of our parish in which he reflects on the hasty advice of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, early in the Pandemic, forbidding the clergy from even praying on their own in their church buildings. He comments on the importance of ‘place’ and, certainly, that resonates with many of the emails and letters we have received saying how important it has been to ‘see our beloved Saint Thomas Church.’ Of that situation in England, McGowan says this:
“Many worshippers, not just clergy, wanted to be connected with the spaces and places that meant so much to them. Members of the Church were now being offered alternative forms of prayer and worship, via technologies not always familiar or welcome, centered on clergy whose faces which had become personal avatars of worship. Without the context of stone and wood that spoke of a larger reality than personality or family, and reminded them of a past and future beyond the challenging present, this personalized corporate worship as never before.”
You can read the rest of the article on our website.
That ‘larger reality’ spoke powerfully to me. It has been a blessing over the past four months to pray in our beautiful sanctuary which Fr. John Andrew described as ‘bringing me to my knees’ when he first entered.
We are currently finalizing our plans to re-open for Sunday worship in September. The good news is that the work on the air-conditioning plant is now complete and due to be commissioned very shortly.
Another remarkable statistic is that last Sunday, we had 1150 people at mass! That is extraordinary for the last Sunday in July, as many of you will know who have spent the summer here in New York. Adam MacDonald and Blake Martin shared with the Vestry this week, plans to engage with this growing number of on-line worshippers and supporters going forward.
I have some lovely news to share with you all. Sr. Promise has returned from her retreat and the Bishop’s Office have agreed that she can continue in September based at Saint Thomas and be ordained a priest in March 2021. I know from many emails that I have received, that many of you have valued her depth of spirituality. Back in January, following a silent retreat, I received this email from a parishioner:
“Sister Promise is truly a gift from God! Today’s Silent Retreat was transformative – I can’t get it out of my mind, and it changed me. I thanked her in person, but it is also important for you to know how important this experience was for me and for the other attendees. Oh, how I wish such a retreat might be held many times a year!”
I often say that Saint Thomas Church is a gift to the City of New York – an oasis of prayer for midtown Manhattan. At a time when many churches are criticized for abandoning their traditions, I think it is a wonderful thing that prayer, opening the scriptures, and music are still at the heart of what we attempt to do as we make community at Saint Thomas. I have read with deep sadness about the closing down of Sheffield Cathedral Choir in the UK. The reasons given were to do with the demographic plurality of the city of Sheffield and the need to do something more ‘relevant.’ Here at Saint Thomas, we know the transformative nature of music and, in particular, how making music in community changes children’s lives.
With York Minster also suddenly closing its Choir School for financial reasons and moving the choristers’ education to another provider, it makes me more determined than ever to celebrate the vitality of our own Choir School and to tell its story to everyone I meet. York’s first Choir School was founded by Saint Paulinus in 627 but the current school was re-founded in 1903, six years after T. Tertius Noble was appointed Organist, and sixteen years before he founded our own Choir School; it is the end of an era. So, here’s a little thing that you can do while we still have the Pandemic around us – tell the story of our Choir School and our musical tradition to a friend or colleague this coming week.
Going back to being an oasis of prayer, I am writing this on the feast day of Ignatius Loyola. Ignatius remains one of the great mystics of the Church and his Spiritual Exercises have become universally acknowledge as a means of deepening one’s faith and prayer-life. People of all church traditions have benefited from them – they deepen our awareness of the scriptures; they help us reflect on where God is present in our lives even when we are in a time of doubt, anxiety, or even despair. So, in the week ahead, here is a prayer of Saint Ignatius that you might find helpful:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)