The Associate Rector’s Message for the Week of August 29, 2021

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Father Matthew Moretz (photo credit: Alan Barnett)

Dear Friends,

A Solemn Requiem Mass was celebrated at Saint Thomas Church this Friday. The service was in thanksgiving for a person who was not a member of Saint Thomas, but who was a member of Saint James the Less in Scarsdale. This gentleman died unexpectedly and his family’s priest, the Rector Emeritus of Saint James the Less, reached out to us, desiring a more central location than Westchester County, as well as a service that he felt could live up to the expectations of the deceased, one who appreciated liturgy and fine arts.

Our guest, Father Newcomb, was able to broadly participate in the service, preaching and giving the commendation, which I know was a deep comfort to the family. This service was especially graced by the full breadth of the artistry of Dr. Filsell and six Gentlemen of the Choir, who sang a mass setting by Antonio Lotti. The deceased had been a Marine, so a trumpeter with delicate and clear notes played “Taps” at the close of the service. There were also bagpipes ready outside for the transmission of the body to the hearse. Not only was the church considerably occupied for the service, friends and family in the UK and beyond were able to participate in the service through our live webcast.

After the service, while greeting the family and all those who came to worship and pay their respects, there was a great deal of gratitude for the beauty and solemnity of the mass. One of my favorite comments was a family member who said that “small town people know how to appreciate a service like this more than people in the city.” Unexpected, but I think there is something to that!

I got the sense from some that they were surprised, or perhaps relieved, that the service went so well. And after reflecting a bit, I realized that not a single person who came to the service was a part of our parish. Everyone there was a guest, and so there was some suspense as to how it would all go. I’m grateful that we exceeded their expectations.

This happens semi-regularly. A truly magnificent service will happen at Saint Thomas Church, as grand as they come, our worship at its best, and it will be 99% guests, with only the clergy and staff and the occasional Usher or two to witness the event from the membership of the parish. Friday’s service was an especially stark example of this. There is something powerful about this particular dynamic of parish life, that a parish can serve the community even if there don’t happen to be any parishioners present at all! It reminds me of Christ’s enigmatic teaching “when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what they right hand doeth” (Matthew 6:3). Or I think of all those carvings in those Gothic buildings that are so hidden that only the cleaners will see them every year, or less.

There is so much to the life of our parish that is not obvious at all, or even hidden. With all that transpires, no one person can experience Saint Thomas Church, that goes for the clergy, too. One could call it “mysterious,” but one could also consider it to be the character of all good things, always a mixture of the physical and the spiritual, the present and the timeless, the seen and the unseen.

Yes, we are now able to see details of the church we had never seen before in 4K close-up, and we are able to participate in services that we would have never before been able to attend. But, even if we had a thousand cameras broadcasting from our services to every screen on earth, there would still be more to be revealed with God’s grace. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote in “Le Petit Prince,” “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

With every blessing,

Matthew Moretz+