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Rector's Chronicle

December 2007

Dearly Beloved in Christ,

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas, and has been, since Thanksgiving Day. But I have some stress-reducing news from the Church’s treasury of wisdom. Christmas, the very first day of Christmas, is December 25, not November 25. The New York season from Thanksgiving to Christmas is exciting, crowded and often frantic, but you can enjoy it in the secure knowledge that your cards and presents are not late until January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. You have Twelve Days of Christmas, which is only starting the very day many are putting out their trees for the trash collectors so they can get out of town. Not only that, most prices are better in Christmastide proper.

The Church’s beautiful, counter-cultural season of Advent, which we are nearly half-way through, provides resources to enjoy the ride from Thanksgiving to Christmas. It can be well summarized in the ancient hymn, “Rejoice, rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.” Indeed. For Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord, the Divine Word-made-flesh who has come to dwell among us, the Son of Man and Son of God whose life’s mission is to reconcile us to God.

The cultural, commercial, even family dimension of big holidays can be very hard for people. They can be hard if you are alone and lonely, and they can be hard if you are with family and others in difficult “command performances” and would rather be alone in peace. But the biblical realities that are celebrated are in fact a great solace and tonic to the soul, and this is what the Church has to offer us in Advent. For the most important Advent of all is the coming of Jesus Christ into our own lives as Savior, Lord and God, Guide, and Friend. If you attend to what the Church has to offer, your efforts will be rewarded, whatever your situation in life, young or old, solitary or surrounded, strong or infirm, rich or poor. May He who was born in the stable in Bethlehem and who died on Calvary for us be born anew in our hearts in this holy season.

THE EVERY MEMBER CANVASS

On Advent Sunday, I reported that the official, public phase of our 2008 Every Member Canvass (EMC) has gathered 483 pledges for a total of $1,046,673, which is nicely ahead of the paces of the two previous record-breaking Canvasses for 2006 and 2007. As the EMC committee does its work of raking and hoeing the ground for those whose pledges we expect but have not yet received, we hope for another 150 pledges and, we also hope, for a stretch to our goal of $1.5 million. I am very proud of our congregation for its response to our appeal. You know that our longer range goal is to lift annual pledging to a point where it represents twice its current proportion of our annual income; namely, to 25 percent. Can we stretch to $2.5 million by 2010? Why not? We believe in God, with whom nothing shall be impossible. Besides, even though it’s a stretch, I think it’s also reasonable – as “a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice” to God, which we say we offer every week in the Eucharistic Prayer.

Special thanks are due to Kari and Lucky Gold and Jeffrey Wentling, our EMC co-chairs, as well as to Colin Fergus, the chairman of the Vestry’s Canvass and Development Committee, and to all the EMC committee members and other workers, for their spirited and imaginative efforts, and hard work, on behalf of the Canvass. They tell me that the analysis of the EMC returns is most encouraging, particularly in the growth of the category of Leadership Donors, those who contribute $5,000 and above. I will report to you on this, both in the Sunday leaflets and in the next Rector’s Chronicle. It bodes well for other, capital, fund raising efforts in the future.

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

My previous sentence leads our thoughts naturally to the scaffolding which has been appearing over the clerestory windows on the north side of the church. I must say that so far the scaffolding is remarkably unobtrusive to worship down in the chancel and nave, which is due to the care and guidance of the Stained Glass Window committee and our consultant Julie Sloan. I heard from many how helpful the illustrated issue of Saint Thomas Life was on this subject. [A picture is indeed worth a thousand words.]

The bill for this stained glass work in the end will be immense, in the tens or very likely twenties of millions of dollars. We are under two imperatives. We must restore our stained glass; and we cannot afford to pay for this restoration from our current invested funds. We are arranging a line of credit on which to draw in order to pay for the project as it begins, understanding that we must raise the funds for the project – i.e., we must embark on a capital funds drive. The Vestry has recently received a Feasibility Study by the firm Graham Pelton, with an eye to this very imperative, and I am glad to tell you that we are optimistic about the prospects of a capital funds drive. So you will be hearing from us, and the best way to put it is “in due course.”

In the meantime, I have a prayer for you. It was drafted by Father Austin and adopted by the Vestry in Eastertide 2005. I say it as I recite my Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer and read it before every Vestry Meeting. “Almighty God, who alone workest great marvels, and who hast called us to the mission of thy church in Saint Thomas Parish: We beseech thee to sustain our church and choir school with the financial resources to continue in true fidelity in this sacred mission; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” Please, will you join me in this prayer, and by God’s wondrous grace and the “reasonable, holy and living” generosity of our donors, it will come true.

LEARNING IN CANTERBURY

Nancy and I took an Anglican Heritage Study Pilgrimage in October with The Friends of Canterbury Cathedral in the United States, spending four days in Normandy and then four days within the precincts of Canterbury Cathedral, led by the Canons and the Dean, our friend Robert Willis, of Canterbury. Not least in interest were lectures by the supervisors and tours of the two on-site works for Stone and Stained Glass at the great cathedral. Their stained glass, unlike ours, is in some places nearly one millennium old, especially the windows telling the miracles of the Martyr Saint Thomas Becket; but like ours, those same windows require restoration work about once a century. The difference is ours are just nearing the completion of their first, rather than their ninth, century! What struck me is how a cathedral is an organic thing, nearly alive physically, its materials in constant need of renewal; just as are the congregations of people who worship within them in need of renewal, those “living stones” who comprise the spiritual house of the Lord. (I Peter 2:4ff)

Canterbury Cathedral needs, among other things, a new lead roof. They are on a campaign to raise fifty million pounds – that’s $100 million. It’s good to be in such good company and to have such historic perspective on our own challenges at Saint Thomas.

VESTRY MEMBERS HONORED

The past six months have seen three Vestry members recognized and honored for generosity and achievement. Last May, Bill Miller, the chairman of the Music Committee, was thanked as the major donor for the William R. and Irene D. Miller Recital Hall at the Manhattan School of Music, which held a gala reception and inaugural concert in the beautiful space. Bill is a strong supporter of the Saint Thomas music program and of Maestro John Scott. I particularly owe Bill thanks for his support within the Rector’s Advisory Search Committee in the effort which succeeded in bringing John Scott from Saint Paul’s Cathedral, London to Saint Thomas in 2004. I trust you will say Amen to that, and join me in being grateful to Bill for this and many other gifts and blessings. Most recently, Bill has given the leading gift toward a fund that will allow the commissioning of new choral works for the Church that stand in the great Anglican musical tradition and allow Saint Thomas to be the matrix of new compositions.

Senior Warden Bill Wright was honored by his alma mater Yale on October 19 as a major donor, one of the few to date from the Yale classes of the 1980s and forward and the first African American Yale alumnus to join those archangelic ranks of generosity. Bill was the highlighted speaker at a party attended by over 1,000 students, professors, administrators and employees for the opening of the Wright Reading Room in the new underground Bass Library at Yale. In a lead article in the October 22, 2007, issue of The New York Sun, headlined “New Face of Philanthropy is Highlight of Yale Fete,” Bill was quoted saying words to warm the heart: “Everyone thinks libraries don’t matter anymore, with the Internet and so on, but let me wish you all one thing: that in the Bass Library you will find wisdom and judgment to solve the great problems of the world,” a statement greeted with cheers. The President of Yale said, “Bill Wright is one of Yale’s most devoted supporters. He has a deep appreciation of the transforming power of education, and his support for Yale’s libraries comes straight from the heart.” To which I would add, so does his unstinting support for Saint Thomas, whose Rector, Vestry and people may well thank God for Bill’s good stewardship as Warden.

Jon Meacham, the Editor of Newsweek, best-selling author and a public intellectual of national repute, was honored twice this fall. In November he received the Walter Cronkite Award from the Inter- Faith Alliance at a gala banquet for his book, American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers and the Making of a Nation and other writing on religion in the public sphere. More recently and meaningfully to us at Saint Thomas, Jon was one of four honorees at the Episcopal Charities Annual Tribute Dinner, Monday, December 3, attended by over forty enthusiastic Saint Thomas people, not least the Wardens and Vestry themselves. It was an honor to introduce him to the assembly. Episcopal Charities, which raised over $1 million for the first time through this annual banquet, cited Jon for his writing and speaking on subjects of politics, international affairs, religion, race, and American history; for his interest and commitment to young people, and for his visible expression of faith and life in the Diocese and beyond. Here at Saint Thomas, of course, we appreciate Jon and his wife Keith (who are in their thirties), and their children Sam, Mary and “X” due in the spring. The Meachams, as Jon has said, are “creature(s) of the 9 o’clock mass – you know, the one God comes to – part of a hardy but distinct minority – the early Christians, as we call ourselves.” His wit has kept the Vestry laughing at needful times, and his wisdom has always been timely and succinct. I am grateful to the Lord to be able to call on this wise, brilliant young man for his advice. We’re proud of these three Vestry members, as well we might be. Bravo to each of them.

DOCTOR SCOTT

John Scott received the degree of Doctor of Music, honoris causa, from Nashotah House Theological Seminary at the seminary’s Fall Convocation, Friday, November 9. So now our Maestro may be referred to as Doctor Scott, and the letters D.Mus. may follow his name as they do now in our Sunday leaflets. You may notice John rotating his beloved Cambridge B.Mus. hood with his new doctoral hood. Nashotah’s Professor of Church Music, Joseph Kucharski, initiated this worthy gesture nearly two years ago. As a trustee of Nashotah House since 1987, it was a pleasure for me to hear the citation of Maestro’s achievements and to realize from that fresh perspective what a titan he is in his field. The evening before the Convocation, John treated the seminary to a recital – Buxtehude – which was warmly appreciated. Congratulations, Doctor Scott.

Nashotah House in 1985 awarded Gerre Hancock the D.Mus., honoris causa. “The House,” as it is called by its graduates, is the historic Anglo-Catholic seminary in the Episcopal Church, dating from the days of the Oxford Movement in England (1833-1845). It was founded in 1842 by intrepid missionaries, including the Episcopal Church’s first Missionary Bishop, Jackson Kemper, on the shore of Upper Nashotah Lake, thirty miles west of Milwaukee in what was at the time almost a wilderness (now upscale exurbs). Still referred to locally by old-timers as The Mission, Nashotah House is the oldest institution of higher learning in Wisconsin, predating statehood. Our Rector emeritus Canon John Andrew was once a trustee of Nashotah. Both he and I have received from Nashotah House the Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa. Father Stafford is a graduate of The House, as is Bishop Grein, who was also a professor there. The students at Nashotah House have an annual football game with Seabury-Western Theological Seminary, Evanston, Illinois (whose Dean for 14 years was none other than our Bishop Sisk). The contest, I believe, is called The Lavabo Bowl. Get it? (If you don’t: Lavabo, Latin for “I shall wash,” is the name of the little silver bowl used for the celebrant of the mass to wash his hands just before the Sursum Corda – “Lift up your hearts,” etc.)

CHRISTMAS…AND EASTER!

A great Christmas present would be the new CD of Handel’s Messiah arranged by Mozart, which was recorded live here at Saint Thomas last December by our Choir of Men and Boys with distinguished soloists and the Concert Royal orchestra. The recording has been re-mastered to meet the highest standards of excellence, and it comes in a beautiful 2-disc set with a booklet of program notes by John Scott, pictures of the choir and soloists, and the oratorio’s full text. You may purchase the recording at the Bookstore, or online at our secure website, www.SaintThomasChurch.org, or in our Music Office at One West 53rd Street during regular business hours. Our Christmas services and concerts are listed online and in printed schedules available at the church. Our Sunday leaflets are online as well each week, not to mention our increasingly popular webcasts of choral services. We hear constantly how much people appreciate this service of outreach.

Looking ahead into 2008, our guest preacher at the Choral Eucharist and Choral Evensong for Sunday, January 20, in the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity is Dr. Royal W. Rhodes, Professor of Religion at Kenyon College. Dr. Rhodes, a Roman Catholic layman, author of several books and a distinguished teacher who has been honored by the students of Kenyon, was a classmate of mine at Yale Divinity School. He has a great knowledge of the Episcopal/Anglican tradition. I remind you that Easter is March 23, the earliest it has been since 1913. We have an eminent educator and priest as our preacher for the Good Friday Three Hours – the Rev’d Dr. F. Washington (Tony) Jarvis, Headmaster emeritus of the nation’s oldest private school, The Roxbury Latin School in West Roxbury and Priest Associate at the Parish of All Saints Ashmont, Boston, where I served as curate from 1975 through 1978 and first met Tony as he was beginning his great tenure as Headmaster at “RL”.

May Our Lord bless you with a joyous celebration of his Nativity. Merry Christmas.

Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead