Dearly Beloved in Christ,
When I last wrote to you in my September Rector’s Chronicle, I described the turning of an exciting new chapter in our parish’s long and glorious history, a time “of ever more spectacular and moving music, of deeper personal connections among the sundry worshippers who come to our altar, and of renewed vigor in our missionary work in the world outside the grand doors which open onto Fifth Avenue.” The commencement of ministries by “a few new faces in familiar roles, and a few familiar faces in new roles” has brought new leadership within every major department of our mission and ministry, and the good results are showing.
MUSIC AND MAESTRO SCOTT
John Scott’s first fall season has begun very well and is not yet over. His adaptations in the Choral Eucharists and Evensongs, both on Sundays and weekdays, have been well received. With just six weeks under his belt with the Choir, he and they gave a splendid concert of Mozart and Haydn to a large and enthusiastic crowd October 26. Two weeks later on Sunday, November 14, he treated a large congregation, which included former British Prime Minister John Major, to an inspiring rendition of the Faure Requiem. As I write this, we are beginning the beauties of the Advent season, for which John has several variations planned. Check your music schedule for these delights.
Our new Director of Music, following upon Maestro Emeritus Dr. Hancock’s 33 years of distinction and excellence, has given the music of Saint Thomas a new life, building upon his predecessor’s work while giving his own decisive leadership and spirit, a lead and a spirit which are obviously felt not only in the Music Department, the Gentlemen of the Choir, the Boys and the Choir School, but in the wider congregation and community. This is no small achievement. Not the least part of John’s success so far has been the assistance of Jeremy Bruns and Christian Lane. We are still only at the beginning, but it is a very good beginning, full of exciting promise for what lies ahead at the very heart of Saint Thomas’ mission “to worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.”
SCHOOL AND FATHER WALLACE
There is no doubt that the Choir School got off to a good start this fall under the leadership of our new Headmaster, the Rev’d Charles Wallace. Succeeding the good seven years’ work of Headmaster Emeritus Gordon Roland-Adams (GRA), Father Wallace has instituted some new procedures and disciplines, begun some new initiatives, made some staff shifts, and generally taken good charge of the Choir School. He continues to fulfill the call to keep the Church and Choir School close, to support the ministry of the Director of Music, and to be the strong guardian of the nurture, education and welfare of the boys. His leadership and spirit are reflected in the faculty and staff. Father Wallace has also quickly made important connections within the network of private schools, including the New York State Association of Independent Schools and the National Association of Episcopal Schools.
On Wednesday November 24, the eve of Thanksgiving Day, Father Wallace and I hosted a special farewell dinner for GRA at the Choir School. It was, at GRA’s request, an evening for him to be with the boys and the alumni of his seven years as Headmaster, as well as the faculty and staff of the school. To repeat my own words on that happy occasion, GRA led us through a challenging period of transition like a champion. He was indispensable to the recovery of the Choir School’s core mission, and we owe him a great debt of thanks.
Our new Executive Director of Administration, Barbara Pettus, has made a fine start as well, and has experienced “total immersion” in the preparation of our 2005 Budget. The Church and Choir School staff, as well as the Wardens and Vestry, join me in deep appreciation of the difference she has already made in our business management. Her competence and expertise, her hard work, and her positive and kindly spirit are being felt to good effect. I am glad and grateful to have her with us.
STEWARDSHIP AND PARISH LIFE
Three good developments have taken place this fall, thanks to the initiative and work of volunteering parishioners. First, the October 22 “Loaves and Fishes” evening was by all accounts a great success. I believe it was unprecedented at Saint Thomas, and many who thought such an evening could not work, changed their tunes to praise and appreciation. Thanks go to all who hosted dinners either at their homes or in restaurants, to Jo Brans and Annette Butner (who has just moved away with her family to California) and all the committee who helped them. The coming together at the end of the evening for dessert at the church was a grand finale, and thanks to John Scott and the Gentlemen of the Choir for making the finale a choral one.
Second and closely related to “Loaves and Fishes,” thanks to Colin Fergus and Linda Ketchum, Co-chairs, and to their Every Member Canvass committee and workers for the success so far with the 2005 Canvass for the Church and Choir School. We are still in the follow-up phase into the new year, but so far we are ahead of last year, both in what has been pledged and the numbers of pledges. This is a good achievement in a year of such large transitions as we have been experiencing in all areas of our life, but we must keep pressing on. My stated goal of $1 million has yet to be reached. As the Senior Warden’s letter to the parish put it so forcefully, we really need $2.5 million in pledges. I am deeply grateful to all those of you who have pledged, but we need everyone to pledge, whatever the amount, and we need everyone to be sacrificially generous. Is it wrong to dream? Not if we dream with the Lord. So let’s dream: If all our people were to tithe (that is, give ten percent), we not only would have no deficit and ensure our own mission, but we could give far more away outside the parish to other worthy ministries and missions who need our help. If you have not pledged to Saint Thomas, please considering doing so. Pledge cards are constantly available at church in the Narthex and the Parish House. Thanks again for all who have already responded to the call for stewardship; and remember that our pledges are to the Lord through Saint Thomas.
Third, after several years of anticipation, a photographic Saint Thomas Newsletter will have appeared by the time you receive this Chronicle. Thanks go to our editor John Shannon and those writers and photographers and staff members and other volunteers (not least, those who stuff envelopes) who assisted. The newsletter will be a welcome illustrator of the human interest side of parish life at the Church and Choir School. The next issue will appear in the winter after the new year; following that, spring and summer.
I am gratified to tell you that one of the best and most beloved priests of his generation, the Rev’d Richard Cornish Martin, joins us as part time Assisting Priest at Saint Thomas this December. This is the spot vacated by Father Stafford, who as Pastor is, to say the least, working full time for us (more on that in a moment). Father Martin has had more than forty years of distinguished ministry as a parish priest and rector, notably as former Rector of St. Paul’s Church K Street in Washington DC, as well as Rector of St. George’s Church in the nation’s capital. Father Martin, who was for three years Priest-in-Charge in the interim following my departure as Rector of the Church of the Advent, Boston, is 68 years old and continues as a kind of “dean” among Anglo-Catholic rectors. His call here is based on our mutual recognition of his priestly gifts, principally for Saint Thomas to have the blessing of his presence – in celebration of said and sung masses on Sundays and weekdays, occasional preaching, occasional pastoral visits, and presence at choral services and parish events. Father Martin will reside in an apartment in the Choir School.
I am also very pleased to tell you that, beginning in February, the Rev’d Victor Lee Austin will join us as our Theologian-in-residence. Father Austin, a priest of our Diocese who served from 1989 to 2003 as Rector of the Church of the Resurrection, Hopewell Junction, has been Assistant Professor in the Department of Religious Studies, Philosophy, and Theology at Mount Aloysius College, Cresson, Pennsylvania, for the past year and a half. Father Austin, a graduate of St. John’s College in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and The General Theological Seminary, earned his Ph.D. in theology from Fordham University in 2002.
Father Austin, whose interests are wide-ranging but whose particular focus (and doctoral dissertation) is in Christian ethics, is the author of numerous scholarly articles and monographs. He is a member of several professional and scholarly societies, including The Anglican Society, and he recently stepped down as editor of that society’s fine magazine, The Anglican. One excellent small book of his, A Priest’s Journal, was published by the Church Publishing Company in 2001 and is a series of moving, readable vignettes from daily parish life; it is now available in our parish’s Bookstore.
Father Austin’s call is based on our mutual recognition of his priestly gifts as a theologian, a teacher, and a writer. He will share the full-time priestly ministry with me, Father Stafford and Father Bodie, taking his part in the celebration of said and sung masses, preaching, and, particularly, teaching and overseeing the program of theological education for adults. Victor Austin is 48 years old. He and his wife Susan, who is a survivor of a cancerous brain tumor, have two grown children, Michael and Emily. Father and Mrs. Austin will occupy an apartment in the Choir School building. I have admired Father Austin for several years, and my appreciation for him is strongly seconded by Professor Robert Wright, Bishop Grein and Bishop Sisk. I look forward to his coming, and I believe he and his wife will make a most gracious addition to our life in the Saint Thomas Church and Choir School family.
In due course, I intend to call a still younger priest to fill the spot vacated by Father Wallace, so that we may have a Youth Minister at the Church and a Chaplain at the Choir School to build up the fellowship of our younger members. In just one year, Father Wallace proved how this work can be achieved by the right leader.
Before I quit the subject of clergy, I need to say some appreciative words about Father Stafford’s new work as our full time Pastor, whose full time presence is a great blessing in our life. Robert Stafford has more than lived up to his billing as Pastor, and he is only beginning. His pastoral visiting and care has made itself strongly felt, and his gifts of orderly procedure and follow-through are having a very good effect, not only on parishioners but also on his fellow clergy and staff members. I have valued Robert as a colleague since his days as part-time with us, but having him full time has made an enormous difference. His thorough knowledge of the parish (twenty years’ worth), his wisdom and good counsel are priceless. And he retains his sparkling wit and sense of humor. Thank God for him!
Special thanks go to retiring Vestry Members Kazie Harvey and Michael Margolin for six years of service, particularly for Kazie’s chairmanship of the Choir School Committee and Michael’s chairmanship of the Building Committee; these were difficult challenges well met and hard work well done…. Thanks to Verger pro tempore Max Henderson-Begg, for a very good first six months…. Thank the Lord, my pilgrim wife Nancy, having walked over 600 miles in 40 days from Seville to Santiago, Spain, is back; and we will announce an evening after the new year when she will make a presentation on her fascinating walk…. By the time you receive this, we will probably have enjoyed the Sunday School Christmas Pageant on Sunday, December 12 at 1 p.m., but it isn’t too late to thank Marilyn Heineman, our Sunday School Director, and all who made it possible…. On Sunday, January 23, within the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, our special guest preacher at both 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. will be The Rev’d Dr. David Bartlett, Academic Dean of Yale Divinity School. Dean Bartlett is a most accomplished preacher…. I am nearly out of writing space, but first let me wish you all a most blessed and joyous Christmas.
Faithfully your Priest and Rector,
Andrew C. Mead