FROM THE RECTOR: CHRISTMAS MEMORIES
My brother called a little less than twenty minutes before the 5:00 PM service on Christmas Eve. He was calling to tell me that our father had just died. My father had had pneumonia and had been in the hospital for the last couple of weeks, much of that time in the intensive care unit. He was eighty-two years old, born in 1932 on what, twelve years later, would become D-Day, June 6. Ralph and I only talked for a few minutes. It occurred to me that if I didn't share the news right away, I would be able to preside and preach at the Mass-and that's what I did.
After the service I told Jay Smith what had happened, just in case I couldn't make it through the 11:00 PM service. But I did. I felt upheld by my faith, by the active practice of my religion. It seemed right to me to be in church. Going to church with my parents forms part of my earliest memories, including some great Christmas memories.
One of my favorite Christmas memories remains Christmas in 1966. That summer we had moved to Chantilly, Virginia, from Virginia Beach, Virginia, to a new suburban development in western Fairfax County, then still surrounded by farms. A few months later, my mother's brother, Lawrence Matthews, and his family moved to Vienna, Virginia, also in Fairfax County, to become pastor of Vienna Baptist Church.
In 1966 it snowed a lot on Christmas Eve in Fairfax. (And thanks to the internet, I'm delighted to find my memory is correct. I have no memory of snow for Christmas in Norfolk or Virginia Beach.) We went through the snow to my aunt Jean and uncle Lawrence's house for dinner with them and their four kids. Then we went to the Christmas Eve service at Lawrence's church. I was twelve, my sister Donna was nine, and Ralph had just turned seven. It was the first Christmas when Santa Claus did not visit during the night.
For whatever reason, my parents had not put up a tree. But on the drive home, they decided we would get one and put one up. They finally found a place where we could still purchase one. It was covered with snow. I think it went in the trunk. Dad was driving slowly anyway because of the weather. I remember the fun of getting the snow off before it was brought inside-and then the fun of getting it decorated at the last minute. Presents were opened before we went to bed. There was a lot of grace and love that night, and no Christmas ever passes without me being thankful for it.
"Hark! the herald angels sing" became my favorite Christmas hymn at some point while I was serving as rector in Michigan City, Indiana. I'm sure I've heard it all my life, but its words and its great text by Charles Wesley (1707-1788), took on new meaning for me while serving as the rector, that is, the pastor, of the congregation. In those Indiana years I learned I was the priest because I was the pastor, not the pastor because I was the priest. I realized Christmas was all about Easter. Here are the last two lines of the hymn from The Hymnal 1940, which, thanks to word-processing technology, we still use at Saint Mary's:
Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing glory to the new-born King!
(Gentle rant: The final words in The Hymnal 1982 are "hail, the heaven-born Prince of Peace!" The references to Easter are buried earlier in the revision. There's nothing wrong with that theologically, but the reordering misses the clear emphasis of the traditional text, the point of it all: Easter.)
As I write on Friday morning, I'm uncertain about the plans for my father's funeral. I am going, as I had planned before Christmas, to New England to see my family there. Please remember my father, Stephen, in your prayers, my stepmother June, my sister Donna, my brother Ralph, and me in your prayers. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day were wonderful in so many ways for me. With joy and faith, Merry Christmas. —Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Gerald, Linda, Penny, David, Rosa, Adam, Eric, Maureen, Peter, Barbara, John, Francesca, Pauline, McNeil, Takeem, Rick, Arpene, Anthony, Vanessa, Babak, Mazdak, Paulette, priest, Harry, priest, Edgar, priest, and Stephen, priest; for all the members of our Armed Forces on active duty; and for the repose of the souls of Stephen Shea Gerth, Sr., and William Wackerman . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . December 28: 1904 Mary Sturgenegger; 1923 Ethel Forline Lascelle; 1940 Anita Boos; 1953 Martha May Lewis; 1956 Julia H. Early.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . William Wackerman, the father of Dan Wackerman, died on December 21, at the age of eighty-six. Dan and his partner Kevin are great friends of Saint Mary's and often worship with us on Sundays . . . Stephen Shea Gerth, Sr., the father of our rector, Stephen Gerth, died on December 24. He was eighty-two years old. Please keep William, Stephen, Dan, Father Gerth, their families, and all who mourn in your prayers.
THE COMPLETE SCHEDULE FOR THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS and the Epiphany has been posted on the parish webpage.
THANK YOU . . . Although there was one more day between the Fourth Sunday of Advent and Christmas Eve than there was last year, still, as always, Saint Mary's was abuzz with activity during the days before Christmas. We are so grateful to all those who gave of their time, talent, and treasure during this very busy time of year. Your prayerfulness, generosity, good spirits, artistry, creativity, hard work, patience, and kindness to all those whom you welcomed into the church are one of the great graces of this holy season here at the parish and we thank you. —Stephen Gerth & Jay Smith
THE FRIDAYS OF THE CHRISTMAS SEASON are not observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord. Friday abstinence returns beginning on the first Friday after the Epiphany, January 9, 2015.
2014 DONATIONS . . . The rules regarding the recording of donations at the end of the year are complicated. Generally speaking, donations, including cash gifts must be received in the finance office before we close at 2:00 PM on Wednesday, December 31, or be postmarked by US Mail on December 31 to qualify as a deduction for 2014 tax purposes. Likewise, gifts of stock must be received in the church's investment account by December 31, 2014. Please consult a tax professional as appropriate if needed. For stock-transfer instructions or other questions, e-mail Aaron Koch or call him at (212) 869-5830, ext. 14.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between Anthony Marcantuono and Vanessa Tarantino of North Arlington, New Jersey. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the second time of asking. —S.G.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Sunday, December 28, 5:00 PM, A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service is preceded by an organ recital at 4:40 PM that will be played by Ruaraidh Sutherland, organist and director of music at Christ's Church, Rye, New York . . . The church will close at 2:00 PM on New Year's Eve, Wednesday, December 31, because of the celebrations in Times Square . . . Thursday, January 1, is the Feast of the Holy Name: Sung Mass 11:00 AM. The church will open at 10:00 AM and close at 2:00 PM . . . Confessions are not heard except by appointment during the Christmas season . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will not meet on December 31 or on January 7 . . . Confessions will be heard on January 10 by Father Jay Smith.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Parishioner Gerald McKelvey had surgery at Mount Sinai Hospital just before Christmas. He remains at Mount Sinai, where he continues to recuperate. David Conrad, the partner of Deacon Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, had surgery last week. He is now at home. Parishioner Penny Allen continues to recuperate after several surgical procedures. Please keep Gerald, David, Penny, and their families, in your prayers . . . José Vidal has begun to hand off most of the responsibility for feast-day receptions to Brenda Morgan and Chris LaCass. Brenda and Chris organized the reception and provided hospitality on December 8. Please speak to Brenda or Chris, if you would like to volunteer for this important ministry . . . Flowers are needed for Sunday, January 18, and for two Sundays the following month, February 8 and 15 . . . We also hope to receive donations to defray the costs of the reception following the Solemn Mass on Candlemas, February 2. If you would like to make a donation, please contact Aaron Koch in the parish office . . . As this issue of the newsletter goes to press, it appears that Father Gerth will be in the office on Monday, December 29. He will then travel back to Maine on Tuesday morning, December 30, in order to attend a viewing and his father's funeral. He will then return to New York on Wednesday, December 31, following the funeral . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 228; Christmas Eve 555; Christmas Day 168.
CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . The adult-education class will not meet on December 28, or January 4, 11, or 18 . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class will meet again on Wednesday, January 14, 2015 . . . The Sunday-morning, adult-education class will resume on January 25. Parishioner Mary Robison will teach a two-part series (January 25 and February 1) on Women's Ministries in the Episcopal Church. The first class, on January 25, will focus on the work and ministry of deaconesses. ("Following the example of German Lutherans in the early nineteenth century, and later of English Anglicans, during 1885-1970 almost five hundred Episcopal women were 'set apart' as deaconesses to care for 'the sick, the afflicted, and the poor.' The 1889 General Convention passed a canon on deaconesses that recognized their ministry. This canon reflected the influence of Mary Abbot Emery and William Reed Huntington." See the website of the Episcopal Church for more information-and come to Mary's class! Mary is an archivist and librarian at the General Theological Seminary. Here at the parish she serves in a number of ways. Among other things, she serves as an usher, a reader, and as the secretary of the Board of Trustees. —Jay Smith
STEWARDSHIP 2015. . . As of Wednesday, December 24, we have received pledges from 139 households. $380,133.00, 89.4% of our $425,000.00 goal has been pledged to date. The months of December and January are a crucial time for the pledge campaign. Because the Budget Committee will be meeting soon to draw up a budget for 2015, we would like to receive all of our pledges by mid-January at the latest. If you are planning to make a pledge, but are not yet sure of your financial situation for 2015, we suggest that you make a conservative estimate and then submit a pledge card. You can always make adjustments during the coming year. Our business manager, Aaron Koch, would be happy to assist you with any adjustments. —J.R.S.
VISIT THE GIFT SHOP . . . Be sure to visit the Saint Mary's gift shop over the holidays. We will be providing a gift-wrapping service on Sundays after the 11:00 AM service for a donation of $5 for each gift wrapped. A selection of paper and ribbon will be provided-while supplies last! Gift items for sale include t-shirts, coffee mugs, CDs, jewelry, rosaries, art work, and books. We also have post cards, Christmas cards, and cards for many occasions. We look forward to seeing you. —Dexter Baksh
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Healey Willan (1888-1968), was an English-born composer and organist who, upon immigrating to Canada, became a pivotal figure at the University of Toronto, and in time came to be known as the dean of Canadian composers. During his lifetime, he wrote fourteen Missae breves, and a wide array of choral motets, hymns, and anthems. The setting of the Mass on Sunday morning is the fourth of Willan's set of "short Masses" and is based on the Christmas sequence, Corde natus ex parentis (the tune Divinum mysterium is in our hymnal at number82). Willan believed that the Gloria in excelsis Deo was a primary hymn of praise, and that it should always be sung by both congregation and choir and not by the choir alone. None of his fourteen Missae breves, therefore, include a Gloria. In keeping with Willan's wishes, we will be singing the Gloria in excelsis from the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena, a congregational setting written during the years Willan served the great Anglo-catholic Church of Saint Mary Magdalene in Toronto. This was the "preferred" congregational setting in the Hymnal 1940, and is one which many of us learned from our earliest years in the Episcopal Church. At the ministration of Holy Communion we will hear an old Basque carol in the form of a lullaby as arranged by the great English composer and conductor, David Willcocks (b. 1919) . . . On Sunday afternoon at 4:40 PM, the organ recital will be played by Ruaraidh Sutherland, organist and director of music at Christ's Church, Rye, New York. His program includes music by William Thomas Best (1826-1897); Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750); Johann Pachelbel (1653-1796); Alfred Hollins (1865-1942); and Garth Edmundson (1882-1971) . . . At 5:00 PM on Sunday, we will offer A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols. The choral music includes works by Boris Ord (1897-1961), Otto Goldschmidt (1829-1907), Charles Wood (1866-1926), Healey Willan (1880-1968), John Rutter (b. 1945), David Willcocks, and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). —Mark Peterson
OUTREACH . . . New York Cares Coat Drive: The cold weather has clearly arrived in New York. The annual coat drive continues until the end of December. For more information about how and where to donate, please visit the New York Cares website . . . We continue to collect nonperishable items for our friends and partners at the Saint Clement's Food Pantry. Cash donations are also most welcome.
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Monday, January 5, Eve of the Epiphany, Solemn Evensong 6:00 PM . . . Tuesday, January 6, The Epiphany, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM; Organ Recital 5:30 PM; Solemn Mass 6:00 PM . . . Sunday, January 11, First Sunday after the Epiphany: the Baptism of Our Lord . . . Monday, January 19, The Confession of Saint Peter (transferred). The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins . . . Monday, January 19, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day. Federal holiday schedule . . . Monday, January 26, The Conversion of Saint Paul (transferred). The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity ends.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH. . . At the Metropolitan Museum, 1000 Fifth Avenue (between Eighty-seventh & Eighty-eighth Streets), New York, New York, Christmas Tree and Neapolitan Baroque Crèche, until January 6, 2015. Gallery 305 . . . Wednesday, January 14, 2015, 1:15 PM, New York Public Library, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, Fifth Avenue at Forty-second Street, South Court Auditorium, A Lecture by T. Felder Dorn, Battle of the Bishops: A Slavery Controversy in Pennsylvania in 1863. Dr. Dorn will examine the responses of American Episcopal bishops in the period 1840-1875 to slavery and to the tumultuous events and issues that derived from that institution. The words and actions of Northern as well as Southern bishops will be discussed. The lecture will focus in a particular way on an affair that occurred in the diocese of Pennsylvania during the middle of the Civil War, when Bishop John Henry Hopkins, bishop of Vermont, wrote a pamphlet defending slavery and distributed the pamphlet in Pennsylvania, an action that outraged the bishop of Pennsylvania, Alonzo Potter, who opposed slavery and who was offended by Hopkins's interference in his diocese.