The Angelus

Volume 18, Number 35



When I began attending the Leadership in Ministry workshops, one of the rites of passage, as it were, was to watch the 1995 movie Cold Comfort Farm. It’s hilarious, but it’s also very much a “family systems” story. I watched the 2015 movie Spotlight this week. It is not a comedy, but it is very much a family systems theory movie. I had forgotten it won the Academy Award for best picture in January. It is based on a familiar and all-too-real, tragic story.


The movie is set in Boston in 2001. It’s about the then Boston Globe editor and reporters’ investigation of the cover-up of sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic archdiocese of Boston going back to the 1980s. The sexual abuse of children and teenagers is not the focus of the film, but the story of the struggle of the men and women at the Globe to uncover the story is. The reporters are up against the institutional culture of the Roman Church, its leaders and members, and the culture of the Boston community—communities of which they are members.


I’m not sure I would be writing about this if I weren’t still reading, very slowly, The Equipping Pastor: A Systems Approach to Congregational Leadership (1993) by R. Paul Stevens and Phil Collins. The morning after I saw the movie, the next section in the book to read was entitled, “Bringing About Systemic Change.” The authors used a systems theory term that I was very familiar with, “homeostasis,” and one that was new to me, “morphogenesis.” They wrote, “Every system has a natural tendency to maintain the status quo [homeostasis] when new response patterns are required through a threat, tragedy, or positive change. The tried and tested are preferable to a revised and even improved basis [morphogenesis]” (page 54).


Homeostasis” and “morphogenesis” are important biological terms. The former was coined by a physician to explain how the body regulates, for example, its temperature. Morphogenesis describes how changes in cell structure reshape an organism. (The links in this paragraph will tell you more about the uses and meaning of these terms.)


Stevens and Collins give an example of each, both from the New Testament. They reference Paul’s Letter to the Galatians (2:11–21) as an example of homeostasis: the decision of Peter and other Jewish Christians to stop eating with Gentile Christians. Paul, of course, called Peter on this. The example of morphogenesis was the decision in the Acts of the Apostles (15:1–29) of the church in Jerusalem that “changed the terms upon which Jews and Gentiles could have fellowship together” (page 55). They continued—and this is the real kicker, “On the simplest level homeostasis means that systemic change will be fervently resisted and no program will be adequate to effect a revolution” (Ibid.).


What changed in Boston was the willingness of a very few people to seek out the truth and to make the truth known. That said, and with respect, I wonder how much the culture of the Roman Catholic community has really changed—and here I refer not to sexual abuse itself, but the deeply engrained pattern that valued the reputation of the institution more highly than the truth itself.


We human beings don’t function without a great deal of homeostasis. The culture, if you will, of our families and of our society binds us in a multitude of relationships all of our lives. Change, of course, is also constant. New life replaces old. But we don’t function well without some morphogenesis from to time. I’m beginning to think about our Open Doors Capital Campaign as an act of morphogenesis.


We have just hired Claudia Chouinard Brink from Results Group International to help us with the next phase of our capital campaign. She had worked with us previously through the Episcopal Church Foundation. Our campaign leadership team is energized for the work ahead. I will be writing more about this next week, about the rectory roof replacement, about what our architects are up to on our behalf, and about gutters and roof drains.


Also, at the end of November I learned that there’s been a major, unexpected, and unexplained change in the administration of Saint Vincent’s Centre for Handicapped Children. So, at present no monies have been disbursed for that mission. Some donors have requested that their gifts be used only for the parish buildings; the board of trustees certainly respects that. Our tithe to the school, or to another institution, is on hold until we can have confidence that the moneys given will be spent for the intended purpose.


I thank you for your love and support for Saint Mary’s mission and witness. With a new campaign consultant in place, you will hear more regularly about what your gifts are doing. And there will be fresh opportunities to join in the work of giving Saint Mary’s a future, a morphogenesis. —Stephen Gerth


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Abraham, Dominque, Chandra, Charlie, Julie, Carolyn, Jean, Barbara, Juliana, Margaret, David, Dolly, Sharon, Penny, Heidi, Catherine, Sally, Donald, Sam, Burton, Toussaint, Dennis, Arpene, Takeem, Sidney, deacon, Horace, Paulette, Gaylord, Harry, Louis, priests, and Russell, bishop; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark and Nicholas . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 24: 1890: Georgia Freeman Capron; 1897 Albert Lyman; 1921 Irving Platt Titus.


THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY'S . . . Monday, July 25, is the Feast of Saint James the Apostle. Mass will be offered at 12:10 PM and at 6:20 PM . . . On Wednesdays, the daily 12:10 PM Eucharist is a Sung Mass; on Thursdays the daily 12:10 Eucharist is a Mass with Healing Service.


WELCOME, MOTHER TURNER . . . The Reverend Alison Turner, a priest of the Church of England, moved to New York with her husband, the Reverend Carl Turner, when he became rector of Saint Thomas Church, New York City. Some of you will know her as she has worshiped with us and attended the last Lenten Quiet Day. When she shared with me that she has not taken a position in New York yet, I gently asked if she would like to assist here on weekdays. She welcomed the invitation. Her first weekday Mass will be on Friday, July 29, at 12:10 PM. She has a great smile—as, not surprisingly, does her husband. I look forward very much to her getting to know us in a new way. Welcome, Alison! —S.G.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . As we go to press, Abraham Rochester is hospitalized at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Chris Howatt is back in the parish office . . . Many thanks to Father Park Bodie for taking the 9:00 AM Mass and assisting at the 11:00 AM Solemn Mass on Sunday, July 17, while Father Gerth and Father Smith were away . . . Altar Flowers are needed for the following Sundays: July 31, August 21 and 28, and September 4 and 18. If you would like to make a donation, please contact the Parish Office . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 168.


MUSIC NOTES . . . Dr. Timothy Pyper returns for the second of two Sundays with us while Dr. David Hurd is away. Tim was with us during Holy Week and Easter Day for the seven solemn liturgies of the week here. He’s an outstanding musician, and we are very glad he’s able to be with us again. His prelude for the Solemn Mass will be Pastorale (Movements 1 & 2), BWV 590 by J. S. Bach (1685–1750). His postlude will be Wir glauben all’ an einen Gott, BWV 680, also by Bach . . . Our soloist at the Mass is Charlotte Mundy, soprano, a member of the parish choir. She will sing I know that my redeemer liveth from the Messiah by George Frederick Handel (1685–1759). Handel’s Messiah was composed in 1741. Its three sections, unlike the usual narrative character of most oratorio librettos, are organized as systematic biblical articulations of the liturgical year. Following Part I, which reflects on the advent and birth of Jesus, and Part 2, which focuses on themes of Lent and Christ’s Passion, and culminates with the Hallelujah Chorus celebrating Jesus’ resurrection, Part 3 continues to reflect on the resurrection and the glory of the reign of Christ. As such, Part 3 begins with the soprano aria “I know that my redeemer liveth” with text drawn from Job 19:25–26 and from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians 15:21. It is a remarkable aria which at once conveys both a deep serenity and a great power.


A GENTLE REMINDER . . . As you have read in countless church bulletins, “Our costs do not decrease during the summer months. There are still bills that must be paid.” We urge all those who have made financial pledges to the parish to do their best to stay current with their pledge payments in order to prevent cash-flow problems. We are grateful to all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously.


MARK YOUR CALENDARS . . . Friday, August 5, Eve of the Transfiguration, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Saturday, August 6, Transfiguration, Mass 12:10 PM . . . Monday, August 15, The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM.


OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . In anticipation of the inevitable arrival of colder weather, we are collecting warm clothing (coats, jackets, scarves, hats, and gloves). We are also collecting packets of socks and underwear, jeans and T-shirts (useful all-year round), and dress shirts (useful for job interviews). All of these will be distributed here at the parish to those in need. Please bring donations to the parish kitchen on Sunday or contact Father Jay Smith or Sister Monica Clare, C.S.J.B. Sister Monica and parishioners Clint Best and Grace Fernandez have been organizing the clothing in recent weeks in order to expedite distribution . . . We continue to collect nonperishable food items for our outreach partner, the Food Pantry at Saint Clement’s Church, 423 West Forty-sixth Street. —Jay Smith