After Five Years: Looking Ahead
On Sunday, February 1, 2004 I will begin my sixth year of service as rector of Saint Mary’s. I preached and celebrated the first time here at the Solemn Mass on Tuesday, February 2, 1999, the third rector in a row whose service at the altar began on the Feast of the Presentation. I cannot begin to explain or really understand the mystery of God’s providence that brought me to serve him in this place.
Saint Mary’s great friend, the Reverend Andrew Mead, rector of Saint Thomas Church, New York City, told me shortly after I arrived that the trustees had elected me rector but that it would take three years for the congregation to elect me rector and five for me to elect myself rector. I had served as rector before. I knew very well what he was trying to say. The passage of time is integral part of the pastoral bonding between a priest and a congregation. Time gives one perspective on things. Time gives a priest the opportunity to serve as pastor, which is the foundational call and role of the parish minister.
There were at least two tracks to the journey that brought me to be rector. One was to see if I could be steward of the Anglo-catholic and liturgical heritage of this parish. Lots of questions were asked of me and of people who knew me during the interview process. I certainly know I am not the only person who could do this job, but I am one of a group who by background, formation and conviction seemed right to the leadership of the parish. At the final interview with the Board of Trustees, the trick question at the end was announced by a bell. It was time for the noon Angelus. Someone said, “Father, will you lead us?” Not a problem. During the prayers I realized what they were doing. After the Angelus I smiled and said, “Would you like to check me out on the Regina coeli too?”
The other track was announced to me at my first interview with Gerald McKelvey, who was senior lay leader at the time. I’ve never forgotten his first question, “What are you going to do to save Saint Mary’s?” I’ve never forgotten my response, “What are you willing to change?” It wasn’t a perfect answer, but I suggest that change is the way forward for this community.
For five years I have tried to provide the leadership to support what is best about Saint Mary’s. I believe our liturgical life today should reflect the same principle that organized the parish in 1868: What is the best thinking about worship? Nothing more is needed; nothing less should be given in this hallowed place.
Saint Mary’s doesn’t have a product problem. Worship, Christian community and mission are in great hands. Our building is a sacred space of extraordinary power. It touches the lives of hundreds of people every day. We have very good people on the church staff and a core of very committed lay volunteers who enable us to worship in a way that is almost without peer. The music of Saint Mary’s today is unbelievably fine. The heart and skill of our altar servers is a tremendous Christian witness. The ministries of hospitality and welcome are giving loving attention. When there is sickness or death or heartache or challenge, the many members of this community respond from the substance of their lives.
Why is it then that Saint Mary’s has never found it easy to let others know what is here and to invite them to be a part of it? I believe the way forward for us, the way through the financial crisis that has confronted this parish in every decade since its inception, is to be found not by retreating on who we are and what we do best.
New York City is full of people who have no community of faith of any kind. I believe we need to be purposeful about sharing Good News with those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and that we need to learn new ways to do this. Jesus Christ can change our lives and the lives of all people. I believe can find new members and friends who will share our belief in the Saint Mary’s and its mission.
Our Trustees continue to see how some or part of our physical plant might be redeveloped. I think that the unused basement under the nave of the church could be developed as a columbarium – the income from which could be dedicated to preserving the fabric of the church itself. We have begun to build an endowment for our organ. Outreach and mission programs could be endowed too. Different missions touch the hearts of different people. More things than we can imagine are possible with faith. By no later than the fall of this year, I hope the trustees and I will have hired a staff person to assist us professionally with development and stewardship. I believe people will support Saint Mary’s if we ask respectfully and faithfully. I believe they will continue to give if we thank them and continue to let them know how much their gifts really do matter.
I also think we need to find a way to make plans for the next capital campaign. Our buildings have no accessibility for the handicapped. Aside from the nursery, there is no dedicated space for children. There should be.
After five years I want you to know how thankful I continue to be for the call to serve in this place. I want you to know that I continue to believe in the mission of Saint Mary’s to be the place where the best worship possible shapes our life and witness. I want you to know that I hope and believe in our own time we can change Saint Mary’s. I believe we can grow. I believe we can do more for others. I believe we have Good News to live and to share. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Sean who is hospitalized and for Jean, Lynn, Alfred, Nancy, Margaret, Jay, Mabel, Robert, Gloria, Jason, Harold, Billie, Matthew, Virginia, Bart, Margaret, Marion, Hugh, Rick, Mary Angela, religious, and Charles, priest, and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Jeffrey, Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, and Colin and for the repose of the soul of Frederic, priest.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . February 2: 1985 Walter Phelps Warren, John Doy Woods; February 3: 1983 Van Buren Chaney; February 5: 1964 Joseph Alexander Ellis Steele, 1993 Gerald Dennis Bergstrom; February 7: 1954 John H. Von Runneau.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Jeremiah 1:4-10, Psalm 71:1-16,15-17, 1 Corinthians 14:12-20; Luke 4:21-32 . . .Confessions will be heard on Saturday, January 31, and on Saturday, February 7, by Father Gerth.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . The Reverend Frederic Howard Meisel, rector emeritus of the Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes, Washington, D.C., died on Monday, January 26. He was eighty-eight years old. Father had served as curate at Saint Mary’s from 1957-1961 before being called to Ascension and Saint Agnes in 1961. He retired from that parish in 1986 after a distinguished ministry. Pray for him and for all who mourn. S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . As we go to press, Sean Cassidy is recovering from scheduled heart surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital, Morristown, New Jersey. Please keep him in your prayers. . . Reminder: At Evensong, Sunday, February 1, our preacher is the Reverend Allen Shin, our former curate. He continues his doctoral work at Oxford and is serving as honorary assistant priest at All Saints Margaret Street . . . Attendance last Sunday 227.
CHRISTIAN FORMATION ON WEDNESDAY EVENINGS . . . Theology and Mystery: Life in the Presence of God will be a two part class taught by our senior seminarian, Mr. John Hamilton. Meeting on February 11 and February 18, the class will interact with Mysteries of Faith by Mark McIntosh, which is book eight in the New Church’s Teaching Series. (Several copies of the book will be on sale in the Saint Mary’s Bookstore.) Don’t be put off by the lofty title of the class—these discussions will be great fun as we explore our own beliefs about God and how they find expression in the liturgy of the church and in our lives. The class meets after the 6:20 PM Mass in Saint Benedict’s Study. Latecomers should use the doorbell located in the 46th Street entrance of the Parish House.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This week at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Liebster Jesu, wir sind hier, BWV 731 by J. S. Bach (1685-1750), which is based upon our Postcommunion hymn (440). The postlude is Präludium a-moll, BWV 543 by Bach. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Mass Nr. 2 in G-dur, D. 167 by Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Composed in 1815, this Mass is one of Schubert’s six (and his most popular). The motet at Communion is O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV 118 by Bach . . . On Monday, February 2, the organ recital at 5:30 is played by Robert McCormick and includes works of Bach, Bridge and Langlais. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa Papae Marcelli by G. P. da Palestrina (1525-1594). This setting, historically one of Palestrina’s most important, is dedicated to Pope Marcellus II. It is said that the pope was unhappy with the state of sacred music in the Church, and that this setting was composed at the time of the First Vatican Council in accord with its demands on the intelligibility of polyphony, around 1562-1563. However, it may have been composed as early as 1555, and later dedicated to Marcellus at the time of the reforms. The motet at Communion is Diffusa est gratia by Giovanni Maria Nanino (1543 or 1544-1607). The postlude is Grand jeux from Suite brève (1947) by Jean Langlais (1907-1991).
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Monday The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus in the Temple
Tuesday Blase, bishop & martyr
The Blessing of Throats will be given during the Masses today.
Wednesday Cornelius the Centurion
Thursday The Martyrs of Japan
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, curate, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priest,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.