Some months ago I heard a leadership presentation on a Confederate general, who isn’t thought of too highly in the American South because after the Civil War he went over to the Yankee side. The speaker followed the general’s career and talked how decisions during and after the war affected others and how he himself was affected. During the presentation I found myself thinking about something else, slavery. That general had been wrong about the single greatest moral issue of his day.
In a flash my gut understood why the school board in New Orleans ten years or so ago gave a new name to every public school in that city that had been named for any slaveholder, including our first American president. There are many, many details of life that are messy. There are many things we can disagree about. To the extent that I have knowledge and choice, I don’t want to be wrong about the big things.
I confess that I didn’t really think so clearly about the Civil War until just a few years ago. The publicity about Thomas Jefferson and his relationship to Sally Hemings and her descendants shifted something in me. I grew up in Virginia. I went to the university Thomas Jefferson founded. I’ve been to his home, Monticello, more times than I can count. The group of university buildings designed by Jefferson is one of the most amazing places in America. Yet for the last few years, when I think of him and everything associated with him I think of slavery, of pictures of a former slave’s beaten back, of accounts of children taken from their parents, or the signs I remember seeing as a child, “Colored Only.”
I wonder why it took me so long to see what is so obvious; I wonder why my teachers didn’t see it or want me to see it. Have they restored the slave market yet to Colonial Williamsburg? Is there a whipping post at Mount Vernon? Isn’t it interesting that a person could speak about “leadership issues” and a Confederate general and not discuss the single most important moral issue that shaped that general’s decisions?
Of course, life is not simple. Southerners didn’t invent slavery – it exists today in some forms in some parts of the world. From the beginning of New World slavery, Europeans had help from Africans in enslaving fellow African peoples. In the New World, North and South America, blacks too were sometimes slaveholders. My impression is that most European-Americans who opposed slavery in the United States of the nineteenth century were still racists. I wonder if we human beings can ever be truly free in this life of all the prejudices that shape us and our society.
Two Sundays ago I spoke briefly from the pulpit on memory and make-believe. It’s something I am continuing to think about. Memory is a very good thing. I’m not sure what a psychiatrist would say but I think even painful and difficult memories can be a tremendous source of spiritual strength for people who have suffered. Make-believe is all right as a game with children; but we all get into trouble very fast when we confuse make-believe with truth, with history.
Jefferson was nominally an Anglican. Along with his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and founding the University of Virginia, he had a third accomplishment inscribed on his tombstone. He was the author of the law in the State of Virginia that disestablished the Episcopal Church. He was also the editor of a version of the New Testament where Jesus is presented as a Unitarian. (Jefferson simply left out everything that ascribed divinity to Jesus.) In 1898, when a group of buildings was added – most regrettably from an architectural point of view – to Jefferson’s original group, the largest building got some New Testament Greek. Across the front words from John’s Gospel were inscribed. The English translation is, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” For Jefferson that did not mean Jesus. But for me it does.
Jesus spoke about bringing out of our treasure what is old and what is new. Truth is one of our treasures that I believe we need to bring out. It is all too easy in the Church and in society to read the present back into the past instead of letting the past speak for itself. Who is the philosopher who said, “Whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent”? There are things that we don’t know about our past and will not ever know. None of us can go back into the past and change it. But we can search for truth about our past and in our present day. Jesus spoke of himself as the Truth. Whenever we approach truth past or present we approach the Christ.
Truth cuts across politics, past and present. It is not always easy to know, to be and to do truth in our fragile human lives. But I believe we are called to try. And I believe we are called to be as clear as any of us can be about the most important things, starting with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, his eternal love for us sinners and the mercy he promises us when we turn to him. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Mary, Peter, Charles, Judy, Mary, Tom, Kara, Mark, Steve, Gilbert, Matthew, Robert, Gloria, Margaret, Jason, Harold, Bart, Hugh, Margaret, Marion, Rick and Charles, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Brenden, Jonathan, Jeffrey, Ned, Timothy, Patrick, Kevin, Christopher, Andrew, Joseph, Marc, Timothy, David, Colin, Christina, David, Nestor, Freddie, Matthew and Bennett . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 9: 1991 Blanche Evelyn Preene.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . Psalm 66:1-8, Isaiah 66:10-16, Galatians 6:1-18, Luke 10:1-12,16-20 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 3 by Father Beddingfield . . . On Sunday, July 4, the Rector will be the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM Mass and the 11:00 AM Mass . . . Father Beddingfield will be the celebrant and preacher for the 9:00 AM Mass and the 5:20 PM Mass . . . Monday, July 5, is our federal holiday schedule will be observed. The church will be open from 10:00 AM to 2:00 PM. The services for the day are the Noonday Office at 12:00 PM and Mass at 12:15 PM.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . We welcome officially as of July 1 the Reverend Matthew Mead as curate. Father, we are glad you are here! . . . Congratulations to the Visual Arts Program for a successful opening of “The Sacred Geometry” by Patricia Miranda. Her work is available for purchase with part of the profits offered to Saint Mary’s . . . The Women and Spirituality group will meet on Tuesday, July 13 at 7:00 PM in Saint Benedict’s Study . . . Attendance for the Nativity of Saint John 106 . . . Attendance for Saint Peter and Saint Paul 92 . . . Attendance last Sunday 240.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is Air for organ (1963) by Gerre Hancock (b. 1934). Dr. Hancock, who recently completed a distinguished tenure as organist and master of choristers at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, dedicated this piece to his wife Judith Hancock (who just finished her time as Saint Thomas’ associate organist). The postlude is Chorale Prelude on ‘Croft’s 136th’ by C. Hubert H. Parry (1848-1918). This holiday weekend marks a break in our summer music routine. Please come to hear Choral Scholars from the world-renowned Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, England. The setting of the Mass ordinary is Missa ‘Congratulamini mihi’ by the great Spanish master Francisco Guerrero (1528-1599). A parody Mass for five voices, it is based upon an Easter motet by the Franco-Flemish Thomas Crecquillon (between c. 1480 & c.1500-1557). The motet at Communion is Guerrero’s Ave virgo sanctissima. You won’t be sorry if you make the effort to come and hear this excellent group! Robert McCormick
A VISITOR’S IMPRESSIONS . . . From a note passed on to a parishioner and forwarded to the Rector. A recent visitor to the parish wrote, “My time here visiting Saint Mary the Virgin on 46th Street made me realize how critical, how vital it is for us to make visitors feel noticed and welcomed. Clergy and congregants have been warmly welcoming, enough that I wish I could stay in this city of cities for ever.” May every visitor be so received who finds this place!
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Monday Independence Day (transferred)
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend John Beddingfield, The Reverend Matthew Mead, curates,
The Reverend Ian Bruce Montgomery, The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.