In the winter of 1978 I was a participant in the Berkeley Urdu Language Program that was held in Lahore, Pakistan. At the time I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago in South Asian history. Urdu language and literature was one of my fields. The program and living in Pakistan for three months was a great experience. I haven’t been back to Pakistan or India since then. Someday I very much want to go back. But I know that the experience I had in 1978 would not be possible today for a young unmarried Christian American male.
Two memories: One, sitting in the kitchen with the female members of the family (three generations) and listening to them speak in the finest literary Urdu. None had been to college, yet all were speaking “high” Urdu – a form of ordinary conversation that incorporates poetry quotations in the ordinary course of conversation. My Urdu was never that good but it was good enough back then to begin to appreciate what I was privileged to hear.
Two, being taught by a gang of little boys at “Panchnad” (“Five Rivers” – where the rivers that join together to form the Indus all meet and flow into a single waterway) how to say in Arabic, “There is but one God and Mohammed is his prophet.” Once they had taught me that, they pronounced that I was Muslim. I remember their smiles, their joy. It’s probably best not to think about what games a group of -old rural boys in Pakistan might want to play with an American today.
There was a certain cultural confidence in 1978 in Pakistan and elsewhere in the Islamic world that is not there today. It disappeared in the aftermath of the fall of the Iranian monarchy. Even if that same family were to welcome me into the bosom of their home, as they did in 1978, the neighborhood would not. There would be a riot or worse. Something has changed in the Islamic world - all over the world – in the decades following the Iranian revolution.
There’s an obscure passage in Exodus (4:24-26) that seems to imply that Moses was not circumcised. If those three verses were omitted from the Bible they would not be missed. But at some point they made it into manuscripts that mattered and no one has since dared to delete them. It appears that circumcision wasn’t as universal in Moses’ day among the Hebrews. I’m sure the idea that the greatest prophet of the Old Testament was not circumcised would drive some very conservative Jews of our own time crazy.
What gives a family, a culture, a religious group or even a country the confidence in itself not to be anxious about its identity? One of my mentors, the late Rabbi Edwin Friedman, feared that we were in a period of societal regression, a time when the most dependent, anxious and fearful among us were calling the shots. Periods of societal regression and fear produced the Christian Inquisition. Surely a great deal of the twentieth century with its wars and uncounted victims of Communism and Fascism was in some ways a century of societal regression. Yet despite all its horrors, I’m not entirely convinced that societal regression counts for as much as the phenomenon of life itself. There are more people in the world today than a hundred years ago -- and where there is life, there is opportunity. The most amazing stories of the twentieth century are not the stories of its victims but of those who survived despite the challenges, and even the evil, they met in their lives.
In Christian terms, I believe the Holy Spirit is always present and at work in the lives of human beings. Our task is to try to pay attention to the Spirit, to try to let the Spirit guide us. Fear is a good thing, except when it is greater than hope. Anxiety has its uses, but it is a meager diet for one’s soul. Relationships sustain us, but they are best when we have them from choice not dependency.
I’m not a scholar of Islamic culture nor am I enough of an analyst to have a clear idea of what Islamic culture might look like today if it were less anxious. But I do think I have an idea of what the Church might look like if it had more confidence in itself. And perhaps because I am an Episcopalian by choice, I think the wider Church might look a lot like us if given the chance.
Christians have been fighting since Jesus walked the earth over whom they could sit down and eat with, even though Jesus seems to have been comfortable inviting all to his table. An anxious Church cannot invite people to eat without checking their credentials.
Many readers of this newsletter know I went to college at the University of Virginia where one can hardly pass a building without reading a quotation from Jefferson. One of my favorites goes something like, “For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, or to tolerate any error, so long as reason is left free to combat it.” Jefferson was, after all, an Anglican. The Episcopal Church is famously a Christian community where Scripture and tradition alone do not define our faith. Reason along with Scripture and tradition does too. We don’t have to pretend Peter was the first pope – or that anyone alive in his day thought he was. We don’t have to pretend that the Bible is literally true – we believe it reveals to us what we need to know.
One June 5 we commemorated the life of Saint Boniface. I had forgotten that he was born in what we now call England in the last part of the seventh century. He was ordained, however, bishop in Rome and then sent to what we now call Germany. If there were ever a period of societal regression in Europe, the 700s would count. Yet, here there was a network of the Church sufficient for an Englishman to end his life as a patron saint of Germany (and of brewers and tailors!). God used Boniface’s faith, his confidence and his martyrdom to help to evangelize a nation.
I continue to have confidence in the future of our Episcopal Church, of our Diocese of New York and of our own parish community. I continue to have confidence in our city and our country – despite the challenges of our day. Jesus said that we should not let our hearts be troubled. It’s something I think you and I are supposed to try to do. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Peter, Charles, Mamie, 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 and for the repose of the soul of Cleta . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 21: 1963 Frederick Webb Ross; July 22: 1960 Mary Waters.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . Psalm 15, Genesis 18:1-14, Colossians 1:21-29, Luke 10:38-42 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 17 by Father Gerth . . . On Sunday, July 18, The Rector will preach at the 9:00 AM and at 10:00 AM. At the 11:00 AM service we are honored to have as celebrant and preacher the Right Reverend C. Christopher Epting, deputy for Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations of the Episcopal Church . . . The Reverend James Ross Smith will be celebrant and preacher for the Sunday evening Mass.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Thursday, July 22, is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene . . . Altar Servers: Plan ahead to help with brass cleaning on Saturday, August 14, 2004 from 10:00 AM to early afternoon in preparation for Sunday, August 15, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary . . . Attendance last Sunday 213.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday Mr. Robert P. McDermitt, associate organist, plays the Solemn Mass in my absence. Many thanks to him . . . For a portion of my time away, I will be the organist for a weeklong course of the Royal School of Church Music in America, held at Trinity Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The course is for boys and adults and is conducted by Mr. Paul Trepte, director of music, Ely Cathedral, England . . . The prelude is Air from Orchestersuite Nr. 3 D-dur, BWV 1068 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). The arrangement for organ is by Gordon Phillips (1908-1991). The postlude is Bach’s Präludium G-dur, BWV 541. Our soloist is Mr. Michael Ryan-Wenger, tenor. Mr. Ryan-Wenger is a highly talented and versatile singer, conductor and composer. He often sings with our choir and is a member of the celebrated men’s vocal ensemble Lionheart. The anthem at Communion is The lone, wild bird, an American folk tune from The Southern Harmony (1835), arranged by David N. Johnson (1929-1988). Robert McCormick
FROM ABYSSINIAN TO ZION: PHOTOGRAPHS OF MANHATTAN'S HOUSES OF WORSHIP BY DAVID DUNLAP . . . An exhibition at the New York Historical Society, June 22 - October 24, 2004 . . . Parishioner George Handy recommends this exhibition and points out that there is a book published in conjunction with the exhibition. The book, by New York Times senior writer David Dunlap, From Abyssinian to Zion: A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of Worship, has a photograph and write-up about Saint Mary’s. This exhibition features sanctuaries off the beaten path that would count as major attractions in any other city or setting. The exhibition also highlights images from the Society's own collection, especially the marvelous and little-known portfolio of 889 photographs taken from 1966 to 1973 by Herman N. Liberman Jr., a member of the New York Stock Exchange, who walked 502 miles in a serpentine pattern along every street in Manhattan, from river to river, recording every single house of worship then in existence, including the most modest storefront and parlor front churches and synagogues.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
Wednesday Eve of Saint Mary Magdalene 6:00 PM
Thursday Saint Mary Magdalene
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Thomas a Kempis, Priest, 1471
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.