From Our Seminarian: Discoveries
This summer, part of my work at Saint Mary’s has been to work with the textile curator on the vestment conservation project. It has been a time of discoveries for me. I grew up Methodist and never had given vesture a great deal of thought. One of the great joys of being at Saint Mary’s has been learning first-hand what vestments have to do with worship and what they have been traditionally thought to signify. Many of you reading this may be smiling in pity that I had such an impoverished worship life. Many of you may remember when you, too, first encountered the rich worship of this place.
I had no idea what riches there are! My first discovery this summer was in the basement. Deborah Kraak, the textile curator, and I were speechless. There were two rooms chock-a-block with vestments. Vestments that hung on racks, and up in closets. Vestments folded in boxes and in drawers or simply draped over chairs. We were seeing vestments dating all the way back to the earliest days of the parish.
I began to read up on the theological and liturgical movements that influenced the founders and benefactors of Saint Mary’s. Yes, vesture mattered! I learned that in England the full expression of Anglo-catholicism was technically illegal until the early 20th century. In the 1870s there were priests who went to jail because they believed in and practiced the outward expression of the “beauty of holiness” of which colored vestments are a part. Our extensive vestment collection is a reminder of that rich history – one that asks us to explore the roots of our worship in the earliest days of the church and in the pre-Reformation Catholic Church. I discovered that this history of vestments has even included non-violent protest against the status quo.
As the curator and I began to sift and sort through the vestments, I could see patterns emerging. I discovered that through the years, tastes changed. Not only has the shape of the vestments changed, but the fabrics have changed. Where the earlier fabrics were woven full of Christian symbolism, the more modern vestments are plain fabrics or more commercial woven floral pattern. Not only have tastes changed, but this seems to be a metaphor that the times—some of our life patterns—have changed also.
When one of the parishioners, Dick Leitsch, and I began cataloguing what we found, we knew something was missing. Where were the copes? We found all manner of chasubles and dalmatics, stoles, chalice veils and burses – but we were facing a great mystery! Then, when the vestment curator was here last week, we expressed our quandary to Father Gerth. He opened two drawers and began to pull out cope after cope after cope – all colors, plain, ornate, modern, traditional. He pulled out well-worn copes, copes that are candidates for being refurbished, beautiful copes. A history of so many individuals who have loved Saint Mary’s and who have given to further her mission could be imagined just from seeing all these vestments that have been given and used to the glory of God. What a discovery!
This parish is blessed to have such a treasure in its history, in its people, and in its strong commitment to worship as the foundation in which our parish life is rooted. We are blessed with people who have generously donated funds to begin this work of vestment cataloguing, conservation, and repair – who take seriously the need to be good stewards of this collection. We are grateful for the generosity of Deborah Kraak, our textile curator, who is offering her services to Saint Mary’s on an almost pro bono basis. She teaches at NYU and Parsons, has been a curator at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and at Winterthur, and is a consultant in historic textiles, costumes, and interiors—we are extremely fortunate to have her working with us.
Cristina Carr, a conservator who works for the Metropolitan Museum, has examined the black frontal and given us an estimate, which has been accepted. Our hope is that this frontal will be repaired in time for the All Souls’ Day, November 2. We have identified several sets as priority projects for conservation: the Lenten High Mass set, the Cloth-of-gold High Mass set, and the three white weekday Low Mass sets. There is much work to be done on the rose set worn on Gaudete Sunday in Advent, the Rector’s cope (not Father Gerth’s personal cope but one worn for decades by rectors of the parish), the Ego Mater banner, and the canopy used for Corpus Christi. Deborah has recommended that the historic white set of Father Brown, the founding rector, not be worn again until the vestments are stabilized and strengthened. Next, we hope that the set that was traditionally worn on Maundy Thursday can be refurbished. This is not the complete list! The work of preservation, conservation, repair, and refurbishing does not come cheap. When problems are ignored, the issues become much greater and repairs more expensive.
We also desperately need to address storage issues for all these vestments. For the short-term, the sextons helped move all the vestments out of the dusty, hot, and humid rooms in the basement. However, we need to locate a new permanent home for the out-of-season vestments and more appropriate storage to save the older vestments from further deterioration and take better care of the newer sets. Monetary contributions to the Saint Mary’s Vestment Conservation and Repair Fund to fund this work continue to be welcome.
Working on this vestment project has been a discovery and a blessing to me. I want to profusely thank the rector for giving me this opportunity this summer. Clare Nesmith
P.S. As this project goes forward, we would be very interested in hearing from any of you who have memories of different vestment sets – when and by whom they were given and worn and if there are any stories that go along with them. I’m sure there are stories!
LEARN HOW TO HELP SAINT MARY’S GROW . . . Spreading the good news about our church can only happen if we have many, many people involved in the effort. The Magnetic Church is a workshop on evangelism (including strategies for marketing, publicity and advertising) that is especially geared to help laypersons think about their church’s visibility and effectiveness at outreach. Please consider attending with Father Beddingfield the two workshops offered at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine on Friday, October 15 from 6:30 PM to 10:00 PM and on Saturday, October 16 from 8:30 AM to 4:00 PM. For more information see Father Beddingfield or check the diocesan website at www.dioceseny.org.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Penn who is gravely ill, for Donna, and Bob who are hospitalized, for George, Samuel, Paul, Peter, Charles, Mamie, Judy, Mary, 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 Bruce, Paul, 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 Mark . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . .August 29: 1959 James Edward Emanuel, 1961 James B. Thornell; September 3: 1965 Carol Jean Kearins.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Psalm 112, Ecclesiasticus 10:7-18, Hebrews 13:1-8, Luke 14:1, 7-14 . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, August 28 by Father Gerth . . . On Sunday, August 29, the Rector will be the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM Mass and the Solemn Mass 11:00 AM. Father Beddingfield will be the celebrant and preacher at the 9:00 AM Mass and the 5:20 PM Mass.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . I thank Mr. Robert P. McDermitt, associate organist, who plays for the Solemn Mass this Sunday in my absence. The prelude and postlude before and after Mass are movements from Music for the Royal Fireworks, HWV 351 by George Frideric Handel (1685-1759), transcribed for organ by E. Power Biggs (1906-1977). The cantor 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 acclaimed men’s vocal ensemble Lionheart. The anthem at Communion is The Call from Five Mystical Songs (1911) by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958). Robert McCormick
AROUND THE PARISH . . . A new exhibit is hanging in Saint Joseph’s Hall, “Pillars of Faith” . . . It was great having the youth group from Grace Church, Traverse City, Michigan for Evening Prayer and Mass last week. The young people were here in the city as part of a mission trip . . . Join friends from Saint Mary’s for the second annual knitters’ retreat, January 14-17, 2005. For more information, check the Upcoming Events second of the Saint Mary’s website or email firstname.lastname@example.org . . . Attendance last Sunday 207.
MEMBERSHIP NOTES . . . Please welcome our newest member. David Gravelin works in financial management on Long Island and has already been serving at the altar at Saint Mary’s. He was one of the incredible smoke-makers that led our Assumption procession through Times Square. David and Matthew Mead have known each other for at least ten years, having met at the annual Saint Michael’s Conference, a summer conference for youth and young adults in the Episcopal Church. Please welcome David when you see him.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Tuesday Aidan, Bishop of Lindisfarne, 651
Thursday The Martyrs of New Guinea, 1942
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, 430
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.