I rejoice in the diversity of the parish and the many different ways in which individuals really can participate as members and as friends. Our parish community is unusual in many respects. One of the most striking, I think, is how many members are here only on occasion for worship. That’s due to many factors, especially the shape personal and professional life takes here in New York. If there is a danger in our approach it is that it may leave the impression that the growth we need to sustain our mission is a job for someone else.
On the Trinity Church, Boston, web site, I came across a copy of an article written about the history of that parish. It described how that very large and very vibrant congregation was neither large nor vibrant twenty-five years ago. And then, the construction of the John Hancock building literally shook the foundations of their building. A new rector came. The article states,
At that moment, it seemed Trinity -- the building and the parish -- might crumble.
But Trinity fought back from the pulpit -- building on the vital spark of activism and strong ministry. “We didn't know it, but we were on the threshold of a whole new era,” Bill [Thompson] says. “You are the people of God called to worship in this place at this time," new rector Thom Blair told his flock in his first sermon from the Trinity pulpit in 1973. “Rectors will come and go. You will remain.”
From that moment on, it was Trinity's faithful who rebuilt its foundation, reinforcing the rock-like faith that remained with new blood, energetic stewardship, and active citywide
outreach programs. Thom knew lay leadership was the key to developing a thriving parish, and Bill Thompson, Bill Hausserman, and Jane Claflin -- all super-successful dealmakers in their chosen trades -- all answered his call and worked their craft for their beloved parish.
Trinity Church, Boston, has been one of the great preaching parishes of the Episcopal Church. Saint Mary the Virgin is one of the great liturgical parishes. Both have traditions of strong clergy leadership. Trinity Church seems to think the key in turning the parish around was the lay commitment and leadership. Saint Mary’s is in very much the same situation as Trinity Church, Boston, was. I’d like to think that our community has the same kind of gifts of leadership in the pews, at our altar and in our pulpit.
I make no apologies for our historic primary mission: Worship. At Saint Mary’s we are about prayer and worship. Our doors are open. Monday through Friday. I know that our common life helps to sustain the spiritual lives of our many members. I know that we have in financial terms a relatively high commitment level from our active members. But that is not enough to sustain Saint Mary’s. I believe we have the gifts to learn to serve others in Jesus’ name in new ways. I believe we have a reason to learn new ways to sustain and grow our mission and our congregation. And if Trinity Church, Boston, is an example, that leadership is going to come from the pews as much as from the pulpit.
There is a lot of work to be done this fall on membership and stewardship. Sunday Masses are fantastic at Saint Mary’s. I have been here long enough to know that even our simple weekday Masses and Offices are extraordinary because of the care and integrity with which we insist that they be done. Worship is not a problem at Saint Mary’s. Mission is not a problem. If we have a problem perhaps it’s the same problem the people of Israel had in the year that King Uzziah died:
In the year that King Uzzi'ah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim; each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.” And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Then flew one of the seraphim to me, having in his hand a burning coal which he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth, and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin forgiven.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:1-8)
If there are churches where the Sunday worship is like that of Isaiah’s vision, certainly we are one of them. I believe we are a community to whom the Lord is seeking to speak the same words he spoke to Isaiah, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” I believe the response of our parish community can be the same as Isaiah’s, “Here am I! Send me.” Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Penn, Gilbert, Robert, Gloria, Margaret, Jason, Bart, Hugh, 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; for the repose of the soul of Sarah.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Amos 6:1-7, Psalm 146:4-9, 1 Timothy 6:11-19, Luke 16:19-31 . . . Confessions will are heard on Saturday, September 25, by Father Mead and on Saturday, October 2, by Father Gerth . . . On Sunday, September 26, Father Mead will be the celebrant and preacher at the 9:00 AM and 5:20 PM Masses. The Rector be the celebrant and preacher for the 10:00 AM Sung Mass and the 11:00 AM Solemn Mass.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS OF MARRIAGE between Penelope Byham of New York City and Michael Allen of New York City. If any of you knows just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the second time of asking. S.G.
WHAT DOES IT COST TO KEEP SAINT MARY’S OPEN? . . . It costs an average of $3,214 each day to operate our church seven days a week through the year. Is it worth it? Just ask the people who come in and pray. It was Father Montgomery’s idea to have a friend of Saint Mary’s, Hermione Sharp, sit in the church one morning and afternoon in August and simply keep a count. In the twelve-hour period 546 people came in Saint Mary’s. 195 sat in a pew and seemed to pray or meditate. 97 people lit candles. 6 homeless persons slept in the church that day (undisturbed, as is the custom at Saint Mary’s.)
AROUND THE PARISH . . . We celebrate the births of two new babies. Alexander Enrico, called Xander, was born to Liz and Sal Tommasino and Joanna May was born to Dale Reynolds and Elizabeth Nisbet . . . Penelope Byham and Michael Allen wish to invite the entire parish to their wedding at Saint Mary’s on Friday, October 1, 2004 at 7:30 PM. The reception follows in Saint Joseph’s Hall . . . Rebecca Weiner’s class on the poetry and life of Hopkins ends next Wednesday evening, September 29 at 7:00 PM. The class meets in Saint Benedict’s Study . . . On Mondays in October and November we will offer Via Media, our introductory class which explores what it means to be a Christian in the Anglican tradition. For information on Via Media, please contact Father Beddingfield . . . Bible study on Tuesday nights will begin on October 5. Join Father Mead for the first session on the Book of Jonah . . . Attendance last Sunday 279.
NOTES ON MUSIC . . . This Sunday at the Solemn Mass, the prelude is an improvisation on the hymn tune ‘Brother James’ Air’ and the postlude is an improvisation on ‘Es flog ein kleins Waldvögelein’. Both hymns will be sung at the Mass. The cantor is Ms. Ruth Cunningham, soprano, and the setting of Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei will again be one of her remarkable improvisations. The anthem at Communion is O süßer, o freundlicher from Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, SWV 285 by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). Robert McCormick
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Eve of Saint Michael and all Angels 6:00 PM
Wednesday Saint Michael and All Angels
Thursday Jerome, Priest and Monk of Bethlehem, 420
Friday Remigius, Bishop of Rheims, 530 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.