The Angelus

Volume XII, Number 11

From the Rector: Buttons and Oil

Last Saturday I unlocked the gate to the baptistery so I could get a small table.  As I went in I noticed what I thought was water on the floor all around the font.  As I looked to see if there was a leak I realized it wasn’t water.  It was oil.  It was sacred chrism.  Fortunately, Sister Laura Katharine was in the chancel too.  She cleaned up the chrism (and left the towel she used to be burned by the thurifer when he prepared coals for incense the next morning).  The young man we baptized at the Solemn Mass on the Feast of the Baptism of Christ knew he had been washed and knew he had been anointed.

The gospel for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany this year was Luke’s account of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:14-21).  He goes to Nazareth and “he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the Sabbath day.”  You recall Jesus reads from Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”  The word “Christ” comes from the Greek word for “oil” – chrism.  The Hebrew word for anointing is “Messiah.”

I was never anointed so generously as are the newly baptized are when I am the celebrant.  But I’ve felt and seen the power this sacramental sign has to shape our experience.  My guess is that Shan Agashir’s hearing of the gospel and his experience of our words of worship will be different because he has a personal sense – not unlike that of Christians of the first century -- to choose a new life and to have God’s work in him sealed in the washing with water and the anointing of oil.

Shan’s baptism on January 10 was especially powerful for those of us who had been at the Solemn Mass at Epiphany.  The font in the baptistery is not more than 12 feet from the pew in the chancel where Leroy Sharer suffered a cardiac arrest during the Epiphany Mass.  Before CPR was started, Leroy had stopped breathing.  Through God’s providence Leroy is still very much with us in the Church militant, that is, the Church here on earth – and he’s doing fine, really fine.  But I could not help but feel again when I saw that oil on the floor that I was standing where life overcomes death.

From time to time, we as a community gathered as the Body of Christ are graced by a profound sense that we are in the world but not of this world.  By God’s Spirit, we glimpse the unity of all in Christ here and now.  I felt that at Shan’s baptism.  I felt that on Epiphany as we resumed Mass with the Nicene Creed after Leroy had been taken to Roosevelt Hospital.  (For the record, that night the police, the Fire Department’s EMS team and the medical staff at Roosevelt Hospital were outstanding.)

My colleagues at the altar and the congregation here and at Trinity Church, Michigan City, Indiana, know that I am not shy about splashing water around at a baptism or about the use of chrism.  In Indiana I wanted the congregation, especially the many children in the parish, to see and experience baptism as washing and anointing (and communion!) even if they had no memory of their own baptism.  I loved it whenever I heard a child or an adult who had grown up in the parish that his or her favorite service of the year was the Easter Vigil.  The rites are powerful if we let the tradition speak.

Christianity is profoundly about our bodies.  We are flesh.  We are spirit.  We have minds.  We have souls.  But all is wrapped up in the mystery of the body, birth, death and life.  In our bodies, we dwell in God and God dwells in us.

Oh yes, the buttons.  All through the week after the Epiphany we found buttons in the floor of the chancel from the cassock Leroy was wearing and which the EMS people cut off him.  After I saw the oil on the floor, the buttons seemed to mean more to me.  Like Shan’s anointing, Leroy’s buttons were a sign that life had conquered death and will always conquer death in the end in Christ.  Stephen Gerth


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED especially for Carol, Robert, Roger, Henry, Jack, José, Timothy, Nicholas, Sandy, Jack, Chris, Dorothy, Robert, Elsa, Juan, Chris, William, Gert, Mary, Rick, and Pegram, priest; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially James, Christine, Kayla, Marc, Benjamin, Patrick, and Andrew . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . February 7: 1916 William Gordon, 1917 Albert Roswell Hosford, 1937 Adelaide Cleminshaw Norton, 1950 Newbury Frost Read, 1954 John Henry von Rummen.


THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Rem Slone continues his class on the Letter of Paul to the Romans in the Adult Forum at 10:00 AM . . . James Kennerley plays the Sunday recital at 4:40 PM before Solemn Evensong at 5:00 PM . . . The Super Bowl Party starts at 6:00 PM . . . Bible Study on Wednesday night (see below in Christian Education) . . . On Saturday, February 6, Father Gerth will hear confessions.  On Saturday, February 13, Father Merz will hear confessions.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . The First Day of Lent: Ash Wednesday is February 17.  On Ash Wednesday, there are masses at 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM and 12:10 PM.  The Solemn Mass is at 6:00 PM.  The imposition of ashes is offered in the church throughout the day . . . Altar flowers are needed for Sunday, February 14.  Please contact the Finance Office if you would like to make a donation . . . Father Smith will be away from the parish from Thursday, February 4, until Sunday, February 14 . . . Many thanks for all who made the celebration of the Presentation so very special . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 213, Presentation 291.


FROM THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT . . . The prelude this Sunday is Master Tallis’s Testament, the third of Six Pieces (1940) by Herbert Howells (1892-1983).  The setting of the Mass Ordinary is Mass no. 6 in G Major (Missa Sancti Nicolai), H. 22/6, by Franz Joseph Haydn (1732-1809).  For a large portion of his life, Haydn was the Kapellmeister (music director) to the Esterházy family (notably Nikolaus Esterházy).  This Mass was composed in 1772, and is, stylistically, a missa pastorale (“pastoral mass”), sung during Advent and reminiscent of those musical techniques often associated with Christmas – gentle, lilting rhythms, simple melodies, movement in thirds, and a “pastoral” key (G major).  At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Insanae et vanae curae from the oratorio Il ritorno di Tobia by Haydn . . . I will give the recital at 4:40 PM this Sunday in the absence of Douglas Keilitz, who is unable to play.  I hope Mr. Keilitz will play on the season next year.  James Kennerley


SUPER BOWL PARTY . . . Saint Mary’s Sixth Annual Super Bowl Party will be held following Evensong & Benediction on Sunday, February 7.  Kickoff is at 6:30 PM and we will watch the game in Saint Joseph’s Hall.  The party is a pot-luck (please contact Grace Bruni if you would like to bring something).  Richard Theilmann is working on beverages and is also providing technical support on matters related to the broadcast of the game, using our projector and cable hookup.  Thank you to both Grace and Richard for providing such able leadership and for helping us to keep this particular tradition alive.  Speaking of traditions: though no doubt some may miss Father Mead’s notorious “abusive chili,” we are told that this year’s party will feature a batch of “kinder, gentler” chili.  Jay Smith


AT THE GREAT VIGIL OF EASTER . . . Holy Baptism, Confirmation, the Reception of new members to the Episcopal Church and the Reaffirmation of Baptismal Vows will all be celebrated on Saturday, April 3.  The Right Reverend Frank T. Griswold, XXV Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, will be celebrant and preacher.  If you wish to know more about joining the Episcopal Church or presenting a child for Baptism, please speak with one of the parish priests.


CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . January 31 and February 7 and 14: Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans. Led by Mr. T. Remington Slone, seminarian.  Rem is a middler at the General Theological Seminary . . . February 21 and 28 and March 7, 14 and 21: The Book of the Prophet Isaiah. Led by Father Peter Powell . . . April 25: Prof. Dennis Raverty, art historian and friend of Saint Mary’s, will give a slide lecture on “God & Nature in the 19th-Century American Romantic Landscape” . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class meets at 6:30 PM on Wednesdays (7:00 PM on Holy Days) in the Mission House.  The class is led by Sisters Deborah Francis and Laura Katharine.  The class is reading Ecclesiastes and Job.


LIFE AND WITNESS OF ABSALOM JONES . . . On February 18, the Episcopal Church commemorates the life and witness of Absalom Jones, who was born a slave in Delaware in 1746.  When sixteen he was sold to a Philadelphian.  He managed to buy first the freedom of his wife and then his own freedom.  Jones was among a group of black Christians who walked out of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Philadelphia, because its vestry decided to seat all black members in an upstairs gallery.  Along with Richard Allen, he founded the Free African Society, which would in 1792 become Saint Thomas Church, Philadelphia.  At first, Jones was the layreader of the congregation.  He was ordained deacon in 1795 and priest in 1802.  He served there until his death on February 13, 1818.  The African Episcopal Church of Saint Thomas, Philadelphia, continues a strong presence and witness.  The parish website has a great deal of information about its life and work and about the life, witness and ministry of African-American Episcopalians since its foundation:



The Parish Clergy

The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector

The Reverend James Ross Smith, curate

The Reverend Rebecca Weiner Tompkins, deacon

The Reverend John Merz, assisting priest

The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus


Saint Mary’s Mission House

Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B.

Sister Laura Katharine, C.S.J.B.

The Community of St. John Baptist


The Parish Musicians

Mr. James Kennerley, organist and music director

Mr. Lawrence Trupiano, organ curator


Parish Staff

Mr. Aaron Koch, business manager

Mr. Steven Gonley, building superintendent,

Mr. Mario Martinez, Mr. H. Antonio Santiago, sextons