The Angelus

Volume XII, Number 14

From the Rector: Cleaning Up

One of the funniest movies I know is Cold Comfort Farm, made in 1995.  Based on the 1932 novel of the same name by Stella Gibbons (1902-1999), it’s the story of a young modern woman who helps her country relatives get unstuck.  She’s sophisticated, well-educated, but with no money.  She did inherit an interest in the family farm.  The farm itself and her relatives are such a disaster that the movie doesn’t need to explain why her father at some early point in his life fled.  This is one of the rare movies where the film is far more fun than the book, at least for me.  In the story, the main character gets her life together as she helps others do the same.

One of the first things the young woman in the movie, Flora Poste, notices is how dirty everything and everyone is.  For some unexplained reason, they’ve all become accustomed to dirty houses, dirty animals, and to being dirty themselves.  A family secret seems to be holding everyone back and, at the same time, the secret seems to hold them, bind them, all together.  But once the ball, as it were, got rolling, lives started to change, wonderfully, joyfully, unexpectedly.  And suddenly, everyone is cleaning up or being cleaned up.

It is unusual for me to be in the church for any length of time without marveling at the structure and, in particular, at its decoration.  I don’t know the name of the person who actually came up with the current plan for the painting of the church, but my predecessor, Father Edgar Wells, and the then Board of Trustees gets all the credit for approving it and for helping the wider parish community make the financial commitment that made it possible.

The physical beauty of our church has been prophetic for our community and our mission.  The renovation of the church has continued to push us to renovate and maintain our entire parish home.  This past fall, the city fire department made us address two issues (the fire escape in the Parish house – which awaits only a break in our winter weather to complete the painting) and cleaning up and lighting the church basement.  If my count is correct, so far five truck loads of rubbish have been removed by a carting company, not to mention what we have put out on the street.  As I write this morning, our new building superintendent, Steven Gonley, and our sextons are washing the walls of the church basement.  It seems that most of the dirt we get in the church doesn’t come from outside, but from our neglected basement. 

Recently we had an inquiry about whether we had space in our building for a non-profit group to rent.  It turns out, we do not.  We are very close to living into our space completely.  The more we live into our space, the better it has become – and the easier it is to address maintenance and renovation issues.

One of Saint Mary’s great charisms is its patina of use.  It’s a place of prayer and welcome.  The usual church smells are here.  Pews and kneeling cushions have been used.  Wood has been scratched and nicked in ordinary ways and sometimes through carelessness.  Some vestments are new, some are old.  All of these things for me are signs of Christian life and love.

There’s still a lot to do.  Restrooms need renovation.  Chapels need restoration.  We desperately need a ramp for handicapped access at our 47th Street entrance.  The much used parish house hallway is dingy now.  I hope very soon to have the worn carpeting pulled up and to see what shape the floors are in underneath.  Saint Mary’s has, as they say, “great bones.”  In the meantime, the cleanup will continue.  I’m convinced that in her novel, Stella Gibbons caught something of the serendipity of pride, of taking care of the gifts we have.  I never saw the un-renovated church here.  But I remember the physical feeling Saint Mary’s made on me when I entered the very first time.  Let the clean up continue.  Stephen Gerth


YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED especially for Carol, Angie, Rolf, Wayne, Daisy, Ross, Alice, Charlie, Jo Ann, Roger, Henry, Jack, 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 John, James, Christine, Kayla, Marc, Benjamin, Patrick, and Andrew; and for the repose of the souls of Timothy and Jack . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . February 28: 1900 Mary Ann Holman; 1910 Charles Gallagher; 1918 Margaret Merti  Widmeyer; 1921 Frances A. Post; 1924 Vallie B. Martin; 1930 Thomas J. Reid    ; 1941 Anne Sylvia Cairns; 1943 Edith Mead Slocum Culyer; 1949 Lucy W.B. Kempson.


AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Presiding Bishop’s message for Lent was filmed at Saint Mary’s on the Eve of Candlemas.  You can see the video at: . . . Our resident theater company, The American Globe Theatre, is presenting Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus.  For details, see their web page: . . . Book Sale: Father Smith will continue his book sale on Sunday in Saint Joseph’s Hall.  All proceeds will be used to benefit the people of Haiti and agencies working there . . . Disaster Relief for the People of Haiti: Donations may be made at (Episcopal Relief and Development) or through the Diocese of New York ( . . . Parishioner Judi Kerr is on the board of managers of the Mount Kemble Home in Morristown, NJ.  The Home is an assisted-living facility for women over sixty years of age.  Each resident has a one-room apartment with cooking facilities and easy access to a bathroom and a shower room.  Residents pay 25% of their income, whatever that may be.  Judi informs us that there are a few openings at the home at the present.  If you know of somebody who might be interested, please contact Father Smith for more information . . . We sometimes hear from parishioners and friends of the parish who are looking for work, especially during these difficult times.  If you know of a job opening, please contact Father Smith . . . Last Sunday 314.


FROM THE MUSIC DEPARTMENT . . . Last Sunday a parishioner asked me why we “cut back” dramatically on the use of the organ during Lent.  The organ is used only as a gentle support to congregational singing, and, as such, there is no solo organ music or improvisation during the service.  It’s like our restraint with flowers and vestments.  Liturgical silence is one of the signs of the season.  The organ will be heard in its full glory, however, during Masses on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, and, of course, at the Easter Vigil . . . The setting of the Mass ordinary on Sunday is Missa secunda by Hans Leo Hassler (1512-1562).  At the ministration of Communion, the choir sings the motet Sicut cervus by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594).  On Sunday evening, Evensong & Benediction are sung by the combined choirs of Trinity Church-on-the-Green, New Haven, Connecticut, and Saint Paul’s Church, Fairfield, Connecticut, Walden Moore and Jonathan Abdenour, directors.  The music includes the Evening Service in C Major by Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Tantum Ergo by Déodat de Séverac (1872-1921).  James Kennerley


IN CONCERT AT SAINT MARYS . . . Miller Theatre of Columbia University presents the Orlando Consort singing Missa Sancta Jacobi by Guillaume Dufay (c.1400-1474) on Saturday, February 27, at 8:00 PM.  For tickets and for further information about the Early Music series, please visit the theatre’s website at


CHRISTIAN EDUCATION . . . February 28, 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 Nineteenth-Century American Romantic Landscape”.  The lecture will examine how painters of the Hudson River School were influenced by contemporaneous understandings of the relationship between God, Humankind & Nature–the American wilderness they painted was viewed by them romantically as a new, sublime, Garden of Eden . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class meets at 6:30 PM on Wednesdays, except on Holy Days, when the class begins at 7:00 PM.  The class meets in the Arch Room, on the second floor of the Mission House and is led by Sisters Deborah Francis and Laura Katharine.  The class is reading Ecclesiastes and Job.


AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . As part of an ongoing effort to help the people of Haiti, the Russian Orthodox Cathedral of the Holy Virgin Protection in Manhattan’s East Village will host a Benefit Concert on Saturday, March 20, at 7:30 PM.  All proceeds from the concert will go to the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and will be directed to the people of Haiti. A Vespers service at 5:30 PM with special petitions for the Haitian people and the relief working in Haiti will precede the concert.  This event features the world premier of a new Passion Cantata, incorporating hymns of the Crucifixion from Good Friday.  The music is based on ancient Russian and Georgian chant, sung a cappella in English.  The cantata was written by composer Robert Sirico specifically for this event.  The cathedral is located at 59 East Second Street (between First & Second Avenues), New York, NY 10003.  For further information, please visit


COUNTING FORTY . . . How do we get to “forty” days of Lent?  It’s not so easy.  Stay with me.  A forty-day fast to prepare for Easter is mentioned in the documents of Nicaea from A.D. 325.  It seems the period began six Sundays before Easter and ended on Maundy Thursday.  (Six times seven less three equals forty.)  Then, things got really complicated as Sundays were not days of fasting.  A desire for forty days of fasting, in imitation of the Lord in the wilderness, led to extra days being added at the beginning.  A pre-Lent season, now abolished, also developed.  (Quinquagesima, Sexagesima and Septuagesima Sundays were still celebrated when I first started attending the Episcopal Church.)  How the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25 and Saint Joseph’s Day on March 19 are to be counted are questions that can drive the compulsive crazy.  Is Saint Patrick’s Day in New York City in any way a day of Lent?  S.G.



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