Welcome and Service
From time to time I see clear signs that this parish community has entered a new phase of its common life. Every generation of a community like ours has its own focus and mission. It is the mission of our generation at Saint Mary's to share what we have, to extend the love of Christ and to grow the size of the parish. On Ash Wednesday it was clear to me that the ministry of welcome, one of the most significant ways we begin to invite others into our community, is being shared broadly by members of the parish community. I like it a lot.
It simply would not have been possible to welcome so many people to participate in the ceremonies of the day if so many members of our community had not stepped forward to do so many little jobs. And through the day we kept discovering that the more help we had the more people we could serve.
I confess that it didn't occur to me before Ash Wednesday that the phone would be ringing off the hook with people asking about Masses and ashes. Fortunately, Rosanne Talbird was here for a good part of the day to help. Eileen Sorensen was able to do other things because Rosanne stepped forward.
The folding signs on 46th Street and on 47th Street brought people into our building. Welcoming parishioners directed people towards Masses or ashes. And how we welcomed in the morning mattered for the rest of the day. I certainly had the sense that the folks who came by before work told others that we were open. And that people who came by at noon found a church ready to meet the needs of those who entered. People kept coming all day. Certainly I want to thank my colleagues on the parish staff for their efforts - which were crucial - but the staff and I cannot do this alone. There simply aren't enough of us. More importantly, there is something profoundly evangelical and powerful when the welcoming spirit of the clergy and staff is simply an extension of the spirit of the parish community. Visitors see members of the community and say to themselves, "These people must really love their church."
I can remember many coffee hours when I first came when I would find myself in a group of four or five people and no one wanted to speak to each other, everyone only wanted to speak to me. Perhaps people know me too well now ( ! ) but the genuine caring and concern of the parish community is being reflected in the way we talk to each other and to newcomers.
Last week I asked our parish secretary how many members we have, active members of the local parish community. The answer will surely shock you as it does me: 159. Saint Mary's will not survive if we do not grow this community. We actually have a list of some fifty-five new and prospective members who have been invited to a supper for them on Saint Joseph's Day. Momentum is beginning to build. I almost don't think it possible now for us to stop growth coming our way. It was plain as day on Ash Wednesday: Saint Mary's loves to welcome people to worship and to serve. I believe if you and I continue to communicate this, God will continue sending people here to do his work.
There are people here every Sunday who are looking for a church home. We can extend the spirit of welcome and make our "Ash Wednesday Welcome" the norm. Saint Mary's is an exceptional place and our ministry of welcome should be exceptional in every way.
It is important every Sunday for us to talk to people we do not know. Often we don't know who newcomers are. It's perfectly fine to say, "Have we met? I'm Stephen Gerth? I've only been here for two years." This will invite people to say whether they are new or old. Ushers and coffee hour servers are crucially important but, you don't have to be an usher to ask a newcomer whether he or she has signed our guest book. You don't need to be a priest to ask someone if he or she is looking for a parish home. Everyone can invite a visitor to come back, next Sunday if he or she is local, or the next time he or she is in New York City if from far away.
Count on a few people not wanting to be welcomed. Fine. Allow them to be, smile and move on. You may hear some complaints. Fine. Try to be helpful, smile and move on. Count on finding people amazed and overwhelmed by the precious beauty and majesty of our church home, our parish community, and our worship. Smile more deeply because they share your joy and make sure they know they are welcome. How you and I communicate welcome is crucial. The empty places in the pews communicate on one level that we have room for newcomers. It is only you and I who can communicate by our genuine interest that others really are welcome to be a part of this work of Christ.
Let me take this opportunity to let you know that we are going to need a lot of folks to help during Holy Week too. I think we should have the goal of having greeters on duty in the church all week. The Lenten schedule card which was distributed on Ash Wednesday was beautiful. (Thanks go to Robert Dance and Robert Loper.) Another beautiful card is being made up for Holy Week. These are not just for our own refrigerators. They are for the people who come to visit. What a difference it makes if someone is here with a smile and a card for them, an invitation to sign a list to receive information about Saint Mary's or to ask one of the parish clergy to call.
I have read some of the sermons of our Father Founder, the Reverend Thomas McKee Brown. He was not gentle about what he believed. He was very direct. His enormous energy for the mission and ministry of this place was communicated every time he went into the pulpit. In his generation, Anglo-catholic rectors did not invite people to do anything. They simply spoke to people of their Christian duty in response to Jesus' love. I don't think Father Brown would ever have imagined a mostly empty Saint Mary's on Sunday mornings. I think you and I have the opportunity to rebuild the parish community. The house is beautiful. It is time to welcome and serve in new ways.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Ann, Beatrice, Jack, Nolan, Harold, Olga, Carl, Harold, Frank, Eleanor, John, Barbara, Roy, Peter, John, Jonathan, Bill, Melanie, Joe, Luella, Elwyn, Shirlah, Joyce, Kersten, Scott, Daisy, Naomi, Madelyn, Rodney priest and Charles priest, and for the repose of the soul of Leroy D. Lawson, priest . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . March 11: 1994 Virginia Greene, March 12: 1951 Muriel Dorothy Blaine, March 15: 1969 Peter Chan.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, Psalm 27:10-18, Philippians 3:17-4:1, Luke 13:22-35 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, March 10 by Father Gerth and on March 17 by Father Shin.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Kenny Isler has been here this past week making incense. Kenny, it's been great to have you home . . . The Wednesday evening Spiritual Formation continues with Father Breidenthal based around Hebrews 13:13. The study will ask what it means to share Jesus' suffering beyond the walls of the Church. Following the 6:20 PM Mass, the class meets in Saint Benedict's Study from 7:00 PM to 8:30 PM. . . . Stations of the Cross and Benediction are at Saint Mary's this week at 7:00 PM . . . In the church office we are trying to consolidate and simplify our address lists and mailing label routines. Many members and friends of Saint Mary's receive this newsletter by email every week (which usually means that they get to read it on Thursday!) If you would like to receive the Angelus by email, please E-mail the rector's administrative assistant at JohnFBedd@aol.com and ask to be added to the E-mail list. Also, if you are on the E-mail list and no longer need to receive the paper copy of the newsletter, please let us know so that we can save the postage. To date, 68 persons receive the Angelus by E-mail only, saving the church around $1,200 a year in postage . . .The Lenten Quiet Day is scheduled for Saturday, March 17 from 10:30 AM to 3:00 PM. We are fortunate to have as our retreat leader the Reverend Margaret Guenther: priest, author, and former director of the Center for Christian Spirituality at General Seminary. As in the past, those interested in attending should sign up on the bulletin board in Saint Joseph's Hall or call the church office. (Mabel Hawkesworth Lewis, secretary of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, is requesting that all members attend either the Lenten Quiet Day on March 17, or the Lenten Retreat at St. Hilda’s House on March 23-24 as part of their Lenten exercise.) . . . Invitations have been mailed to new and prospective members for supper at the rectory on Saint Joseph's Day, Monday, March 19. If you are new to Saint Mary's (officially or unofficially) we want you to join us. Please call the parish office, 212-869-5830. There is no agenda for the evening except to eat, to get to know each other and the parish a little better, and to meet members of the Board of Trustees and the parish staff in an informal setting . . . Plan now to have a hand bell for the Great Vigil of Easter. Don't ask. Just bring a loud, beautiful or obnoxious hand bell . . . Attendance last Sunday 165.
RETREAT AT SAINT HILDA'S HOUSE . . . Saint Mary's Lenten Retreat, "Life's Spiritual Paths," led by Sister Catherine Grace, Community of the Holy Spirit, will be held at Saint Hilda's House March 23-24. So far five people have signed up. A few more would make it a nice group. Don't be scared away by the (optional) 7 AM Mass on Saturday morning! The fee for the retreat (with meals and overnight accommodations) is $60.00. Please contact Father Shin for more
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Second Sunday in Lent
Monday Weekday of Lent
Tuesday Weekday of Lent
Wednesday Weekday of Lent
Thursday Weekday of Lent
Friday Weekday of Lent Lenten Abstinence
Stations of the Cross & Benediction at Saint Mary's 7:00 PM
Saturday Weekday of Lent
Lenten Quiet Day 10:30 AM
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Allen Shin, curate, The Reverend Thomas Breidenthal, assistant,
The Reverend Arthur Wolsoncroft, The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa, The Reverend J. Barrington Bates, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.