From Father Shin: The Joy of Being Wrong
Having just ended Processiontide (the informal name given to the season between Ascension Day and Corpus Christi) we are now about to go into a cruise-control liturgical mode until the Assumption. The pressure the MC’s have had to deal with in these four weeks is just as bad as Holy Week. From the nave most of the congregation probably does not experience the level of energy and pressure the servers feel in the choir chancel and in the sanctuary. But sitting in the sanctuary I am aware of even the smallest detail that goes wrong, the details that escape the scrutiny of even the most discriminating liturgical connoisseurs in the nave. When that happens, my blood pressure goes up and my heart beats just a little faster, although I try to maintain my inscrutable and stoic calm. The MC’s know right away when that happens. There is a connection between the MC and the clergy in the sanctuary that can only be likened to an umbilical cord. When the celebrant and the deacon fret in their places, the MC feels it immediately. Saint Mary’s being Saint Mary’s has often had an atmosphere of perfectionism when it comes to worship.
It so happened that the Gospel lesson at Mass on Tuesday was about being perfect. It was one of those familiar but hard sayings of Jesus from Matthew: “Love your enemy . . . You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:43-48). Sayings like this raise all kinds of difficult issues. Having grown up the oldest child in the family both immediate and extended, I was “programmed” to be a perfectionist. I don’t need the added stress of someone telling me to be perfect. Saint Mary’s hasn’t earned its nickname, “Smokey Mary,” by being lax in its worship. With that nickname comes also the added pressure to be “perfect” in our worship. Being a perfectionist is one thing, but being obsessive and neurotic about perfectionism is quite another. It takes all the fun and joy out of worship.
What does it mean for us human beings to be perfect? There is an overwhelming sense of impossibility in this saying. We could not be perfect as human beings, let alone be perfect like God. A book I have read recently is entitled, The Joy of Being Wrong, written by a theologian named James Alison. The title is catchy enough to want to pick it up. It was also recommended by a “reliable” friend as a must read. But don’t be fooled by the catchy title. This book is not the usual bedside reading. It’s a scholarly book on the Doctrine of Original Sin. I am not about to expound upon the Doctrine of Original Sin in this article, though sin in its original or unoriginal form would be a hot topic. I am, however, intrigued by the title, because there is something uplifting and liberating in the tone of this phrase. It makes me reflect upon the level of perfectionism, which, pushed too high and too seriously, takes all the fun and joy out of life.
Part of being human is to make mistakes, make wrong decisions and do wrong things. I am not talking about extreme examples here, which can be debated. But in the ordinary course of daily life we make mistakes, even sometimes making the same ones over and over again. When a mistake happens in the liturgy and sometimes the same mistake over and over again, it has more to do with a lack of planning and preparation or a lack of time to be ritualized in the liturgy. The MC’s at Saint Mary’s are seasoned servers who deeply care about the liturgy and are aware of even the most minute or ritual details. So when they feel uncomfortable with something in the liturgy, there is a reason for it. Perhaps it needs more fine-tuning or perhaps it just needs time to be ritualized. But there is a way to be perfect in the meantime until we get it right, whatever we do. We can perfectly rejoice in the celebration of life with all our perfections and imperfections, for God redeems all of who we are. In our mistakes and wrongs we allow ourselves to be human and allow God to be God. We are humbled in our mistakes and with this humility our burdens are lifted. It is precisely in our mistakes we can be deeply aware of and be joyful in God’s redemptive power. That is the joy of being wrong.
My blood pressure will still go up and my heart will still beat faster when something goes wrong in the liturgy. And I will still fret uncomfortably in my seat when even a small detail goes wrong. But I am ever so grateful that I have had the opportunity to be a servant among these servants in the liturgy at Saint Mary’s. It is truly a priest’s dream come true to have the MC’s, other servers and volunteers who serve in this parish. They deeply love this parish and rejoice in the gift they offer with all its perfections and imperfections.
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for Jack, Henry, Harold, Olga, Carl, Eleanor, John, Peter, John, Jonathan, Joseph, Elwyn, Shirlah, Michael, Kenneth, Ursula, Jessica, Russell, Evelyn, Susan, Esme, Tessie, Rodney priest, Arthur priest, and the repose of the soul of Clarence.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . June 24: 1993 William Ray Kirby, June 26: 1985 Kenneth Mealy.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Zechariah 12:8-10, 13:1, Psalm 63:1-8, Galatians 3:23-29, Luke 9:18-24 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, June 23 by Father Gerth and on Saturday, June 30 by Father Garrison.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . Abraham Rochester’s brother, Clarence, died in Bermuda on Sunday, June 17. He was buried on Thursday, June 21 from the Cathedral of The Most Holy Trinity, in Hamilton, Bermuda. We continue to keep the Nagy-Rochester families in our prayers, as it was Suzanne’s mother who died the previous week.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . It was wonderful to have Bishop Epting with us to preside at the Solemn Mass on Corpus Christi . . . There was sustained and grateful applause at the end of Mass on Corpus Christi for Andrew Adams, Shayne Doty and our parish choir. It’s been a wonderful year and we remain grateful for all of the musical support and leadership we have had. Flowers were presented to Andrew and Shayne by the choir . . . Thanks also to Rick Austill for sharing with us the premiere of his motet, Panem de coelo . . . Mark your calendars: New and Prospective Member Dinner at the Rectory on Monday, July 16, at 7:00 PM. Invitations will be mailed, but please spread the word and consider these public announcements as invitations! . . . Attendance on Corpus Christi: 204.
HOLY DAYS THIS WEEK . . . Two special days occur in the calendar during the last week in June: the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist and the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles. I wish it were possible to observe both days with a Sung Mass in the evening. Perhaps next year we shall be able to add one or both of them to the rota of these days. Holy Days are good days to attend weekday celebrations of the Holy Eucharist. In our Prayer Book the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist has the rank of “Feast of our Lord.” It may be observed on a Sunday in Ordinary Time, that is, the “Season after Pentecost.” (We are not doing so this year as I believe the parish needs to move into Ordinary Time!) If the day fell on a Friday, abstinence would be dispensed. The Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is a “Major Feast” in the Prayer Book calendar. It may be observed on a Sunday and often is in parishes like ours. In the Roman Church the day ranks as a “Solemnity.” It would not be inappropriate for Saint Marians who observe this feast by attendance at Mass or the Office to consider them dispensed. (If it can be a Saint Marian custom to dispense on the Friday after Christmas in honor of leftover Thanksgiving meats, then I certainly think Saint Peter and Saint Paul might qualify as well.) The evening Mass on Friday will be celebrated by Father Figueroa, his last Mass with us until September. We are most thankful for his assistance at the altar during the year and will pray for him as he visits family in Puerto Rico and enjoys some days of vacation. S.G.
DIOCESAN PRIDE EVENTS . . . The New York City Gay Pride Parade, this Sunday, June 24, will once again include a contingent and banners from the Diocese of New York. Marchers from Saint Mary's may meet at the 46th Street Entrance after the Solemn Mass on Sunday and will then go together to join in the parade. (The official meeting site for the Diocese is on 53rd Street between Park and Lexington Avenues at 11:30 AM [a change from the location originally announced]). Once again this year, Saint Luke's in the Village will host a Pride Evensong at 6:30 PM. The Reverend Tanya Wallace will preach and Bishop Roskam will be officiating. A reception follows in the Church's garden.
CELEBRATION OF THE MINISTRY OF BISHOP GREIN . . . A Celebration of the Mission of the Diocese of New York, with its Fourteenth Bishop, the Right Reverend Richard Frank Grein, honoring his twelve years of service to the Diocese and to the Episcopal Church will be held this Saturday, June 23 at The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. Several members of the Saint Vincent’s Guild of Servers from Saint Mary’s will be in the procession, along with Father Shin and our church banner. If additional servers would like to process, please meet in the cathedral undercroft, with cassock and surplice at 10:30 AM. The Mass begins at 11:00 AM and all are invited.
A VACATION FOR SPIRITUAL FORMATION CLASSES . . . Spiritual formation classes at Saint Mary’s have ended for the year, with the conclusion of the Dialogue with Islam class last week. Over the next few weeks Father Shin will be coordinating the 2001-2002 schedule. If you have ideas or requests for topics, please let him know.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Third Sunday after Pentecost
Monday The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist
Thursday Irenaeus, bishop & martyr
Eve of Saint Peter and Saint Paul 6:00 PM
Friday Saint Peter and Saint Paul, Apostles Abstinence
Saturday Of Our Lady
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 Rosemari Sullivan, assisting priests, The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.