When I was in second grade, in 1961, second graders studied “community helpers.” These were the people in our city whose work was to make our lives safe and better. They were doctors, dentists and nurses. They were policemen, firemen and school crossing guards. They were postmen and even members of the clergy. They wore uniforms. In 1961 they were mostly men. They were trustworthy. You could depend on them to help you everyday and if you were hurt or in trouble. The world was basically a safe place for second graders in 1961 Virginia, despite all of the problems of that time and place.
The community helpers in our own city and country, we have learned through tragedy, are still good, in fact, they are more wonderful than most of us had imagined. The response of our community helpers to the attack on our city on September 11 brings tears to the eyes of any of us who pause to think about it. The guts in New York are good, and not just New York. At Ground Zero and throughout the city we are meeting people from across our country and from overseas who have come to help, to rescue and to recover the dead. I feel so proud and humbled to be a citizen of the city and of this nation.
A day or two after September 11, several of us from the church visited the local fire station, Engine 54 at Forty-seventh and Eighth Avenue. There we met a twenty year-old firefighter. September 11 had been his first day on the job at a fire station that had lost its entire morning shift, fourteen first-responders. As we spoke with that young man, we saw his obvious sadness, but we also saw an amazing kind of energy and excitement at being able to help other people. We had no doubt about the character of that young man or of any of the other men and women working there. None of them would want to die, but none would hesitate to stand in harm’s way to save the life of another.
Whether we have been able to return to our jobs, have found ways of volunteering or helping, or are simply taking some time before moving on, each of us, I believe is trying to respond to the disaster of two weeks ago. Our parish community is responding too. Late last Wednesday afternoon a senior officer of Citibank, N.A. left a message on our answering machine asking about the possibility of doing a service for the families of four people from their firm who were missing. As soon as we got the message our response was, “Yes -- whatever we can do -- we want to be helpful in any way that we can.”
Sometime on Thursday it occurred to me that Father Weiler was supposed to be having a day off. Hah! He has already fallen into the habit of the parish clergy and is overworking. Robert McCormick of course immediately stepped forward to play for the service. Again, the attitude of the parish staff throughout was to be helpful in any way that we could.
One of the four families had immediate family members who only spoke Spanish. Thus, our team produced a bilingual bulletin. The congregation was multi-denominational, so we decided to have a straightforward service of Evening Prayer with Sermon and Hymns. Providentially, Father Figueroa was scheduled for Mass that night. He was able of course to read the lessons and half of the prayers as a native Spanish speaker. I read the balance in English. We had been told to expect two hundred for the service. Before the liturgy began we began to reproduce more bulletins so that the entire congregation of some four hundred people had service leaflets in short order. A group of altar servers had been assembled. Saint Mary’s was at its best, fulfilling its role, as a place of prayer, pilgrimage and worship.
There have been sermons to preach, words to prepare. But since September 11 many of us have simply been on automatic pilot, turning to the Bible, the Prayer Book and the Hymnal to proclaim Good News in the midst of the tragic evil. This is one of the gifts of the sacramental and liturgical Christian tradition. When our thinking and speaking are stopped short by grief or shock, Christian tradition gives us the words to say. And even when our eyes are filled with tears so that we cannot read the words on the pages of the Bible or the missal, we know the words Jesus himself taught us. And even in silence, we trust that truth of the scripture that reminds us that even when there are no words, the Holy Spirit prays within us.
I know that many in the parish community are helping in many different ways to assist others at this time. We can honor the departed who were killed when our country was attacked and those first responders who died trying to save the victims of the attack. Individuals, families, households, businesses, institutions and churches have the opportunity to contribute to the character and response of our community. There have been many moments of pain, too many to recall, since September 11. But there have been and will be even more moments of grace, of beauty, of eternal truth. Stephen Gerth
PRAYER LIST . . . Your prayers are asked for the members of the Armed Forces of our country on active duty, especially Patrick, Christopher, Edward and Andrew, for the civil and public safety officers of our city and state, for Karen who is hospitalized, for Patrick, Marion, Beatrice, Godfrey, Jack, Harold, Olga, Carl, Eleanor, John, Peter, Joseph, Michael, Kenneth, Ursula, Jessica, Russell, Susan, Esme, Tessie, Richard, Jennifer, John, William, Norma, Raymond, Nettie, Barbara, priest, Charles, priest, and Arthur, priest, and for the repose of the soul of Rae Anne.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Amos 6:1-7, Psalm 146:4-9, 1 Timothy 6:11-19, Luke 16:19-31 . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, September 29 by Father Smith and on Saturday, October 6 by Father Garrison . . . NOTES ON MUSIC . . . The prelude before the Solemn Mass on Sunday will be Adagio in E by Frank Bridge (1879-1941), and the postlude will be Toccata in Seven by John Rutter (b. 1945). Mr. Daniel Ebbers, tenor, is our soloist. The solo at communion will be He is my altar from Canticle I, Op. 40, by Benjamin Britten (1913-1976).
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Eve of Michaelmas, Friday, September 28, Sung Mass at 6:00 PM! . . . Please note that Father Matthew Weiler has moved into the curate’s office on the third floor of the parish house. He is now at extension 16, 212-869-5830 . . . The new issue of AVE has been received in most homes. Since the labels are now being generated by the church database, please make sure that your address is correct and that we send the publication to the right person at the right address. Thank you! . . . The Reverend Canon Barry E. B. Swain, assistant priest at Saint Mary’s from 1986 to 1988, will be instituted as rector of the Church of the Resurrection, on Tuesday, October 2, by the Bishop of New York. Congratulations, Father! . . .. Father Breidenthal’s series, “Shakespeare as Theologian,” repeated from last year, will meet in Saint Benedict’s Study on Wednesday evenings, October 3 through October 24. The discussion will especially consider Christian influences on Measure for Measure and The Tempest . . . Attendance last Sunday: 179.
VOLUNTEERS NEEDED AT SAINT PAUL’S CHAPEL . . . The Seamen’s Church Institute is no longer being used as a site to assist workers at Ground Zero. The Episcopal ministry of offering food and supplies to workers at the site of the World Trade Center disaster is now coordinated entirely at Saint Paul’s Chapel, inside the closed zone. On Wednesday, October 18, Saint Mary’s is again teaming up with members of the Church of the Transfiguration to cover the day. There are some changes. Only two shifts of volunteers are needed, and each volunteer is expected to remain for one twelve-hour shift. Volunteers are needed from 8 AM to 8:00 PM and from 8:00 PM Wednesday night until 8:00 AM on Thursday morning. There will be sign-up sheets in Saint Joseph’s Hall this Sunday, but you may also volunteer by calling Father Weiler at 869-5830, extension 16, or by emailing him at email@example.com. Volunteers are asked to keep in mind the following: 1. Children and teenagers are not permitted. 2. You must be in good health -- able to lift 30 pounds or more. 3. Appropriate clothing -- you will be on your feet the entire time. 4. Volunteers must be flexible -- the situation changes constantly. 5. Sometimes, you must run out of the area for safety -- if you can't run, please take that into consideration prior to volunteering.
The Calendar of the Week
Sunday The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Monday Remigius, bishop
Thursday Francis of Assisi, friar
Friday Weekday Abstinence
Saturday William Tyndale, priest
The Parish Clergy
The Reverend Stephen Gerth, rector,
The Reverend Matthew G. Weiler, curate, The Reverend Thomas Breidenthal, assistant,
The Reverend Arthur Wolsoncroft, The Reverend Canon Maurice Garrison, The Reverend Amilcar Figueroa,
The Reverend Rosemari Sullivan, The Reverend James Ross Smith, assisting priests,
The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus.