Members of the parish community have heard me since my arrival as your rector speaking, preaching, writing and teaching about the need for us to be a community where people who have no community of faith can become Christians. One expression I use is to say that I hope we will be worthy enough so that God will send us the unbaptized. Perhaps instead of waiting for God to act, we ought to be asking ourselves if we have the capacity to learn how to bring people to faith.
Episcopalians tend to be good at making non-Episcopal Christians who are dissatisfied with their original community faith into happy Episcopalians. High church Episcopalians are good at making low church Episcopalians into Anglo-catholics. The clergy and laity of our church have almost no skills at seeking out the unbaptized and helping them to die and rise in Christ.
From what I read and hear, the Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania, focuses on teaching its students to evangelize. While they may stress evangelism, my sense is that their theological and liturgical formation is very different from our own.
We at Saint Mary's have a compelling sense of the importance of worship and service to others. The sacramental life informs everything we are and do. Many of us have felt called by this sacramental presence to be a part of this community which welcomes all people. The question for us is this: when people feel called by God to become a part of Saint Mary's, are we ready and able to help them answer that calling? Are we confident enough in our own calling to be of use to those who may only be beginning to listen for God's stirring in their lives? Again, perhaps instead of our waiting for God to act, perhaps God is waiting for us to act.
We act for God and we act with God in simple, concrete ways. When we see strangers shyly enter the door of the church, we can greet them, and place a bulletin in their hands. (Ushers are helpful, but it is not entirely their job to welcome newcomers.) Then there is the question of how we share Christ with others outside the walls of our church building, how we help people to recognize that God's presence in their lives is Christ and that Christ is calling them to faith.
I have quietly expressed my concern to colleagues and others about the widespread lack of liturgical formation in our seminaries. I think most lay persons of our church would be shocked to discover how little is required of our seminarians and our seminary faculty in terms of worship. I believe it is now the case that the most any seminary actually requires in the area of liturgical study is two courses. Of course, each of the seminaries has its own strengths but parishes are a lot like seminaries in that they tend to develop particular areas of strength and witness over the years.
I am aware of what a tremendous difference it made in my own seminary formation in every aspect of life that everyone, faculty and students, went to chapel for Morning Prayer, Mass and Evensong every day (seats were assigned; attendance was taken) and that liturgy was studied every term. If we had not had this ongoing experience of worship and liturgical study, we would have lost a context that enriched our work in all other areas. Similarly, I cannot help but wonder how our own life as a Christian community is less than it might be because we are not bringing people to new life in Christ. We probably don't know how.
I do think you and I have a handle on how our community can help unbaptized persons prepare to die and to live in Christ once an individual speaks to us about seeking Easter life. I think our parish community knows how to help its members live as practicing committed Christians. The missing piece of the puzzle is evangelism, bringing the unbaptized to inquire and seek faith. This is so fundamental, however, that again, I worry about how our common life may is affected by its absence. And surely it is.
The future of our parish is tied to the thoughts and desires of our hearts. I believe you and I should not want growth simply to save or preserve Saint Mary's; that's the wrong reason to grow. We will grow if the desire of our hearts is to share the Gospel with those who do not know the Lord Jesus. We are not baptized to make other Christians into Anglo-catholics; we are baptized to bring the Easter life we know to others. To be a Christian is to be an evangelist. It says something rather shocking about my lack of formation as a priest and the lack of formation of most of our members that we don't normatively think of ourselves in this way. My office door still has a sign on it that says: Job One is Parish Growth. Perhaps it needs a new sign: Wanted: Evangelists.
A Letter from The Rt. Rev. Richard F. Grein
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
This letter is to inform you that today I announced to the Standing Committee my intention officially to retire as the Fourteenth Bishop of New York on June 30, 2001. Bishop Sisk has been aware of the schedule for this retirement for some time.
The announcement comes with a variety of thoughts and feelings, not the least of which is the fact that I have truly enjoyed being the Bishop of this great Diocese, whose people, both clergy and lay, display a commitment to the work of our Lord that is inspiring because of its rich diversity and authentic spirituality. The Diocese of New York is a leader throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion, and with that leadership comes far-reaching responsibility. It has been my privilege to be involved with so many wonderful people in addressing that challenge.
The joys of the responsibility of being the Bishop of New York far outweigh the burden of the duties. I speak from my heart when I tell you how much I have treasured my relationship with you. Our work together has called forth gifts unknown within me, and allows me to leave this office a more complete human being than when I came into it. I am sincerely grateful for the cooperation in the Spirit which we have shared.
Please keep my family and me in your prayers. I also ask that you pray for Bishop Mark Sisk as he assumes the spiritual leadership of our beloved Diocese.
Faithfully in Christ,
Richard F. Grein
Bishop of New York
PRAYER LIST…Your prayers are asked for Harold who is gravely ill and for Mark, Beatrice, Jack, Olga, Helen, Mary, Lucille, Frances, Carl, Frank, Eleanor, Jane, John, Kersten, Nolan, Barbara, Santiago, Rick, Judy, Roy, Peter, Phillip, Harold, Charles, priest, and Rodney, priest and for the repose of the soul of Kenneth William Willett who died on Tuesday, January 9, 2001.
GRANT THEM PEACE . . . January 15: 1983 Faith Cleveland Booth, January 17: 1967 Letitia De Souza, 1998 John Zippler Headley.
LITURGICAL NOTES . . . The Sunday Proper: Isaiah 62:1-5, Psalm 96:1-10, 1 Corinthians 12:1-11, John 2:1-11 . . . 9:00 AM Celebrant & Preacher: Father Shin, 10:00 AM Celebrant & Preacher: Father Shin, 11:00 AM Celebrant & Preacher: Father Gerth, 5:00 PM Celebrant & Preacher: Father Gerth . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, January 13 by Father Shin and on January 20 by Father Garrison.
IN THIS TRANSITORY LIFE . . . We have received word that a member of the parish community, Kenneth Willett, died at home on January 9. He was an active parishioner until he became ill with cancer in 1995. He was born in England in 1940. We understand that his body will be cremated and that a memorial Mass will be held here in the future. Please pray for him.
I PUBLISH THE BANNS of Marriage between David Ray Copeland New York City and Kimberly Danette Coleman of New York City. If any of you know just cause why they may not be joined together in Holy Matrimony, you are bidden to declare it. This is the second time of asking. S.G.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Mark Cho is home from the hospital and is doing well. We are thankful . . . Father Charles Whipple was hospitalized last week for a few days for treatment. He's back home and doing much better. Please continue to keep him in your prayers . . . Father Rodney Kirk is in North Carolina for treatment. Please continue to keep him in your prayers . . . Reports for the Annual Meeting are due in the parish office by Friday, January 19 . . . Altar flowers are needed for 3 Epiphany, January 21, 4 Epiphany, January 28 and Presentation, February 2. If you are interested, please telephone the parish office at 212 869-5830. Attendance for the Eve of the Epiphany was 131. Attendance for last Sunday, the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ, was 170.
The Calendar of the Week
The Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Martin Luther King Federal Holiday:
One Mass only 12:15 PM
Wednesday Anthony, abbot
Thursday The Confession of Saint Peter the Apostle
The Week of Prayer for Christian Unity begins today.
Friday Wulfstan, bishop
Saturday Fabian, bishop & martyr
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.