FROM THE RECTOR: GOD AND COUNTRY
The Prayer Book permits Independence Day to be celebrated on Sunday. That’s not our tradition, but I can certainly understand that there could be times when it would be appropriate here for us to celebrate Independence Day on a Sunday and that there are places where it is always appropriate. That said, on the Sunday nearest Independence Day we have sung two hymns every year since I arrived, “Lift every voice and sing” at the preparation and “God of our fathers” as the final hymn. These hymns help us, not only to praise God, but to call to mind, to borrow a phrase, “our American journey."
The text “Lift every voice and sing” was written by James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), the tune Lift every voice by his brother John Rosamond Johnson (1873-1954). They were African-Americans, born into the segregation of post-Civil War America. Both were extraordinary individuals with accomplishments in so many areas that there’s simply not room in this article to write more than to say they are worth knowing about. Their hymn entered The Hymnal with the 1982 edition. Written in 1899, by the beginning of the Second World War it had become widely known in the African-American community.
I first knowingly encountered it when I served as master of ceremonies for the institution of a new rector for Saint Luke’s Church, New Orleans, while I was serving at Saint Luke’s Church, Baton Rouge, in the late 1980s. It was sung with great power by the congregation from beginning to end. What I remember most is that there were two of us, Caucasians, in the chancel who didn’t know the words and just stood there. The text cries out for us to understand the journey and suffering of the African-American community in this country and rejoices in God’s providence for that community. The final verse is a prayer for the future of all of us and our country.
“God of our fathers, whose almighty hand” was written by Daniel Crane Roberts (1841-1907), a priest of the church for the celebrations on July 4, 1876, the centennial of the Declaration of Independence. George William Warren (1828-1902), organist of Saint Thomas Church, New York City, composed this tune in 1892 for this text. It’s been popular ever since. The tune was soon named National Hymn. The Hymnal 1982 Companion  comments, “Although American in origin, this hymn of praise and prayer for peace does not refer to a specific nation; it can be sung by any freedom-loving people” (volume 3B, hymn 718). It’s a testament to the universal ideals of the American Revolution.
We have sung different hymns over the last fifteen years after communion, most often, “O Jesus, I have promised.” That text by John Ernest Bode (1816-1874), a priest of the Church of England, was included in The Hymnal 1892. It has become more widely known, I think, since being joined to the Finnish tune Nyland in The Hymnal 1982. It’s a really great hymn. That said, it seems to me this Sunday should have an American feel to it. So, we are going to sing “How firm a foundation” to an American folk melody, now called Foundation, first published in 1832. Mark Peterson has written in “Music This Week” about this hymn, so please read about it there.
The author of the text is unknown. He was almost certainly British; the text was included in a famous collection of hymns by John Rippon (1751-1836), an English Baptist minister. It’s been in the Hymnal since 1826. Like the words of “O Jesus, I have promised,” “How firm a foundation” celebrates our response to God’s call to us in Jesus and Jesus’ faithfulness to us. I do like the tune Nyland for “O Jesus, I have promised,” but I know that the tune Foundation moves me more deeply than Nyland. Foundation touches something deep in my soul.
The gospel appointed for Sunday includes one of the best-known sayings of Jesus, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Our nation, like each of us as individuals, continues the journey of life to eternal life. It’s not at all a bad gospel for a weekend when our nation will be celebrating the Declaration of Independence.
We can be very much a part of that celebration, but we Christians know our true country, our true home is, as the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:16). As our journey continues, the words of Micah remain a prayer when he reminds us that God requires us “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with [our] God” (Micah 6:8b). Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Sharon, Rasheed, Reha, Rebecca, Burt, John, McNeil, David, Sylvia, Rick, Jack, Linda, Arpene, Paulette, priest, and Harry, priest; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Mark; and for the repose of the soul of Waldemar Hernandez . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . July 6: 1892 James Burt; 1893 Isaac Buchanan; 1902 Robert Arthur Fitzell; 1933 Vito Contessa; 1934 Daisy Stambaugh.
THE ORDINARY FRIDAYS OF THE YEAR . . . are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 12, and on Saturday, July 19, by Father Pace. Confessions will be heard on Saturday, July 26, by Father Gerth.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Sharon Singh continues at Calvary Hospital Hospice, Bronx. Please keep Sharon in your prayers. We continue to be thankful for the love and care being given by the parish community . . . Flowers are needed for all of the Sundays in July. If you would like to donate for a Sunday, please be in touch with Aaron Koch in the parish office . . . Sister Laura Katharine is away from the parish until Tuesday, July 15. Sister Deborah Francis is in residence . . . Attendance: Peter and Paul 200.
HELP STILL NEEDED . . . One person has spoken with me about laundering the small linens that are used for the celebration of the Eucharist. It would be great if we could have another two volunteers at least—it will reduce the workload and spread the joy. This ministry works for people who like to iron. It need not take up an unreasonable amount of time, especially when several people commit to it. It’s also a ministry where humor can surprise. One member of the parish, now moved away from the city, used to return perfectly ironed and folded linens packed carefully in tissue paper in boxes from various shops, from Takashimaya to Victoria’s Secret. The range was wonderfully surprising. That said, a re-sealable plastic bag, handled carefully, works just as well. In response to the notice about people being needed for this ministry, I received the following email from a reader in Australia, S.G.:
I read the weekly newsletters from St Mary’s. This gives me great joy and a pause for reflection in a busy life. Over the past 26 years I have had the privilege to do the washing of Altar Linens and the making and maintenance of all tapestries and making and renewing Altar Frontals in our Church of The Holy Trinity, Orange, Australia.
I can only commend to your parishioners the great joy I have had over 26 years in this holy activity. The symbolic significance of these linens is upmost in my mind as I wash and tend. I am with the women at the tomb. It is not a chore “to be done” but a blessing. As I am now older, I have just recently passed on this privilege to a younger person. We shall see what happens!
May St.Mary’s continue to show the presence of our Lord in Times Square for many, many years. May God bless all the Clergy and Parishioners in your place, Susan Dumbrell
SAINT MARY’S IN CENTRAL PARK . . . The Annual SMV Field Trip to hear the New York Philharmonic in Central Park will be on Friday, July 11. The concert is held on the Great Lawn at 8:00 PM. Grace Bruni is the coordinator for us. She plans to be “by the front-most speaker on the west side, just behind the VIP fence” from 5:00 PM until the concert starts. It’s a potluck picnic. All are welcome. Please email Grace for more information or to let her know you are coming (the latter is helpful but not necessary).
MUSIC THIS WEEK . . . Shape note hymns are so named because of a style of singing called “shape note singing”, referencing the musical notation which uses note heads in four distinct shapes to aid in sight-reading. The term “Sacred Harp” is often heard in reference to these hymns because the books that most singers use today are called “The Sacred Harp,” the most recent edition being the 1991 Denson edition. The term “sacred harp” refers to the human voice, that is, the musical instrument you were given at birth. Shape note singing is a distinct and uniquely American convention developed to facilitate four-part singing from a variety of people who may or may not have musical training. It is a notably inclusive and democratic means of teaching sight-singing, and the number of well-known hymns that stem from this tradition would surprise most church goers. In 1844, The Sacred Harp was just one of more than 100 hymn books published in the U.S. It has been continuously updated ever since. Its repertoire of over 500 four-part a cappella hymns, odes, and anthems is part of the foundation of our vibrant oral tradition. Foundation, a tune included at Solemn Mass this Sunday, is but one of the familiar hymns that come to us from this tradition, and it is a vibrant set of variation on this tune by Martin M. Gilbert (b. 1941) that we hear as a prelude to the Mass. At the ministration of Holy Communion, Jann Degnan, mezzo-soprano, will sing a setting of another great American classic, Praises to Zion, in a setting by the great Brooklyn native, Aaron Copland (1900-1990). Mark Peterson
REPORT: AIDS WALK 2014 . . . This year, Saint Mary’s AIDS Walk team raised $39,883, which puts us #1 among religious organizations in fundraising and 11th overall—an extraordinary feat. Our team of 14 walkers received donations from more than 250 people. Our generous donors live in states like Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming. Donations also came in from across the globe, including Belgium, the Netherlands and Canada. Our donors are lay people, priests, nuns and just everyday people who believe in this great cause. Every donation made a difference in getting our team to 11th place this year. The smallest donation made was $2. The largest was from our congregation’s generous giving at Maundy Thursday—$1,280 went to the AIDS Walk from the plate on this day. A big thank you to all who donated and all who walked this year!
OUTREACH . . . We welcome donations of hand sanitizer; granola bars; applesauce, sold in small, plastic cups with peel-off tops; water; peanut butter and crackers; and other small items that can be packed in bags for distribution to those who are homeless . . . We continue to collect non-perishable food items for the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Please place your donations in the basket near the ushers’ table on Sunday mornings. You may also make cash donations.