FROM THE RECTOR: RELIGION IN OUR TIME
A while back, Father Pete Powell recommended a book in one of his sermons. The book was Robert Putnam and David Campbell’s study of American religious practices, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (2010). I ordered the book and I have been reading through it ever since Father Powell mentioned it. In 2012 a paperback edition with a new epilogue was published. Gypsy da Silva had an extra copy of the new edition and she gave it to me. Both volumes are on my reading table. I’ve already skipped ahead to the new epilogue in the 2012 edition to see what’s changed as I continue reading through the text and statistics of the first book.
American Grace is an analysis of an extensive survey conducted in 2006, with a follow-up survey in 2007. Interestingly, after an introductory chapter the authors begin by describing three different Episcopal congregations in and around Boston as well as Rick Warren’s evangelical “mega church,” the Saddleback Church, in southern California.
There is a lot to like about Putnam and Campbell’s approach. I agree strongly with their sense that American religion can be distinguished from the religion of Western Europe because of the history of the American republic. In particular, the American Revolution paved the way for the end of the established churches of the colonies. (Massachusetts in 1833 was the last of the former colonies to disestablish completely its colonial church.)
Putnam and Campbell use the word “entrepreneurial” to describe the way many different religious groups in our nation have had to compete for their places in American life. It turns out that the three most cohesive groups at present in their survey are, in order, Latino Catholic, Mormon and Black Protestant. That said, most Americans interact or know people of different religious traditions; and there is a good deal of intermarriage across religious and denominational boundaries in America. Knowing and being related through work, marriage and children to people of different religious traditions helps define the tenor of American life beyond the doors of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples.
In 2011, the authors did another survey to track the people who had been surveyed before and to look at the responses of a new group of younger people, now old enough to be included in the survey. One conclusion: the great recession has not significantly affected people’s religious practice. Faith has remained a source of stability for lives upended by economic and political uncertainty. This survey did produce one finding that suggests real concern for the future: there has been a sharp decline in religious commitment among 18 to 29 year-olds, as great as the decline in the 1960s. In 2006, 16% of the respondents in this age group said religion was “not at all important” in their daily life; in 2011, the number had grown to 25%. That is something to think about and to address.
Given the kind of media coverage religion often has, I was pleased to read an overall conclusion that relatively little politicking goes on in most American churches. Putnam and Campbell put it this way, “When [Americans] go to church, they are much more likely to hear about God than Caesar, and that is the way they like it” (429). That said, the Sunday after President Obama took office, I was in a San Francisco parish church where the celebrant stopped in the middle of the Eucharistic Prayer—yes, the prayer of thanksgiving over the bread and wine—to praise Mr. Obama’s election as president.
I found myself wondering if Putnam and Campbell, who began their book with remarks on three Episcopal parishes, were thinking about the Episcopal Church as they were writing their “Concluding Thoughts” in the new edition:
Given the entrepreneurial dynamism of American religion, it seems likely that America’s religious leaders will respond to the secular shift and seek to bring the disaffected back to religion . . . We suspect that losing parishioners over partisan messaging presents a strong incentive for clergy to cut back on the politics to bring their lost congregants back—or to prevent losing more. Whether they will succeed remains to be seen (579).
There are other ways to speak about the work of the church. As important as the clergy may be in Putnam and Campbell’s survey and analysis, members are just as important. It matters, for example, whether the members of a congregation send the message that there is not only a welcome for a newcomer in worship, but a place in the mission of the community for him or her.
I am very proud of the traditional slogan, “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You”—and I would be interested in knowing how it came about. I sense that we as a parish really do try to express that welcome. I am also very proud that of the grace here that comes not only from Christ’s table, but from the care and concern I see for one another and for people in need in other places. The Episcopal Church does welcome you and me. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Noël, Jananie, Katrien, Sal, Ilia, Rick, Mattie, Sharon, Chandra, Linda, Phillip, Autumn, Sandor, Elise, Ben, Janet, Rita, Robert, Janice, Casey, Angeline, George, Anna, Barbara, Joseph, Arpene, and Joyce; for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth, Nicholas, and Matthew; and for the repose of the soul of Peyton Parker . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . September 2: 1875 Henry Ward Coles; 1891 Lester Warren Wood; 1916 Ruby Brown Flynn; 1949 Louisa Verplanck Richards.
A SPECIAL PRAYER REQUEST . . . Brother Emil Denworth, F.M.S. asks that we keep the Marist brothers who continue to live and work in Syria, often near the front lines of the conflict, in our prayers which we gladly do.
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 . . . Monday, September 3, Labor Day, Federal Holiday Schedule: the church opens at 10:00 AM and closes at 2:00 PM, only the noonday services are offered, and the parish offices are closed . . . Friday, September 7, the Eve of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Father Jim Pace will hear confessions on Saturday, September 1. Father Jay Smith will hear confessions on Saturday, September 8. If you do not see a priest in the church at the appointed times for confession, please speak to the sexton on duty and he will call the priest on duty; or you may call the parish office ahead of time to make an appointment.
HOSPITALITY AT SAINT MARY’S . . . We are hoping to receive donations for the reception on November 1, All Saints’ Day. Please contact the parish office. We are also happy to receive donations to support our hospitality efforts on Sundays! Thank you to all who have made contributions to this very important ministry!
AROUND THE PARISH . . . Our new Saint Mary’s Facebook page can be accessed at www.facebook.com/stmvnyc. If you use Facebook, we invite you to visit our page and “like” us . . . During the summer-vacation season, we typically experience something of a cash-flow problem. We invite all those who have made a pledge for 2012 to try and stay current with their planned pledge payments, if possible; and we thank all those who continue to support Saint Mary’s so generously . . . Donations are needed for altar flowers for the following days: Sunday, October 28; and the following Sundays, November 11, 18, and 25. If you would like to donate flowers on one of those dates, please contact the parish office . . . Father Gerth will be on vacation and away from the parish, September 1 through September 8. He returns to the parish on Sunday, September 9 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 183.
FROM THE MUSIC DIRECTOR . . . The prelude before the Solemn Mass is the Kirchensonate (“Church Sonata”) in F Major, K. 244, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–1791). The cantor is Emily Werne, soprano. At the ministration of Communion, the motet is Laudamus te, the third movement of Gloria in excelsis, RV 589, by Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741). One of several settings that Vivaldi composed, this version was relatively unknown until its first modern-day performance in Siena in 1939. Since then, the work has become extremely popular. It was probably composed for the Ospedale della Pietà, a convent, orphanage, and music school in Venice where Vivaldi held a variety of positions. Originally composed for two sopranos, today’s performance is sung by soprano and tenor voices. Ryan Latini, violinist, and Grace Bruni, ’cellist, perform with the singers today during the prelude and the motet. James Kennerley
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Friday, September 14, Holy Cross Day . . . Friday, September 21, Saint Matthew, Apostle & Evangelist . . . Friday, September 28, The Eve of Saint Michael and All Angels . . . Wednesday, October 3, The Ordination of a Priest . . . Sunday, October 7, Sung Matins 8:30 AM, Mass 9:00 & 10:00 AM, Church School 9:45 AM, Adult Education 10:00 AM, Solemn Mass 11:00 AM (choir returns), Evensong and Benediction 5:00 PM . . . Saturday, October 13, Oktoberfest, 6:00 PM-9:00 PM.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . The Inpatient Detoxification Program at St. Luke's Hospital is always in need of Bibles (editions with both the Old and the New Testaments), new basic personal items (especially t-shirts, socks, and small backpacks or totes), and ink pens for journaling (bank pens, hotel pens, all are fine). If you are willing and able to help, a box will be available in St. Joseph's Hall on Sunday mornings. If you have any questions, please contact Deacon Mary Jett at firstname.lastname@example.org . . . We are beginning now to gather toys and other gift items for children of all ages. They will be donated in November to the New York Foundling Hospital and AIDS Action International. Donations can be left, with a note on them explaining what they are for, in the parish kitchen or you may give the items to Father Jay Smith . . . We are also receiving donations of small- or medium-sized luggage to be used by children in foster care. The luggage is given to the Foundling Hospital. Please speak to Father Smith . . . would like to volunteer, please contact Sister Deborah Francis, C.S.J.B., or Father Jay Smith.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . On September 17, at 7:00 PM, the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine will host the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, Bishop of New Hampshire, in conversation with the Very Reverend Dr. James. A. Kowalski, dean of the cathedral. Bishop Robinson is the author of the forthcoming book God Believes in Love: Straight Talk about Gay Marriage (Knopf, 2012), as well as a book published in 2008, In the Eye of the Storm: Swept to the Center by God. The Bishop is the subject of the 2012 documentary Love Free or Die (a play on New Hampshire’s motto, “Live free or die”) by Mackey Alston and Sandy Tipoff. The film will be screened at the Cathedral on Sunday, September 16, at 1:00 PM and on Monday, September 17, at 5:30 PM in Cathedral House. The film will also be screened on September 17, throughout the day, in the Sports Bay inside the Cathedral . . . Father Matthew Mead, rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Granite Springs—who served here as curate from 2004 to 2009—will be leading a pilgrimage to the Holy Land June 28 to July 8, 2013. The pilgrimage is open to anyone, and this is an excellent opportunity to visit the Holy Land with a great group of Episcopalians. Please feel free to contact Father Mead at email@example.com for more information.