FROM THE RECTOR: AWAY FROM HOME
When I was in high school I was vaguely aware of bluegrass music. Sometime while I was in college I heard about a band from the Washington, D.C., area called The Seldom Scene. Their first album, Act 1, came out in 1972. The group stayed close to home and I heard them play a couple of times in Alexandria—once with my dad and stepmother who turned out also to be fans.
That first album remains a favorite of mine. The last song on the album is “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?”. Oddly enough, that song was originally composed for The Monkees, the pop-rock band that appeared on a television series of the same name between 1966 and 1968. The version by The Seldom Scene is completely different. I also really like the latter’s rendition of the hymn, “Will there be any stars in my crown?” However, my favorite song on Act 1 is the group’s cover of the folk song “500 Miles.” It’s about not being able to go back home.
“500 Miles” was written by an American folk singer, Hedy West (1938-2005). West was from Cartersville, Georgia. She put the plaintive melody together from tunes she had heard growing up. You may know the song as it was recorded by many artists. This is how the song begins.
If you miss the train I’m on
You will know that I am gone
You can hear the whistle blow
A hundred miles
It wasn’t until I attended Nashotah House Seminary that I could pretty regularly hear trains in the distance, especially when outside and walking or jogging in the afternoons. But Hedy West’s song is not about trains, it’s about being lost. From a Christian perspective, the words suggest someone is very lost and may be ready to hear, if you will, Good News. Remember this is bluegrass:
Not a shirt on my back
Not a penny to my name
Lord, I can’t go home this way
This way, this way, this way, this way
Lord, I can’t go home this way.
I don’t know if my southern grandparents (North Carolina and Georgia) liked what we call bluegrass—it’s time for me to find that out, and I will—but I’m pretty sure this music is in my bones as it were. The British and subsequent American folk-music traditions have been around long before anyone was writing it down or could record it.
By the time I got to seminary in September 1980, the new Prayer Book was in use almost everywhere. On the good side, it gave new life to much of our common life as Episcopalians. We were the last of the major denominations to revise our rites. The work done in preparation for the book was a remarkable achievement. Despite the controversy in some places, very few people left the church because of the new Prayer Book. There were losses to be sure, but I don’t miss, for example, the burial service in which the name of the person who had died is not even mentioned—Anglicans had stopped praying for the dead at the Reformation (The Book of Common Prayer  324-337).
My go-to example if I want to explain briefly the theological differences between the old and the new rites is to cite the wording of the prayers of absolution. In the traditional language rite, the minister prayed that Almighty God would “bring you to everlasting life,” in the contemporary language, that Almighty God would “keep you in eternal life” (The Book of Common Prayer 1979] 332, 360). God wants us to know both, I believe, but in the long run, the latter is more important than the first—at least as I understand the Good News of God’s love.
As much as I know I am a sinner, I believe I have been reborn to a new life. When I listen to Act 1, I can identify with themes of sin, journey and loss. It occurred to me just last week, for whatever reason, that I have lived in Saint Mary’s rectory longer than any other place. If you have any feeling for good banjo playing, the kind that can put a smile in your heart and get you up and going, the Seldom Scene’s final song on that album, “What Am I Doing Hanging ‘Round?” is a great reminder that there is always more life ahead for everyone, in this world and in the world to come. Stephen Gerth
YOUR PRAYERS ARE ASKED FOR Tyler, Ulysses, Joan, Darrell, David, Keith, Emma, Phyllis, Mary, Sean, Casey, Eloise, Sharon, Linda, Diana, Eileen, Arpene, Rebecca, deacon, Paulette, priest, and Thomas, bishop; and for the members of our Armed Forces on active duty, especially Elizabeth and Daniel . . . GRANT THEM PEACE . . . August 4: 1891 Clara Louise Ross; 1931 Jessica Braidford; 1941 Louise Crater Mudgett; 1959 Carrie Stringham; 1960 Doris H. Thomas; 1966 Harold A. Warrell.
FRIDAY ABSTINENCE . . . The ordinary Fridays of the year are observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial in commemoration of the crucifixion of the Lord.
A FEAST OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST . . . Tuesday, August 6, is the Feast of the Transfiguration—recounted in Mark 9:2-8, Matthew 17:1-8 and Luke 9:28-36. It is one of three feasts, which if they fall on a Sunday, take precedence of the Sunday celebration—the others are the Holy Name (January 1) and the Presentation (February 2). In addition to the daily 12:10 PM Mass, a Sung Mass will be celebrated at 6:00 PM.
THIS WEEK AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Tuesday, August 6, Transfiguration, Mass 12:10 PM and Sung Mass 6:00 PM . . . Confessions will be heard on Saturday, August 3, by Father Jay Smith, and on Saturday, August 10, by Father Jim Pace.
AROUND THE PARISH . . . The Reverend Canon Edgar F. Wells, rector emeritus, will celebrate the fifty-third anniversary of his ordination to the priesthood on Friday, August 9. We give thanks for his ministry. Please keep him in your prayers . . . Flowers are needed for summer Sundays. Please call the parish office to donate . . . . Sister Deborah Francis is on vacation. She returns to the parish on Tuesday, August 6. Sister Laura Katherine will be on vacation from August 7 through August 13. She will return to the parish on Wednesday, August 14 . . . Attendance: Last Sunday 183.
THIS SUNDAY’S MUSIC . . . A good deal of discussion is heard at present about the merits of academic, as opposed to “practical”, theologians, and a similar discussion takes place concerning musicians, composers, and what sort of music is appropriate for use in church. Music at Solemn Mass on Sunday comes from three “academic” musicians who made significant contributions to the realm of practical music while producing music expressing a certain faith. David N. Johnson (1922-1987) was an American organist, composer, educator, and lecturer who become college organist and organ instructor at Saint Olaf College, Northfield, Minnesota. He succeeded Arthur Poister as professor of music and university organist at Syracuse University. He is highly regarded for a number of academic works, but is better known for over three hundred compositions written for the church. Johnson’s Trumpet Tune in D was the first of two processionals used for the 1971 wedding of Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia. Arnold Cooke (1906-2005) was an English composer who was appointed a professor at the Royal Manchester College of Music, and later was named Professor of Harmony and Composition at Trinity College of Music in London. In addition to a catalogue of academic studies, Cooke wrote six symphonies, two operas, a full-length ballet, and numerous chamber and vocal works. He was presented in the 1934 Promenade Concerts in London. John Ness Beck (1930-1987) was born in Warren, Ohio. He worked at the State College of Washington before becoming a faculty member of The Ohio State University School of Music, where he taught harmony and theory. He is best known for his innovative choral works, but at the ministration of Holy Communion we hear tenor Chris Howatt sing A Song of Devotion (I Thank My God), a particularly sumptuous setting of a passage from Saint Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Mark Peterson
ADULT EDUCATION . . . The Wednesday Night Bible Study Class resumes on September 18, at 6:30 PM, in Saint Joseph’s Hall. The class, which is led by Father Jay Smith, will be reading the Acts of the Apostles this year. The class will not meet on October 16 or November 6 . . . The Adult Forum resumes on Sunday, October 6, at 1:00 PM in the church (note later time on this date). We kick off the adult-education season with a presentation and tour led by Dr. Dennis Raverty and Mr. Dick Leitsch, The Art of Saint Mary’s in Its Architectural and Historical Context. All are welcome at our adult-education classes and no prior preparation or experience is necessary.
OUTREACH AT SAINT MARY’S . . . Electronic versions of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger’s Guide to Free Food and Assistance are available here . . . We continue to gather non-perishable food items for Saint Clement’s Pantry. Please contact Sister Deborah Francis for more information about the Pantry’s work . . . The “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk” will take place on Sunday, October 20, in Central Park. For more information about how to participate, please visit the Walk’s website . . . Though it is hard to imagine it on these humid summer days, colder weather will inevitably arrive here in New York. We are gratefully accepting donations of warm clothing, as well as new, unopened packets of underwear and socks, especially white cotton socks. We send some items of clothing to the Saint Clement’s Food Pantry. Other items are kept here for distribution to those in need . . . The Book Sale resumes on Sunday. All proceeds are used to help those in need. Books cost only one dollar, unless otherwise marked—though we are always happy to receive a larger donation!
MARK YOUR CALENDAR . . . Thursday, August 15, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Morning Prayer 8:30 AM, Noonday Prayer 12:00 PM, Sung Mass 12:10 PM, Solemn Mass 6:00 PM. The Reverend John Beddingfield, rector, All Souls Memorial Church, Washington, D.C., will preach at the Solemn Mass.
AWAY FROM THE PARISH . . . At the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, 170 Central Park West (at 77th Street), now through September 15, “AIDS in New York: The First Five Years 1981-1985” . . . At the Rubin Museum of Art, 150 W. 17th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues: “The Art of Prayer Beads in Asia,” August 2, 2013 –March 24, 2014. “This exhibition focuses on aesthetic and ritual aspects of the prayers beads used in Buddhist traditions of Tibet, Bhutan, Mongolia, China, Korea, Japan, Thailand and Burma. It addresses the origins of prayer beads 108 beads in a set, the structure of prayer beads, their materials and symbolism, and status versus practice aspects of their use.”
ABOUT A COMMEMORATION THIS WEEK . . . On August 7 the Episcopal Church commemorates the life and witness of John Mason Neale. He died on August 6, 1866, the Feast of the Transfiguration; and so he is commemorated on the following day.
“John Mason Neale was a priest of many talents. As a hymnodist, he furnished The Hymnal 1982 with several original hymns and more than thirty translations of Latin and Greek hymns. As a priest, he gave active support to the Oxford Movement in its revival of medieval liturgical forms. As a humanitarian, he founded the Sisterhood of Saint Margaret for the relief of suffering women and girls.
“Neale was born in London in 1818, studied at Cambridge, where he also served as tutor and chaplain, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1842. He was both a scholar and a creative poet, whose skills in composing original verse and translating Latin and Greek hymns into effective English speech patterns were devoted to the Church. With such familiar words as “Good Christian men, rejoice,” “Come, ye faithful, raise the strain,” and “Creator of the stars of night,” he has greatly enriched our hymnody . . .
“No future hymnal is conceivable without the inclusion of some of Neale’s fine devotional poetry. The Prayer Book, for example, cites two of his translations by name as being especially appropriate for Palm Sunday and Good Friday: “All glory, laud, and honor” for the procession with the palms, and “Sing, my tongue, the glorious battle” at the climactic point of the Good Friday service.” (Lesser Feasts and Fasts , 322)