I was overwhelmed by the response to my post last week.
Last Monday, I was planning to post something to this blog and then turn to some business about my mother’s finances. I was running behind, in part because of the response to my post last night and in part because of a post by MadPriest of a letter from the Bishop of Bethlehem. MadPriest scooped the world (he must have had some help.)
Actually there was so much that morning in the blogosphere – so much that provokes me to think about things and write about things. And then the rest of the week – especially Thursday and Friday when I was off tending to my mother’s situation.
Perhaps I’ll begin by telling a little about me.
After I graduated from college in 1958, I came to New York for graduate school in English at Columbia University. Midway in my first semester I met Rex, the man who became my partner. Rex introduced me to the Episcopal Church, first at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and then at St. Mary’s. I began going to St. Mary’s in mid November 1958 and took confirmation classes at Columbia, in beautiful St. Paul’s Chapel, from an Episcopal chaplain whose name I do not recall. John Krumm was the university chaplain, but he did not give the confirmation classes. On a Saturday in the spring of 1959 I was confirmed at the Cathedral by Bishop Donegan. I have been a member of St. Mary’s ever since. Rex was on the vestry for quite a long time. We both sang in the choir. I do not remember when I was first elected to the vestry. St. Mary’s is a few blocks from Union Theological Seminary, and we have often had a number of seminarians either on a field work assignment or just making us their New York church home. Often we have been the sponsoring parish for Union students who feel a call to the Episcopal priesthood. In 1972 and 1973, both Emily Hewitt and Carter Heyward were at Union and St. Mary’s and were deacons at St. Mary’s. Rex died in February, 1973, of a massive heart attack. Emotionally, I fell apart in a big way. At the same time, that was a very special time in the Episcopal Church and at St. Mary’s. Two letters that I wrote at that time appear in Carter Heyward’s A Priest Forever and can be found here. (This link takes you to the section where my letters appear. The whole section is worth reading, but if you’re in a hurry to see my letters, once on the page, Find “Mellen”. To read the entire book, click this link.) I’m skipping a lot of personal details here but in November of 1974 Liz and I decided to marry and we married in February 1975.
THE PAST WEEK
First, on Monday, there was the letter by the Bishop of Bethlehem Our cottage at Heart Lake is in the Diocese of Bethlehem, and Liz and I sometimes go to St. Paul’s Church in Montrose. (More often, we go to the Heart Lake United Methodist Church, but more about that at another time.) I am truly impressed by Bp. Marshall’s letter – a lot has been said about it in the blogosphere, including by me, so I’ll say no more.
Then, on Tuesday there was Tobias’s 1994 meditation for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. During the 1990's and on into the summer of 2001, Liz worked at the Graymoor Ecumenical and Interreligious Institute, and I became acquainted with the Society of the Atonement, both the Friars and the Sisters. I'm always struck by Tobias' creative writing, as well as by his thought. On Friday he followed up splendidly on the Tuesday post.
I’ll just mention in passing the marvelous letter by Bonnie Anderson that can be found at ENS, and the appropriate move by Bp. Peter Lee of Virginia and the concomitant statement by PB Katharine.
I didn’t get to the Manhattan Together launch at St. Bart’s on Thursday, because Liz and I were in Binghamton at my mother’s. But we did go to a “Music Tasting” on Friday evening sponsored by the Orfeo Duo. And we went Saturday evening to the 13th annual “Hands Across the Street” dinner, co-sponsored by the Grant Houses Residents Association and our own Morningside Gardens Community Relations Committee. (I’m not going to say much about Morningside Gardens on this blog until my term is up, but I noted that I was the only Board member who attended.)
PRISON MINISTRY SUNDAY
Today, the third Sunday in Epiphany*, was designated Prison Ministry Sunday by Diocesan Convention two years ago. At St. Mary’s we have an active prison ministry and today Yvonne Logan preached a sermon that was constructed as a reflection on the gospel for the day, Luke 4:14-21, especially the end of verse 21 “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing,” and the following verses that are not in appointed pericope and thus were not read.
I was particularly interested in the first reading, Nehemiah8:2-10, because at present I am taing notes on the particularities of the documentary hypothesis as set forth by Richard Elliott Friedman in The Bible with Sources Revealed, which is really just about the Torah. Earl Kooperkamp read the first lesson, and Elizabeth Kooperkamp read the second lesson, which also has a special meaning for me because of Hooker’s use of the text. (I haven’t mentioned my interest in Hooker before.)
The offertory hymn was “Brightest and Best” by Reginald Heber, to Harding’s familiar tune Morning Star. “Dearer to God are the prayers of the poor.” At communion we sang Horiatius Bonar’s “Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face,” to the tune Nyack by Warren Swenson, who was the organist at St. Mary’s for a time in (I think) the 1970's. The celebrant was Chloe Breyer, who sang the Sursum Corda, which is unusual at St. Mary’s. Chloe sometimes writes for Slate - see, for example this December 2005 article on an alternative to the Virgin Birth. The first responder (“HLS2003") appears to me to confuse the fundamentals with orthodoxy – an example of the notion of “true religion” that I spoke of last week.
In a comment last week at MadPriest’s, I mentioned our own Bishop Catherine. Well, in just four weeks she’ll be making her first “official” visitation to St. Mary’s. Stay tuned.
* UPDATE January 21, 2008. A comment today by valhymes made me realize that I had inadvertently typed Advent instead of Epiphany.
Today Liz and I vested and sang in the choir at St. Mary’s. The service was for the commemoration of MLK day, although we appropriately used the regular propers (for Epiphhany II). Janet had asked us to sing with the choir because she wanted explicitly to have more white faces in the choir for MLK day.
Dr. Johnson once remarked that anyone who read Richardson for the story would hang themselves. I might say that the remark applies, mutatis mutandis, to anyone who goes to St. Mary’s for the liturgy. But I love St. Mary’s and the people there – as I have for nearly fifty years. So I won’t comment on the particulars of the service.
I have spent a lot of time reading blogs recently – and very rarely posting comments. I mostly read Father Jake and Jonathan Hagger, but I regularly check out Tobias Haller, Mark Harris, and Jim Naughton, as well as others. If I ever get serious about posting, I’ll start including links, and all that.
When I got home from church this afternoon, I found an interesting post and thread at MadPriest’s – The Planetary Mass. I actually listened to it, and found it wanting. Stripped of the pretentiousness, the music reminded me of the Eucharist at the charismatic conference in Brighton that Liz and I attended – only I think that was better – the music leader was Graham Kendrick – his music is at least singable, even though the lyrics are completely empty. In the comment thread, Grandmère Mimi mentioned (1) that she was tired of being at the church this weekend, (2) that her vestry term was expiring, (3) that her parish was going to do the Alpha course for its Lenten discipline, (4) that she has no alternative Episcopal church in her part of southern Louisiana.
In response to that thread, I have these thoughts: First, I know little of the Alpha course, but I have been repelled by everything I have heard of it. I think that it most likely puts too much emphasis on the personal and not enough on the corporate response aspects of our faith. That would fit with Dennis ‘s characterization in the thread at MadPriest’s of Alpha as being evangelical in a particular way.
As an aside, on my first visit to London in July 1963 Rex and I went to church on Sunday at Holy Trinity, Brompton. I think Rex had been there before. It was the closest (C of E) church to our B&B in Egerton Gardens. This was long before Alpha. The service was dull – MP followed after a time by HC – I think, but am not sure, that the Litany came between. Hardly anyone stayed for the communion. Since that was over 46 years ago, the details are a little vague in my mind.
Another aside is in reference to the St. Bart’s connection. Last Sunday, Earl Kooperkamp preached at the Sunday evening “Emerge” service at St. Bart’s. Liz and I didn’t go, but we did go to that afternoon to Epiphany Vespers at Corpus Christi, always a lovely service with spectacular music. This coming Thursday, we’ll probably go to the opening assembly of Manhattan Together, an IAF organization, at St. Bart’s.
As long as I’m writing, I guess I’ll say a little about the current situation in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. At Jake’s the other day, a poster named Katherine said in reference to Bp. Katharine that “We don't have the same religion, she and I, and I much prefer honest disagreement to subterfuge.” I think that’s so, in sense Katherine means. However, I think the christian tent is big enough to contain the beliefs of Katherine (although I have to guess at them) as well as the beliefs of Bp. Katharine. I know, though, that there are many in the “reasserter” camp who believe the tent is in fact not big enough.
For decades, I have been saying that one of the biggest causes of harm in the world is the notion of true religion, with it’s concomitant notion that there is a “false” religion to guard and even fight against. I have also been convinced that we need to take account at least of those of other faiths. A god who condemns the majority of those who have ever lived is a completely unacceptable idea. I think that Bishop Spong, among others, is correct when he says that “Christianity must change.” I believe it is changing, and that we don’t yet know how it is going to end up. And it is inevitable that many are resisting the change. As Tobias pointed out in one or another thread the other day, the church changes very slowly, but it does change.
This so far excessively warm January in New York serves to remind me that the world is moving headlong into an environmental crisis that makes our troubles in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion seem trivial.
I notice that I keep neglecting to mention the presenting issue facing TEC -- justice for GLBT people. I am a gay man who has been faithfully married (to Liz, my wife) for over thirty years. For almost 15 years before that, I was in a marriage like relationship with Rex -- we called it "lovers" then. During that whole time I have been a member of St. Mary's. I don't talk much about my life as a gay man, perhaps that is not a good thing. I also don't talk much about what it has been like to be married, faithful to Liz, and gay. St. Mary's has consistently been supportive of gay people. It's really not an issue at our church -- if there is an issue, it is getting the parish to take notice of what is going on in the rest of the church -- since we are in a poor neighborhood, we have other justice issues on our minds most of the time. But for us, it is clearly a justice issue. We march in the annual Gay Pride parade in New York, and usually the majority of our marchers are not gay.
I'm a retired math teacher with a keen interest in English Literature. I have been active at my local Episcopal church for more than 50 years. My current project is to complete a history of St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Manhattanville, which will have its 200th anniversary in 2023. I'm also working on
a family history for my first and second cousins and I hope to publish on the web a version of my Masters Essay on The Dunciad.