News & Reflections

The Vicar in Our Midst: The Rev. Jonathan Kester

Father Jonathan photo

The Rev. Jonathan Kester, vicar of our sister parish Emmanuel Church in West Hampstead, London, is on sabbatical and in residence at St. Michael’s through May.

“We’ve been praying for each other for so long that it seems only right that we should know each other better,” Jonathan says via Skype.

West Hampstead is a “reasonably prosperous village within the cluster of villages that is London,” Jonathan says. He has been Emmanuel’s vicar — the Anglican equivalent of rector — since 2013.

“I’m passionately committed to Emmanuel’s serving the whole community,” Jonathan says. After an 11-month building process, Emmanuel has just opened four new rooms that will serve everything from senior care to artists’ exhibitions.

St. Michael’s parishioner Jeff Jeffreys, father of Rhian and Delia, has been worshiping at Emmanuel for some time now as his company has relocated him back home to the U.K. “It’s a vibrant, diverse parish with a lot of young families,” Jeff says.

The night before the Skype chat, Jonathan attended a Passover seder at a nearby synagogue along with fellow clergy and several imams. “There we were, the three Abrahamic faiths all together — peaceably,” Jonathan says.

Images: Fr. Jonathan and Emmanuel Church

Emmanuel Church image

Happy 50th Birthday, Von Beckerath!

Von Beckerath organ swell box image

Fifty years ago, St. Michael’s christened a magnificent organ built in Hamburg, Germany — a three-manual, 38-stop, 55-rank instrument. The master builder himself, Rudolph von Beckerath, directed the tonal finishing.

Current churchwarden Michael Smith, a self-described “organist of sorts,” takes up the story:

The first time I walked through these doors was in the spring of 1968. It was the organ that lured me, a country boy from Kentucky, to a poorly attended, dilapidated church in a sketchy neighborhood.

I was 19. The organ had created quite a stir in the hermetic world of organ enthusiasts. So I showed up at the parish house door in my hippie garb and asked whether I could play it. Amazingly, the answer was yes.

I was bowled over. Still am.

Our instrument strongly shows the influence of the mid-century Baroque Revival, which sought to build instruments like those that Bach & Co. would have played. But many of these “revival” instruments were disappointing — shrill and screechy.

Von Beckerath, however, had served a long apprenticeship with established organ-builders and knew his trade. Our instrument has the gnarly brilliance of its 18th-century exemplars, but solidity and gravitas too: never dull, but never tinny.

A lot of dust accumulates in 50 years, and parts wear out. During the recent restoration of the church’s north wall, John Cantrell supervised the removal and cleaning of the organ’s 3,000 pipes, and some ravages of time were healed.

How to convey the pleasure of playing this instrument? Fifty years after my first pilgrimage, I still sit at the bench, and draw a stop or two, and poise my modestly skilled hands, and experience the sensations of a hungry man about to bite into a really good thick sandwich. I feel it in my teeth.

In the Jean Chambers Memorial Concert Series: the Von Beckerath 50th Anniversary Concert, Monday, May 15, 7:30 p.m., $20. Stephen Tharp, artist-inresidence at St. James Madison Avenue, performs Bach, Saint-Saëns, Dupré, Liszt, George Baker and David Conte.

Image: The von Beckerath’s newly cleaned “swell division” — located directly over the organist’s head. “The organ’s softest sounds are found in the swell division,” John Cantrell says.

From the Rector: For I was a stranger, and you welcomed me

Kate Flexer headshot

In the past couple weeks we have had the joy of welcoming several beloved children of God to our community. Fr Jonathan has come to us for part of his sabbatical. Bishop Glasspool visited us for the first time. And seven of us were confirmed and received into the Episcopal Church.

Perhaps these welcomes can help us practice our other welcomes, the way we treat other beloved children of God every day. With fellow clergy, I recently tried a brief prayer walk of our neighborhood, looking at all there was to see.

It struck me how deeply preoccupied people are on the street, walking swiftly past one another without contact. I do the same thing, usually.

Sometimes in our crowded city we block others out as a survival tactic. We walk past the panhandler, the woman in tears, the family argument, without a glance.

On my prayer walk, I walked differently — more slowly, more open to those going by, praying for those I passed and smiling at those who would look back at me. I still feel the effects.

Try it and see what you see — you may just find yourself welcomed too, by God in our midst.

A triple profile of faith

Roberta & Lynnette photo

If you attend the 10 o’clock service, chances are you already know Lynnette Holder and Roberta Holder-Mosley. With rare exceptions they are in place each Sunday, Lynnette in the chancel as an acolyte and Roberta in the organ loft as a chorister — you might say they hold down opposite ends of the church.

The sisters have been making the trek to 99th and Amsterdam from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, since the mid-1980s. Though they grew up as Christadelphians, their maternal grandmother was baptized in an Anglican church in Barbados. “We seem to have come full circle,” Lynnette says.

It’s been a full-family commitment. Says Roberta, “I was married at St. Michael’s; all five of my blended-marriage children were baptized at St. Michael’s. Their father was memorialized there and he’s in the columbarium. And the next generation is my 4-year-old granddaughter, who was baptized there and goes to Sunday school regularly.”

Lynnette is the supervisor of a clinical chemistry lab in a hospital, while Roberta is in a second career with the New York City Department of Health after retiring from the federal government.

Why travel so far so faithfully? In large part, for the ministry opportunities each has found here. Lynnette recounts that when she was growing up, as a woman “you didn’t lead prayer, you didn’t lead service, you did not give a sermon.” She is also aware that as a black woman acolyte, she is very visible: “If I can be up here, anyone can be up here.” (Anyone who has seen Lynnette’s expert handling of the thurible on a festival Sunday might disagree that “anyone” could do it.)

Roberta has found special fulfillment singing in the alto section of the volunteer choir. Her granddaughter’s ministry? Sharing her positive personality!

Both sisters also appreciate less obvious aspects of St. Michael’s. Roberta says, “Do you know the expression, ‘a thin place?’ Where it’s easier to get closer to the Spirit? The very first time I walked into St. Michael’s I felt that.” Lynnette adds, “St. Michael’s is my home church. People here have known me since who-knows-when. That’s hard to find in New York.”

Saturday Meditation: Praying for collective healing

St. Francis statue image

Saturday in the Fifth Week of Lent

By Denisha Williams

8 April

O Lord, in your goodness you bestow abundant graces on your elect: Look with favor, we entreat you, upon those who in these Lenten days are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant them the help of your protection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 85:1-7 ▪ EZEKIEL 37:21-28 ▪ JOHN 11:45-53

While we in contemporary U.S. society tend to emphasize individualism even in our spiritual lives, the readings for today lead us to consider the higher well-being of the collective, especially “the nation.” At a time when our own country feels more divided into dissenting factions than many us can remember, and when nations in many parts of the world are torn apart by violent divisions, we need to deeply connect individually and collectively with the healing, unifying power of the Holy Spirit.

We pray that each of us can be cleansed of our egotistical needs to be right and of our anger towards those with whom we may feel divided by differing viewpoints.

We pray for guidance to let go of our cherished false idols and rigidness, particularly when we let our political positions get in the way of staying loving towards others. And we ask to be brought together in the unifying peace that passes all understanding, to be “one nation, no longer divided . . .”

We pray, too, that every country in the world where strife and warfare rages will be cleansed of anger and nestled into the supreme healing power and deep peace of God’s divine love.

As St. Francis so beautifully said, “Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace . . .” Amen.

Denisha Williams has been a member of St. Michael’s since 2002, and is deeply grateful for the loving spiritual community of our congregation and those we welcome. Since the founding of the 6:00 PM Intersection service in 2006, she has attended Intersection regularly.

Pray wherever you are, online and off

Pray As You Go logo (large)

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” — Hebrews 13:8

In her book Tweet If You Heart Jesus: Practicing Church in the Digital Reformation, religion scholar (and Episcopalian) Elizabeth Drescher writes about how digital ways of relating to one another and expressing ourselves are changing religious observance.

My smartphone gives me continuous access to resources that can enrich my spiritual life — and tools that can both remind me to take time for it or distract me from doing so.

For instance, during Lent I can connect with a community of learners participating in an initiative of the Society of St. John the Evangelist in Boston. Every day I receive an email with a brief video teaching by one of the society’s monks, as well as an invitation to discuss a reflection question via comments on the brothers’ webpage.

As a New Yorker, I find it helpful to have resources available on the go. Mostly I use them at home during my regular prayer time — but I’m grateful to have them when I’m in transit and need an encounter with the Divine.

Here are some of my favorite apps:

Pray As You Go

Pray As You Go logo

A 12- to 13-minute audio prayer session, produced by the London-based Jesuit Media Initiative. Bells, music, scripture readings, reflection questions and prayer prompts await your daily commute or mindful chore time. Also available as a podcast. Free.


NeuBible logo

The Bible at your fingertips in an elegantly readable, easily searchable format created by product designers at Facebook and Yahoo whose goal was “to get rid of everything between you and scripture.” Currently available only for Apple. $5.

Daily Office

Daily Office logo

The Daily Office liturgy and readings from the Book of Common Prayer. Configure your liturgical preferences and move on to what matters: praying. Currently available only for Apple. $10. (Android users can default to Electronic Common Prayer, $10.)

— The Rev. Kyle Oliver

A version of this article originally ran on Building Faith.

From the Rector: Come and let Love lift you into life again

Flowers in snow photo

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.

My college town lay in the midst of wheat fields, the rich Palouse of southeastern Washington state. In my last year there I rented a small ramshackle house on the edge of town with two other students.

That year, my first year as a daily runner, the snow was heavy and the ice lingered on the farm roads out of town. So when the spring came at last, the green of the shoots spiking up from the dark earth was overwhelming. Just when it felt like the winter would never end, birdsong and greenness began to fill the air.

Our Easter celebration is coming. Easter is late on the calendar this year, but so, it seems, has been the winter. It is high time for the birdsong and the sun’s warmth—not a moment too soon.

Throughout Lent we have been focusing on our part of the relationship with God, the work we do in worship, in prayer and scripture reading, in forgiving and being forgiven. We have been tilling our soil, pulling weeds, watering and feeding the planted seeds. Now it is time to watch for the growth—to see how the sunlight brings forth the green, to have the story enacted for us, to see Love live and usher us into life as well.

Come and let Love lift you into life again this Holy Week and Easter. Our service schedule is here; make it your part to show up to worship during the week, beginning with Palm Sunday and continuing through the weekdays of Holy Week, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Worship this week is full of drama, music, movement, darkness and light—far more than the ordinary. Come and let God do the work of bringing forth life from dark places.

From the Rector: Lent – Are we there yet?

Kate Flexer headshot

The word “Lent” comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for springtime, related to the word “lengthen,” as the days begin to lengthen. Perhaps it feels like the season of Lent is lengthening as well. Will we ever get to the end?

Good news: The fourth Sunday of Lent, just past, is sometimes known as Refreshment Sunday, a lightening of the fast and a sign that the season is nearly done. And indeed, in just one week we will celebrate Holy Week together, walking with Jesus to the cross and on into the resurrection of Easter Sunday.

Like an aid station along the path of a marathon, Refreshment Sunday is a chance to refuel and reenergize for the race. Is your sense of renewal flagging? Has your discipline slipped? Are you tempted to forget why we’re on this path?

Here is a reminder to take nourishment and begin again, in spiritual practice (on the move or in the quiet of your home), community (in our families and church family alike) and St. Michael’s legacy of justice and inclusion. As we move into the home stretch of this journey, may we remember how deeply and profoundly we, and all, are loved.

— March 28, 2017

Saturday Meditation: Living water

Water over text image

Saturday in the Fourth Week of Lent

By a St. Michael’s parishioner

1 April

Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins to you; that those whose consciences are accused by sin may by your merciful pardon be absolved; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

PSALM 7:6-11 ▪ JEREMIAH 11:18-20 ▪ JOHN 7:37-52

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:37-38)

What struck me about this reading was the fact that rivers of living water were to flow from the believer’s heart. Similarly, Jesus told the Samaritan women that for all believers who drink of the living water which he will give,the water . . . will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life. (John 4:14)

Now Jesus is asking us to offer living water to others. Water is essential to life. As I write this, people from around the country have offered their support to Native Americans at Standing Rock as they fight for water rights. The people of Flint, Michigan have yet to receive clean living water. Palestinians in the West Bank have limited access to water, and more than 90% of the water supply in Gaza is contaminated.

How can we offer living water to those people in need around the world? Is there a concrete way to share the living water that is in our hearts to others? Sharing information about the needs of the world’s thirsty people with our community is one way we offer rivers of living water. Finding a way to do something concrete about their need for water is even more important.

Just as Jesus brought living water to the Samaritan woman, as believers we are compelled to offer living water to those to whom it has been denied.

Middle School Group reaches out to Saturday kitchen guests

Sock drive photo

During Saturday Kitchen on Jan. 28, Rick Hamlin rang the bell in the reception hall and announced that this was “Sock It To Me Saturday” — with new pairs of socks available for the guests.

In September the Middle Schoolers made a list of world problems, including homelessness. How to serve the needy? “The socks idea was simple — all sizes, for men, women and children,” a Middle Schooler said.

Supply and demand came together when they realized that the Saturday Kitchen guests were potential recipients. Parishioners contributed more than 240 new pairs of socks.

On distribution day, two Middle School Group members joined teachers Kris Ishibashi and Helen Graves in the Pilgrim Resource Center in the Gray Lounge. (Fellow teacher John Avery was serving on the kitchen line.)

“We always talk about reaching out to others,” one of the students said, “and here was our chance to actually do that. The guests were very friendly and they kept saying, ‘Thank you.’”

“It felt good to give out the socks,” the other said. “The day was really cold, and we felt like we made a difference.”

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