News & Reflections

Profiles in Stewardship: Gregory Bryant & Victor Hernandez

Gregory Bryant & Victor Hernandez profile photo

Note: November 5, All Saints Sunday, is our fall pledge campaign ingathering date. In the days leading up and immediately following, we will feature stories about why three St. Michael’s families pledge to support our ministry.

Gregory Bryant and Victor Hernandez, parishioners for seven years, were married at St. Michael’s in 2014. They live in Harlem.

Gregory, born and raised in Brooklyn, is the Early College Liaison for the Borough of Manhattan Community College. And he’s the grandfather of just-born Nia Higuchi Bryant.

Victor, born and raised in Harlem, is an administrator for the New York City Department of Housing and Preservation.

Gregory serves on the vestry and as an acolyte. He’s also a member of the Racial Justice Dialogue Committee. Victor, formerly on the vestry, is an usher and member of the prayer chain.

Gregory and Victor plan their stewardship contributions separately.

“I’m moving gradually toward a tithe but I’m not there yet,” says Gregory.

“I try to figure out what my year will look like and then I choose a number as my goal,” says Victor. “I give because I believe in what we do at St. Michael’s — and so long as this church’s heart is in the right place, I’m going to keep giving.”

“I give because it’s my gift back to God,” says Gregory. “I also give because I want a church that does a lot — the youth programs, the adult lessons, the community outreach and so much else. I’ve been a member of several churches prior to coming St. Michael’s, and I’ve learned that all those things happen only because of the support of the people who believe in them.”

Then & Now: One bedgraggled dragon

Processional cross - St. Michael & the dragon

The Luckings cross bears an abbreviation that translates in Greek as “Jesus Christ is victorious.”

One of the most magnificent of this church’s treasures is a bejeweled processional cross that has led us on special occasions for nearly a century.

On the back of the cross stands a three-dimensional sculpture of St. Michael in triumph over a bedraggled dragon.

The cross was given in 1924 as a memorial to Samuel J. Luckings by his children. Luckings was this church’s sexton — property manager — from 1880 to 1923, through the terms of three rectors: Thomas McClure Peters, John Punnett Peters and Thomas McCandless.

Luckings oversaw the transition from the second to third — and present — church building on this site, completed in 1991.

You can read the story of Luckings and the Chitry-Luckings-Niedlinger period at St. Michael’s in Views from the Archives, a  history blog on the church website  to celebrate St. Michael’s 210th  anniversary.

— Jean Ballard Terepka

Learn more about our new deacon, Richard P. Limato

St. Michael's new deacon, Richard P. Limato

This month the Rev. Deacon Richard P. Limato joined St. Michael’s after his field training at St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and his ordination as a deacon in May.

In June, Richard retired after 21 years as a public school principal in Westchester County. Earlier he was principal at three Roman Catholic elementary schools.

Apart from assisting with the liturgy, Richard will serve the parish as a teacher. He is continuing his studies at General Theological Seminary and will also be a chaplain at White Plains Hospital.

Fifteen years ago, when Richard found his way to Grace Church in Manhattan, “it was like coming home,” he says. While serving on Grace’s discernment team and supporting others as they explored their vocations, he “heard a persistent voice calling me to serve God’s people as a deacon.”

Richard is continuing his studies at General Theological Seminary and will also serve as a chaplain at White Plains Hospital.

At St. Michael’s, Richard “hopes to be part of the conversation about what we are and can become in our outreach, about how we can continue to open ourselves up to the world’s needs.”

Raised in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., as a Roman Catholic, Richard went to Fordham University as an undergraduate, earned a master’s in education at Iona College and returned to Fordham for his doctorate in education.

Richard was drawn to the Episcopal Church through his search for spiritual authenticity. After he “came out” as gay, he yearned for a more authentic expression of his faith, which he discovered in the Episcopal Church.

The diocese referred Richard to us. When he and Mother Kate met, he says, “it became obvious to us fairly quickly that I was called to serve the people of God here at St. Michael’s.”

Soon Richard will move to Manhattan. He has a daughter, Katie McClintock, a son-in-law Kevin McClintock, and a grandcat Edward McClintock, all living in Albany, N.Y..

To learn more about Richard’s spiritual journey, attend his forum on Oct. 22.

Godly Play: A children’s sanctuary of ritual and story

Godly Play kids and teachers christen a new classroom and show off some of the materials that dramatize the faith for the young

On Sept. 10, the 10 a.m. service concluded with a procession up the stairs from the sanctuary to the parish house, everybody singing the rousing hymn, “Earth and All Stars” with its refrain, “Sing to the Lord a new song!”

The new song at St. Michael’s is called Godly Play, a Sunday school curriculum for age pre-K through 5th grade. The procession filed into three bright, freshly painted classrooms dedicated to the new program. One by one, Mother Kate blessed the classrooms.

“This marks a new season in Christian formation at St. Michael’s,” says Andrea Dedmon, director of children’s and youth ministries, who spearheaded the effort to institute Godly Play here.

Godly Play, initiated some 40 years ago by the Rev. Jerome Berryman, a Denver-based Episcopal priest, is based in storytelling. The theory is that young children have a relationship with God that they can realize in hearing sacred stories, from the Creation through the lives of the saints.

“The wonderful thing about Godly Play is that students gain a solid understanding of the Bible and Christian tradition relying almost entirely on storytelling and their own creative imaginations,” says Jim Hinch, one of the Godly Play teachers. “They make the stories, and their faith, their own.”

Jim and the other Godly Play teachers — Ellen Casey, Lucy Culver, Shelly Diaz, Cathy James, John Kneiling and Kathleen Toner-Talbot — have received special training.

Godly Play uses materials to enhance the storytelling such as a sand box representing the desert and a model of the Upper Room, which enable the children to reenact the stories themselves in play — a dramatic, hands-on approach that brings the stories alive.

Many parishioners and friends have rallied to help set up the Godly Play classrooms and prepare the materials — designing, jigsawing, assembling and painting.

In the quiet of a classroom, children gather on the rug in a circle as a teacher tells a story, or explains an element of church ritual. Then, to summon the spirit and invite the children’s responses the teacher offers a few questions that begin always with: “I wonder …”

Stewardship: Every parishioner has a voice

2017 fall barbecue - every parishioner has a voice in stewardship at St. Michael's

This is your church. Everything in this gracious place happens because of you:

Bible study, worship services, forums, concerts, pasta dinners, Sunday school classes, Saturday Kitchen meals, and so much else. Nobody can do it all. But each of us owns a piece of it all.

As we belong to St. Michael’s, so does it belong to us — a concept that has inspired this year’s stewardship campaign.

“Pledging signifies a form of ownership,” says Eric Vigen, chair of the stewardship committee. “It’s a buy-in that the pledger affirms, owns and shares in what we do as a parish.”

This year’s campaign theme is “Lift Every Voice.” There is no specific dollar goal. The real goal is that every member participates.

Two years ago a new tradition was established: On a Sunday in the fall, parishioners are invited to come forward and bring their pledges to the altar. As everyone who has witnessed this in-gathering procession knows, it’s deeply moving. Not because of what’s written on those pledge cards — they remain a secret. But because of the people carrying them.

Together we are one, the body of Christ. Let us lift every voice together. This year’s in-gathering is Sunday, Nov. 5.

Learn more about supporting St. Michael’s

Prayer: That place where you reach out for the Most Holy

Rick Hamlin: In prayer, “amazing things will happen.”

Two years ago this month, Rick Hamlin was stricken with a mysterious illness that left him near death. The doctors never could diagnose the cause. Rick gradually recovered — not least, he reckons, because of prayers on his behalf from this parish and elsewhere. In this excerpt from his new book, Pray for Me: Finding Faith in a Crisis, Rick writes of prayer’s power.

Prayer feels good. You’re getting in touch with a larger part of yourself. You’re putting things in perspective. You’re reaching out for the divine. You’re listening to yourself — yes, all those piddling anxieties and worries, and the not-so-piddling ones, that you’re going to drop into the lap of the Most Holy and leave them behind as much as is possible or at least until you sit on the sofa again, or the subway or the chair in your office or in your kitchen beneath the ticking clock or in the pew in the empty church or in the folding chair in the 12-step meeting. This is your holy place, your stretching time.

The dedicated silence of your prayer session could be a spawning ground for a host of fertile notions, but you don’t need to make huge demands on prayer. Let it deliver what it has to offer, and what it has to offer is itself.

The farmer tills the soil, plants the seed, waters it or waits for the rain to fall. The farmer works hard, but the wondrous thing that happens isn’t anything he could do on his own. A tendril pushes up through the ground, the sun shines on it, the rain falls, leaves burst out, branches grow, the stalk rises, blossoms spring forth and fall, fruit fills their place, pulling nutrients form the sky and soil; until the glorious day of the harvest comes, baskets and bins filled to the brim. The miracle is nothing the farmer did; it was done for him.

Put yourself in a place and space where wonders are done for you, where better things will befall you than you would dare ask for, where love prospers and hope flourishes and goodness prevails, where worries about the future are few because the day itself is a source of joy.

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.”