Charles F.J. Morse

All Saint's Sunday
6 November 2011
Grace Episcopal Church

Memo to the Stewards of Grace

Can you imagine anything as small as this Anglo Catholic church able to do anything more than it does now?

It stands as a bastion of its faith, through the Mass, the liturgy, the historic dedication of prayer and the passion, commitment and energy of Fr. Maxwell, our rector; a remarkable corner-stone of the Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut.

One of the oldest places of worship in Hartford, it was consecrated on November 11, 1868.  Early in the ministry of its third rector, it became Anglo Catholic, a choice made then; a choice which has brought each of us here…

Count some of the thanksgivings:

Grace feeds hundreds of its needy neighbors – 204 families two weeks ago, and almost every week - from its well-stocked pantry; serves its own members and guests . . . sumptuously pot luck, elegantly diverse.

Music is a special gift, offered by a joyful balance of 12 volunteers, and a master musician - organist and maestro of the motet, the hymnal, great masses of the Church, and grand opera.

It is marking its 14th year as host of the Parkville Classicals, an immensely popular introduction to this cultural outpost of some of the best choral and instrumental ensembles of New England and New York; from Yale, Hartt, University of Connecticut, the Renaissance, the Baroque.

The Linden String Quartet, here in this acoustical gem a fortnight ago, is now rehearsing for a debut at Carnegie Hall.

But, there is so much more . . .

The Great Litany will be chanted in Advent and Lent, the Passion sung on Good Friday, Lessons and Carols by candle light lead us to Christmas, Stations of the Cross to Easter, and, according to the informative stewardship brochure sent to you, this is all made possible by just “80 active adult members,” not counting a princely, coal-black, standard poodle with eyes of polished licorice.

It is fall now; the lovingly-tended flower beds ringing the church reflect the memories of those lying beneath and the work of caring, nurturing hands.  It is the time to celebrate All Saints, All Angels, All Souls, All stewards . . . all of us.

Some things are best done quietly – the laying on of hands, quiet days in Hartford, retreats on the Hudson at Holy Cross, visits to hospitals, especially Avery Heights where an elegant and gracious former first lady of Grace rests in her 108th year.

I commend to you that small book of requested prayers located close to the bank of votives near the shrine of Mary, Mary, full of grace.  Read a few pages in silence, read the heart beat of this church.

There is also a special stirring today, the snow is going, the lights and heat are returning; another anniversary is welcomed (143 years of dedicated, vibrant, churchmanship), we celebrate the saints, holy women and men, and renew our commitment.

Look to the altar!  The Reserved Sacrament, the polished silver and brass, the immaculate linens folded, always fresh flowers; the number of stewards of the Mass, the incense rising; deacons, sub-deacons, crucifers, verger, thurifer, acolytes; revered titles surrounding the celebrant, to the glory of God!

Think of the planning, the cooking, the cleaning, the counting, the maintaining, the caring, the polishing, arranging, serving, loving, rehearsing, auditing, listening with open minds, hearing, responding to needs, gathering toys for neighborhood children at Christmas; the assurance of a comfortable and gracious rectory, greeting the desires and welfare of this vibrant, remarkable family, standing and kneeling together on this historic corner of good will and good works.

Grace at its best, yet always ready to do more. . .

We are blessed by our rector and clergy-retired; blessed by St. Martin’s Chapel, used almost daily in marking lesser feasts and fasts, celebrating holy women and men.

We are especially blessed by those called wardens; those who have offered their talents, their compassions, their tireless concern for well-oiled performance, efficiency and comfort; making Grace a very, very pleasant encounter.

Needs?  We need to grow.  We need to do more of what we do so well and we need to realistically support hopes, faith, dreams, our prayers and decisions that make it work.  And we could use another bass in the choir.

On December 25, 1981, these words by Howard Thurman appeared on the cover of our simple, lovely Christmas program, entitled:  “The Work of Christmas”:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the king and princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among brothers,

To make music in the heart.

 

Sounds like something Grace might generously reach for.  I think it already has . . . once again.

And, there is one more sound heard and treasured in the quietness of this lovely place, the words of John at the end of every early Mass of Sunday and days of the week, seldom heard, any longer, in other churches of our faith in this country:

“In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God . . .”

It ends:  “And we beheld His glory, as of the only begotten son of the father, full of grace . . . and truth.”

 

Thanks be to God,

Thanks be to Grace,

Thanks be to its remarkable stewards… all of us.

 

Charles F.J. Morse

November 6, 2011

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