23 August 2017, the Eve of Saint Bartholomew, Apostle
Dear sisters and brothers, dearest friends,
Grace and peace to you from God who was, and who is, and who is. The first thing to write, really clearly, is that I miss you! It’s only been a month, I know, but the blessing of time away is also accompanied by a strong sense of missing you, especially on Sunday mornings (more on that follows).
Thousand Island Park, Wales, and Ireland
I write to you from Thousand Island Park, New York. Tom and I arrived here last Thursday and had the weekend with his sister and her husband, Ron, and their sons, our nephews, Trevor and Andachew. Andachew, who is 13 years old, studied online earlier this summer so that he could sit for his New York Boating Safety Certificate; he passed with a 93%. We had one good day of boating, and he did exceedingly well at the helm. They left late on Sunday. Since then Tom and I have tidied, scrubbed floors, spray-painted furniture, and caught up with the neighbors. Tom is enrolled in a water color class for three days this week, and I’ve enjoyed very long walks with Esther.
The time in Wales and Ireland was at once restorative, and also productive. Gladstone’s Library, in Hawarden, Wales, was more splendid than I anticipated. Check it out www.gladstoneslibrary.org. My research on Theodore Parker Ferris revealed pretty much exactly what I expected: not much there! Although Dr. Ferris visited there twice in the late 1960s, all that remains are two of his sermons, and a prayer. Still, I was able to write most mornings. In the afternoon I would hop a bus to hike various trails in the gorgeous Welsh countryside. Honestly, I had no idea Wales was so beautiful. I made friends with various others who were staying at the Library, including the Primate of the Church of Ireland, the Most Reverend Richard Clarke, and the Bishop of Carlisle, the Right Reverend James Newcomb, as well as several non-churchy types. In particular, I hung around with a young poet, Penny Boxall, whose book of poetry, Ship of the Line became a companion, as did Penny herself. You can learn more about Penny at her website, pennyboxall.wordpress.com. At Gladstone’s Library there is a daily Eucharist, exceptionally and simply done, which edified and fortified me.
On Saturday, 12 August I took the train to Holyhead, Wales, and boarded a ferry to Dublin. I had Three Perfect Days in Dublin—sounds like an article from United Airlines’s magazine Hemispheres). An unplanned spiritual part of the journey included significant excavation of my mother’s ancestors, which began through some first cousins who live not far from Dublin, whom I had never met. It turns out that the story with which I grew up is quite a lot different from the facts! I knew my mother’s parents were from Ireland. What I didn’t know is that her father’s family spent two generations in Canada before removing to Michigan. And, the part of Canada where they lived is about 15 miles from where I am right now. And even though I was aware of their Irish-Protestant roots, I didn’t know that in the years 1884-1916 they established and worked to build four Anglican churches in the Diocese of Ontario. I’m off to explore them next week; sadly only one is still open for public worship. All of this really makes me wish my mom were still alive. There’s so much I’d love to share with her, and ask her.
On Sunday afternoon, 13 August, I was dashing to St. Patrick’s Cathedral for a 3:15 Evensong. I was running a little late, or so I thought, and cross the busy street (Dublin was jam-packed with tourists) when suddenly I heard, “Thomas! Thomas! Thomas Brown!”—it was Robert and Carol Tedesco with Luca and Isabella. I mean, c’mon: what are the odds? We met for lunch the next day.
Church Reviews, and Previews
In the same way that you’ve been in church every Sunday this past month, I’ve worshiped in the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Church of England’s Diocese of Chester, the Church of Ireland’s Diocese of Dublin, and the Diocese of Central New York. Three of them were lovely, and one was a huge disappointment. The first Sunday of sabbatical Tom and I went to Christ Church in Cambridge. I had never been to Zero Garden Street. I loved it. The curate preached and the congregation was both very welcoming, and how can I say, “very Cambridge.” I said to Tom afterwards, “if that’s not Harvard Square I don’t know what is.” All sorts and conditions of people. The bow-tie set with tattered shirt collars, along with young university students and families, and homeless people every bit a part of the community as the retired professors. The following Sunday I took the bus from Wales into Chester, England (just a 10 minute bus ride) to attend Chester Cathedral. Two words describe it: spectacularly inspiring. The liturgy was reverent (but not fussy), and the welcome was warm and wide. Then, it was on to Ireland. The Primate himself recommended Christ Church Cathedral, so off I went. Admittedly the place was jampacked.
But a church filled with people didn’t equate, at least for me, with a lively sense of the Risen Christ. Much of the 70 minutes felt stale, formal, even stuffy. Not a single person said “hello.” The assistant rector, a woman, presided well, and she seemed happy to be there. The preacher, a man (but not the dean) seemed thoughtful, but I couldn’t get the gist of the sermon (good to be in the pew, for a change!). Sadly, I left and said to myself, “if that’s what Irish Anglicanism has to offer, I’ll take a pass.” Thankfully the welcome and tone at St. Patrick’s
Cathedral (Dublin has two Anglican cathedrals) was markedly better. Finally, this past Sunday, the 20th, Tom and I drove over the bridge to a summer chapel in the little town of Alexandria Bay, New York. We know a few people there, and it was nice to be among friends. This coming Sunday Tom is preaching here on the Park so I’ll walk four blocks to the Tabernacle for the very Protestant service at 10:00am. The following Sunday I might go across the bridge, in the other direction, to the remaining church started by my Irish immigrant family. Rest assured I’ll be in church every Sunday, and I look forward to giving you a full report!
And you’re getting ready!
With the tale of August comes images of school resuming, and of course, Rally Day, at the Parish of the Epiphany. You’ll be welcoming Ran Chase and Brian Jones, and you’ll be engaged, as ever, in God’s great mission in your homes, in your schools, and in every relationship. Rest assured I’m praying for you, every day. As grateful as I am for this time away, you should know that I feel deeply connected to you and to our common life. In the meantime I promise to be present where I am, to keep you in my daily prayers, and to trust God who does infinitely more than we can desire or pray for. May God keep you.
With my deepest love and respect I am faithfully yours,