Spoken at the 11/21/21 Choral Eucharist
Almost two months ago, Bishop Marc asked me and my class of confirmands why we had chosen to take confirmation that day. My fellows on the occasion were in their early teens, so, in their responses, they spoke of their faith and the encouragement they had received from their parents and godparents. But as for me, more than half-a-century their senior, the closest I had previously ever come to conceiving of confirmation as life state had occurred on a second date with a lovely woman named Lisa, when I, then in my early forties, felt obliged to confess to her that I was “a confirmed bachelor.”
But it was in response to Bishop Marc’s question, that started me, as the old Phil Ochs folk song goes, to think of confirmation as “a lesson too late for the learning.” It had not occurred to me until Lisa — now my wife for these past two score years and more (so much for confirmed bachelorhood!) — and I fell into the embrace of Grace Cathedral some three years ago.
But back in 1957, my father was hired to be the French teacher at a small church school in Danbury, CT, and that Christmas Eve, I was baptized by Bishop Aldrich in the chapel of the Wooster School with the Reverend John Duane Verdery, the school’s headmaster, becoming my godfather that night.
63+ years later, I had to admit that I was not only not a confirmed bachelor, it had also come time for me to become a confirmed Episcopalian.
All this had root in the Wooster School’s motto that the Reverend Coburn had conjured up at the height of the roaring twenties, when he founded the school in one of the wealthiest counties in the US:
Ex Quoque Potestate, Cuique Pro Necessitate
In the original 1920’s English translation, totally appropriate for what was then an Episcopalian boys’ boarding school:
From each according to his ability; to each according to his need
This motto now bears an updated translation for the modern-day school, which, like Grace, has adopted more inclusive terms:
From each according to their/his/her ability; to each according to their/her/his need.
I wonder how many of those students’ parents knew that Aaron Coburn had dressed up Karl Marx in a Roman toga. Imagine: Liberation theology nestled in the foothills of the Berkshires.
So, first as a faculty brat and later as a student, I was marinaded in Wooster tradition. After school and university, I played folk masses in New York City, but I never felt much about things like ability and need. Church was nice, Episcopalians were nice people to hang out with.
But then Lisa and I moved here in July 2018, and suddenly, somehow, the people, the institution, and the missions of Grace Cathedral revealed to us what the anthropologist Claude Levi Strauss might describe as the dynamic relationship between ability and need. We need to give because our ability empowers us to. Likewise, the thoughtfulness, intelligence and love that the clergy and staff reflect the skills, heart, and talents they bring both to Grace and to the greater communities whose needs they serve.
Stewardship is what makes this a well-regulated dynamic relationship between the congregation, the cathedral, the city, and beyond.
I am standing here today reading from a music stand because I have something called a benign essential tremor. It’s a condition that can turn a still-life photo into a live-action frame. Standing here holding a plain script would drive me nuts. The tremor also makes rough work of handwriting.
Pre-covid, I would think calm thoughts as I resolutely scratched the pen across the check. During Covid so much has moved online, so I’m spared me check writing now, but stewardship goes on. Giving online makes supporting Grace even easier.
Please join Lisa and me with equal determination and resolution to advance forward the dynamic relationship between the cathedral, the city, and beyond.