“Serious, Thoughtful, and Scriptural”

Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year

By Andrew C. Mead

Foreword by Jon Meachem

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue. Pp. 152. $13.50

Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, called by the Right Reverend Richard Grein one of the truly great parishes of the Diocese of New York, is a parish whose high liturgical sensibilities have become the epitome of the Psalmist’s imperative call: “O worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, let the whole earth stand in awe of him.[1] In a volume written in commemoration of its 175th anniversary, J. Robert Wright wrote that “the history of Saint Thomas…is the story of the worship that has been offered and of the service that has been rendered, as the vision of the ‘spiritual house’ that is recorded in I Peter 2.4-5 has gradually…become a reality on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Fifty-third Street.” Wright further noted, “In a way that is rather peculiar to Saint Thomas, and endorsed by its parishioners over time and today as well, the history of this parish, the ‘symphony of Saint Thomas,’ is best orchestrated and told around the rectorships of the priests who have led it…It is largely the way the parishioners today still understand themselves and the way they want to read their history.”[2]

At the time of the publication of Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year, its author, Andrew Craig Mead, was a short time away from his retirement as the XII Priest and Rector of Saint Thomas Church and from 43 total years of active parish ministry. His 18-year rectorship from 1996-2014, to quote the parish’s Vestry, “transformed Saint Thomas Church by creating a real sense of parish where there is a deep warmth and inclusion that makes visitors and strangers feel welcome…” and in which he gave “all who worship at Saint Thomas a keen knowledge of how to live every aspect of their lives with Christ as their guide, as evidenced by his preaching, teaching, and life example.” Throughout the course of his tenure, Mead’s reputation as a “builder of parishes” manifested itself. His heart for sacramental ministry, grounded in the traditions of Anglo-Catholicism, and love for his people helped make Saint Thomas even stronger than it was previously, emboldening its members to live into its mission “to worship, love, and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.” Andrew Mead’s rectorship can be summarized by these words from Saint Paul: “…Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.[3]

Thomas Long says, “…Being a ‘preacher’ is one of the most striking and public of all ministerial roles, and, in the popular mind, anyone who would respond to a call to the ministry must surely be the sort of person who is ready and willing to preach and who earnestly covets this ‘preacher’ role” (The Witness of Preaching, Second Edition, p. 19). Jon Meachem, a former Saint Thomas Vestryman, in his Foreword, describes Andrew Mead as such a ready and willing preacher, who, from the time of his 1971 priestly ordination, displays a higher-than-average eagerness for the work of the Gospel ministry, always ready to “hop to it.”[4] But although Mead does covet his role as a preacher, as those that have heard him preach and the collected sermons attest, never has he approached the preaching task with inflated ego or want of praise. “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”[5] For Mead, the purpose is clear—it is all about Jesus!

Mead’s sermons are reflective of what has become, over the years, the Saint Thomas ethos: serious, thoughtful, and scriptural. They are serious by way of his unabashed commitment to doctrinal orthodoxy, proclaiming nothing more than the Gospel and the historic doctrines of the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. “Who do you say that I am?” Jesus asks. Just like Saint Peter, Andrew Mead replies, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”[6] For Mead, it is THE ultimate truth. It is what fuels his commitment as a Word and Sacrament preacher—preaching and teaching nothing else but Christ, proclaiming Christ crucified, died, and risen, while pointing to the altar, where the Gospel’s truth is strengthened by the living Christ in the Eucharistic sacrament. Andrew Mead is not ashamed of the Gospel. Time and time again, he has made clear that it is not himself that he preaches, but the Lord Jesus Christ. Mead’s humility has made credible the seriousness with which he has approached the preaching task.

They are thoughtful in approach. They are brief (each between the range of 900-1200 words), carefully worded, and composed with the concern of the listener (or, in this case, reader) in mind. To put it another way, they are short, sweet, and to the point. Hearing these sermons would typically take up an average span of 8-10 minutes, which was extremely helpful in keeping the hearers’ mind attuned to the Gospel’s explication, guarding against the risk of major distraction. For Mead, the time set aside in the liturgy for the preaching of the Gospel is too important and the collected sermons demonstrate well his commitment of making every moment of this time count.

Finally and most importantly, they are scriptural, the focus being not on secular politics or even the Church’s current theological battles, but on the message of the cross, on Jesus Christ Himself, died, risen, and coming again—nothing more; nothing less. Within Catechesis are sermons (37 out of hundreds) of a humble priest whose love for Jesus shines bright and comes out strong, so devoted in his vocation “to instruct the people committed to [his] charge; and to teach nothing, as necessary to eternal salvation, but that which [he] shall be persuaded may be concluded and proved by the Scripture.”[7] They are the representation of a distinguished priestly career fixed on the truth that the one foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God.

In today’s world, the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ is just as important now—perhaps more so—than it has ever been. The importance of the preacher’s commitment to this task is best conveyed through this story, told by Andrew Mead himself, from the closing page of Catechesis: “A few years ago an old friend, a distinguished priest educator, came to town to take me out to lunch. He has experienced much of the world, its glories and its sorrows. He is clear, direct, firm, and brave. I was waiting for him at our front desk. It was February. In he came, saying, ‘Hello, Andy, I have good news for you.’ He had recently retired, having completed an extraordinary career. ‘What’s the good news?’ I asked eagerly. ‘The good news,’ he said, ‘is that it is all true.’”[8]

[1] Psalm 96.9

[2] J. Robert Wright. Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (New York, New York: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2001), pp. XIII—XIV

[3] Colossians 3.17

[4] Andrew C. Mead. Catechesis: A Collection of Sermons for the Christian Year (New York, New York: Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, 2014), p. vii.

[5] I Corinthians 2.2

[6] Matthew 16.15-16 (cf. Mark 8.29)

[7] “The Form and Manner of Ordering Priests,” The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David (Greenwich, Connecticut: The Seabury Press, 1928), p. 542.

[8] Mead, Catechesis, p. 152.

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