The rehearsal was over, and it was guaranteed that not one person would remember what was expected next Saturday. A lovely collection of coconuts, we sat down to a sumptuous dinner prepared by Whit and his staff, thanks to the gracious and handsome parents of the groom. The betrothed were celebrating one week before the grand ceremony with their wedding party and family, and it was a wonderful afternoon!
The next day, fresh off a Yankees win, and prior to a painful Yankees loss, the bride’s parents walked down Literary Walk in Central Park thinking to themselves how they got here. Literary Walk is lined with statues of the world’s great authors and also lined with majestic elm trees. The elm in America was ravished earlier last century by a beetle that ate right through them. Elms in mid-October are a beautiful tree. As we walked by them, we noticed that one great big elm had been chopped down completely. The Central Park Conservancy knows that to protect all the other elms, that any sign of disease must be treated aggressively, so they chop it down.
Late afternoon in mid-October is a wonderful time to wander through Central Park, especially as the great big trees breathe their last sighs of being green, and gently begin the process of turning to red and gold, silently releasing their leaves to the ground. The affect is stunning as the late afternoon air cools off the remaining sun as it sets. Mid-park adjacent to the Sheep Meadow is a Le Pain Quotidien, where they now serve drinks. And it is a lovely place to sit and nosh on a salad and sip a glass of wine, watching the dogs play in the meadow beyond.
A walk along 72nd Street out of the park to Madison Avenue brings you to St. James' Church on the east side of Madison. As we walked by, we noticed that the doors were open and that candles were lit inside. We peeked in, but not being Episcopalian, we entered gingerly. We were greeted at the door by a kindly-looking woman who welcomed us in. We sat in the back and were amazed at the candle-lined aisle and the candle-lit alter in the darkened church. The minister came out and welcomed everyone to the service as the piano played an Irish melody. The Reverend Brenda Husson, the first female Rector of St. James', spoke of the invitation by her church to all who were interested in a deeper relationship with God. We felt as we were meant to be there, drawn from the deep recesses of Central Park to the mystical candles of the century-old church, whose community was established in the early 1800s. If you are ever by St. James' on a Sunday night, I encourage you to stop in for their 6 p.m. services: it is very life affirming.
And while change had come to this church in so many ways, it remained firmly in place even with its half-filled pews. Earlier that day I had been at Mass at St. Francis de Sales. Reading the hand-out from the leaflet, I noticed the statistics about the Brooklyn-Queens Diocese. Nearly half the priests in the diocese would be gone in the next ten years, with no replacements in sight. The population of church-goers over the last 20 years had declined by over half as well. The picture it painted was of a community clearly in rapid change. I thought it hard to imagine that the two boroughs with probably over four million people in total couldn’t muster enough to fill its pews anymore. The good pastor of SFDS spoke of change coming in light of these statistics. He solicited suggestions but said that suggesting women priests or married priests was something he himself could not make happen. It was in stark contrast to our evening experience.
As I write this piece, I contemplate walking down the aisle with my oldest daughter on my arm. We will not be in a church, but God will certainly be walking with us. And God will certainly be the one managing the changes that will come. And God will certainly be the one blessing her and her groom, then and for years to come. In this, I have faith.