Today—Thursday, May 21—is the Feast of the Ascension. Forty days after Easter morning, the Book of Acts relates that Jesus is taken up into heaven while his disciples look on. Jesus has just commanded them to remain in Jerusalem until they are baptized with the Holy Spirit in a few days time (as the story goes, that would be ten days from now on Pentecost). And from there, he tells them, they will be his “witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
For a summer fifteen years ago, Church of the Ascension on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was my neighborhood church. While working as an intern at the Anglican Communion Observer’s Office at the United Nations, I lived with my father in his West Village apartment just three blocks from Ascension. It was a great summer (only to be outdone by the following summer in London at the Anglican Communion’s headquarters)—working at the UN; hanging out with my father and stepmother; exploring and enjoying the always surprising, always impressive natural and cultural riches of New York City.
Pam would come down from Montreal for long weekends or for a couple of weeks at a time and on Sunday mornings we would head over to Ascension for Eucharist: full pews; robust congregational singing; beautiful choral music; sumptuous coffee hour fare; and, most importantly, friendly, welcoming people. As well—it must have been my very first week at the UN—the whole Observer’s office staff headed down to Ascension for an Ascension Day service. It was there that I met Bishop Packard, then Episcopal Bishop of the US Armed Forces, who later played an important role in Pam and me moving back to the States several years later. Experiences, memories and relationships like these make me treasure my membership in the vast family that is the Anglican/Episcopal Communion—from Jerusalem, to all of Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
But, life changed. My father’s health has declined over the years and the guest room that was once freely available to me and Pam is now the main living quarters for his round-the-clock health aides. Pam and I only stop in for brief visits. Sunday morning Eucharist at Church of the Ascension is for us a thing of the past. My friend Mark, an Ascension parishioner who was discerning a possible vocation the summer I was at the UN, has been ordained and has moved on to his own parish somewhere in the Diocese of New York. We kept in touch for a while but have not communicated for quite a while. Bishop Packard has retired and I have lost track of him also. Still, I cherish the experiences, memories, and—though dormant—the relationships that grew out of that summer.
I started out today thinking to only write about Ascension Day, but I see that I am also writing about the poignancy of, and the opportunity that comes from, change. On one hand, part of me wishes I could go back to that summer in Manhattan; wishes I could go back to the thrill (and discouragement) of working at the UN; wishes I could spend unencumbered hours with my father and stepmother; wishes that Pam and I could walk down 12th street on a warm summer morning to be enveloped in the embrace of the Church of the Ascension community. On the other hand, so many wonderful things have happened since then—not least of which was meeting and ministering with you all—that my better thought is: “Bring on the future!”
Maybe this is not unlike the disciples’ experience of Jesus’ departure on that first Ascension Day. On one hand, they were distraught at his sudden disappearance and would have done anything to keep him with them. On the other hand, think about what happens next: the Holy Spirit arrives and the gospel is preached in Jerusalem, in all of Judea and Samaria, around the Mediterranean Basin and around the globe. Two thousand years later, I would not be writing this missive, and you would not be reading it, if change—radical, even frightening change—had not happened.
We live in a time of change. Our Church has been in a period of transformation over the past several years and that transformation is highlighted and catalyzed by our current health situation. Frankly, we do not know exactly what the Church—on both grand and parochial scales—will look like in six months or a year. I will not even try to predict. But, we can be certain that it will be different from the Church of the past. My hope for all of us is that, while we treasure and cherish our experiences and memories of the Church as it was, we are able to embrace our communal future with courageous, creative, faithful and open hearts.
Speaking of change and transitions, regrettably I need to inform you of the recent deaths of several members of our extended parish community:
Leonard Stablitz, husband of Barbara Stablitz, died on May 13. With help from Bill Menosky, Hollie Schrader and I conducted a simple memorial service for Leonard today and placed his ashes in the Grace and St Peter’s columbarium. Condolences can be sent to his daughter, Lynn Roche, at 23 Hallmarkhill Avenue, Wallingford, CT 06492.
Gerald Geraci, brother in law of Hollie Schrader, died on May 11. Condolences can be sent to Hollie at 43 Norwood Avenue, Hamden, 06518.
Barbara Cox Emanuelson, a former parishioner, died on May 14. Condolences can be added to the webpage on the Beecher and Bennett website. A link will be provided to that page in Barbara’s obituary in this coming Sunday’s New Haven Register.
May God’s blessing and God’s peace be upon Leonard, Gerald and Barbara, and upon us all.