Transcribed by Wayne Kempton
Archivist and Historiographer of the Diocese of New York, 2012
"Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and to-day, and forever."—HEBREWS xiii: 8.
THE event which we commemorate at this service is one of unusual interest, not to your parish alone but to the Diocese of New York, to this great Metropolis, and to the Church at large.
We are here to observe the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of this great parish which, all over the Church, is known, not only for the power with which it carries on its own work; but for the generous and noble support which it gives to the whole work of the Church in the diocese and beyond, at home and in foreign lands.
I bring to-day my own affectionate, heart-felt greetings and congratulations, and those of our whole diocese to your Rector, Church-wardens and Vestrymen, and to all the members of your congregation. This anniversary speaks to us of the place which this parish has held, and the influence it has exercised, since its work began a century ago.
We learn from the records that the first service of this parish was held on October 12, 1823. On December 4th of that year a meeting was held in a private residence at Hester and Broome Streets [3/4] to consider the establishment of a church "above Canal Street," which was then far out in the country, and on January 9, 1824, St. Thomas's Parish was incorporated.
How great the changes have been in our city, and in our country since that time! But through all the changes of these hundred years this parish has stood, and borne its witness, for that which does not, and cannot change, the Gospel of Him to Whom we pray, Whom we worship and adore, in Whom we put our trust because He is God Himself, "Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and to-day, and forever."
On this anniversary your thoughts go back naturally to the past. You think of all the sacred memories and associations which have been woven into the life of this parish and have helped to make it what it now is. You think of the Clergy who, in the past, have ministered as its Rectors, the Reverend Cornelius B. Duffie, the first Rector, Dr. Upfold, the Reverend Francis L. Hawks, Dr. Henry J. Whitehouse, the Reverend Edmund Neville, Dr. Morgan, Dr. John Wesley Brown. To some of you there may come memories of the days when young Frederic Courtney, afterwards to be Bishop of Nova Scotia, crowded the Church every Sunday afternoon with the young people of the [4/5] day, eager to hear his full and fearless preaching of Scriptural Truth.
You think of the day, in 1872, when Bishop Horatio Potter consecrated the newly erected St. Thomas's Chapel, on East 60th Street, where ever since that time the worship and work of the Church have been carried on as a part of the work of this parish; and you think also of the ten separate buildings, and centres of religious life and ministration, in which the wide and varied work of your parish is carried on to-day.
You think of the Wardens and Vestrymen whose names are on your roll, and are written in the Book of Life, among them that devoted son of the Church, George MacCulloch Miller, whose services to the diocese, to the Cathedral and to St. Luke's Hospital, as well as to St. Thomas's, will long be remembered. You think of all the long roll of faithful, believing, men and women, who, in the years that have passed, have knelt at the Altar of this parish and have received there the Bread that cometh down from Heaven.
This parish has a notable record in the past but it holds a still greater place in the present. Its work and influence are greater to-day than they have ever been, and, as you well know, this is due, under God, to the wisdom, the devotion, [5/6] the vision, and the spiritual leadership of your honored and beloved Rector, whose place in the affections of his brethren of the Clergy, in the esteem of the whole Church, and in the regard of the people of this city is known to all of us.
When the disastrous fire occurred which destroyed your former beautiful Church, it was your Rector's wisdom and courage which guided you to rebuild on the same spot, and, in spite of the increasing commercialization of this great thoroughfare, to continue your work on this important and commanding site, at almost the geographical centre of Manhattan Island.
It was his faith and vision, guiding and leading your own, which turned the calamity which visited you, into a most noble opportunity by erecting here this superb Temple for the worship of Almighty God, an honour to the Church in this land, one of the chief architectural ornaments of our city, bearing its daily witness for spiritual things here at the very heart of the city's life.
It is under your Rector's leadership that St. Thomas's has developed the noble missionary impulse which so marks it, and has come to be known to all for its freedom from the spirit of parochialism, for its loyal, large and generous [6/7] support of every department of the Church's life and work. To every undertaking of the diocese, the support of your great parish is given freely and unreservedly, and I may say, at this time, that there is no one who has given, and is giving, more fully of his time, and thought, and strength, than your Rector to the plans which we hope now shortly to announce, and put into effect, for going forward with our great common work of building our Cathedral.
It would be impossible to estimate the service which St. Thomas's parish has rendered to the diocese, and to the whole Church, by its example in that united effort of the Church, vital to its whole work, which bears the name of the Nation Wide Campaign.
As your Rector has said, in the Preface to your Year Book, our Nation Wide Campaign is to us "the articulate appeal of Christ for His work, in the city, in the nation, in the world."
There could be no greater tribute to the work of your Rector, and no surer evidence of the spiritual development of this parish, than the generous, increasing response which, as a congregation, you have been making to this all-important appeal.
My dear Brother, and dear friends, I know that you are all thinking today, [7/8] not only of the past, but of the future. The standard of service which you have established,, the work which you have accomplished, are the assurance that you will go forward to still greater things as you enter upon the new century of your life.
On this anniversary, I know that you wish to consecrate yourselves afresh, to rededicate yourselves to your work as true, fearless, believing Christians, for your homes, for your country and for God. We who are here in this Church this morning shall be in this world only a few years at the most. Let us use these years nobly and well.
Our faith is in One Who does not change, One Whose love and power are still able to cleanse the sinner, and heal the sick, and give life from above to all who will believe in and follow Him, One in Whom we can wholly trust, for this life and for all eternity, "Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and to-day, and for-ever."
I was reading the other day an address by our former beloved leader, Bishop Greer, made on a notable occasion, in which he used these words: "Wise, and good, and helpful, yes and essential, as all our modern attempts after physical betterment are, they come short without that remedial and renovating [8/9] touch that cleanses and purifies, that regenerating touch of the living Jesus Christ Who came, and Who comes, to save, and to deliver the people from their sins." "All these things, helpful as they are, needful as they are, are not enough to deliver men from sin." "Something more is needed, that goes beyond, or beneath them, to the root of all our modern disorders—the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
Keep your faith in Him strong and full and simple. Be steadfast in those things which keep you conscious of your relation to Jesus Christ, your prayers, your part in public worship, your coming to the Holy Communion. See that your children are taught to know and trust Him, to use and love the holy words of faith in Him. Do everything that you can to give Him the place that belongs to Him, in your homes, in your daily lives, and in the life of our country.
With the help and guidance of your dear Rector, make this parish of St. Thomas's more and more, as it has been in the past, a place where men, and women, and children, shall feel the power of the Divine Presence, the Divine Love, the Divine Strength, revealed, assured, brought within reach of each one of us, through the coming among us of God Himself in the Person of Him in Whom [9/10] we believe, and Whom we will ever trust, and strive to follow—"Jesus Christ, the same, yesterday, and today, and forever."