A Santa Fe Blessing.
Since I’ve retired from St Clement’s, I’ve been asked to help in several churches which needed a priest because of some sudden illness on behalf of their Rector or to fill in for other reasons. I’ve also been asked as guest preacher on special occasions in places as far from Philly as Long Island, Washington, D.C. and New York. I’ve also taken weddings for friends, one memorable one on the beach at the New Jersey Shore, where the two early twenty-year-old sons of one of the grooms (yes, it was a gay wedding, as some would call it, or a perfectly normal wedding between two children of God who love one another, as I would call it) were the witnesses.
But two weeks ago I set forth on a trip to Santa Fe in New Mexico to do something I’ve never done before, to bless a newly built chapel, its bell-tower, and the lovely old Möller pipe organ which had been renovated and restored for this chapel. It is set in the idyllic grounds of the estate of a member of St Clement’s congregation who has a house in Santa Fe and who is an organist. He therefore asked me to bless the new/old organ in his private chapel.
Fortuitously, Bishop Michael Vono, the Bishop of the Rio Grande, is an old friend from the years when he was Rector of St Paul’s-within-the-Walls, the American Episcopal church in Rome, and I was Vicar-General of the Church of England Diocese in Europe. So the morning after I arrived, I drove from Santa Fe to Albuquerque to visit him. I told him about the blessings, and he graciously gave me permission for this. I’m not sure I needed such faculties, since the chapel is private, but it seemed only courteous to ask, and it was a great chance for us to catch up on news about our many mutual friends.
The other fortuitous thing was that I was able to meet our new Bishop-elect of Pennsylvania, Fr Daniel Gutierrez, since he is the Bishop of the Rio Grande’s Canon to the Ordinary. I had missed seeing him when he came to Philadelphia with the other candidates for the episcopal election, so it was a great pleasure to have a time to talk with him. I came away from the meeting with the conviction that God through us had chosen just the bishop we need at this moment in the history of our Diocese. This opinion was confirmed by the sadness Bishop Michael expressed at Fr Daniel’s imminent departure. He said that Pennsylvania was lucky to have Fr Daniel and that he would be much missed in New Mexico.
The next day, back in Santa Fe, I went to see the new chapel and plan the blessing. The whole thing had been meticulously organized: the thurifer flew in from Philadelphia; the florist filled the chapel with sweet-smelling flowers; extra seats were added to the pews for the friends who were coming from aroundSanta Fe. And finally, to crown it all, the “choir” arrived in a vast purple bus, the kind used to transport pop groups from concert to concert. These were eight organists or organ builders who had been on an organ-tasting tour from Minneapolis to Santa Fe for the last eight days. They had all brought cassocks and surplices, and the bus was our departure point as we formed up and went from it to the chapel in procession.
The great west doors were closed and we stopped there. I blessed the bell tower, throwing holy water as high as I could in a vain attempt to hit the bell. Then I blessed the doors, and while the bell rang for the “Regina Caeli” we processed to the altar. Evensong was sung solemnly; the altar was censed for the first time at the Magnificat; the canticles were sung to the setting by George Dyson in C Minor. At the end, I went down the aisle and to the side where the organ console is and blessed it. I had promised not to drench this lovely machine with holy water, so I aimed to the left side and then to the right side, which was fine. But when I came to the middle and tried to throw the blessed water over to the back of the instrument some of it fell on the sheet music. A videographer was filming the whole service, so I am recorded forever as blessing the organ with the words “In the Name of the Father, and of the Son and – oops – of the Holy Ghost”! We next processed round the outside of the chapel and I blessed the four corners with the Holy Oils and then marked the crosses on the inside pillars. The sun was setting, and the golden adobe walls of the chapel shone with the rays of the sun that came through the olive trees. It was a magical moment crowning a beautiful service.
While we were all in the chapel, caterers had been setting up a bountiful dinner in the house, with a hot buffet, a cold buffet, and an ever-flowing cocktail bar. So it was late before everyone was gone. It was also very dark and for the first time in a while I saw the black sky full of stars. The desert air was dry and clear, and we were at 7000 feet, so the whole Milky Way sparkled above us – and as I passed the chapel I noticed that the votive lights which people had lit were still sparkling too.