I came back from three months’ locum duty in Sweden and Switzerland last week, and five days later I attended our Deanery Synod and was elected Dean. No one was more surprised than I when the election was unanimous. But I know this was due to the fact that the present Dean, who did not want to retire when she was in the middle of some very important work for the Deanery, asked me if I would consider being Co-Dean with her for the present. I agreed to this with alacrity, since she was involved in some splendid outreach schemes that needed continuity to succeed. So the Deanery was expressing its approval, not just of me as Dean, but also of Donna’s continuation.
My Church of England friends will be amused to learn that I can now claim to be Dean of Southwark, since that is the name of the our Deanery, which encompasses the City Centre churches of Philadelphia. Soon I would love to introduce myself to the Dean of Southwark Cathedral (on the South Bank of the Thames in London) as the American Dean of Soouthwark. But of course I would have to pronounce it in the American way as South – Wark, not the English pronunciation, which is something like Sutherk.
Joking aside, I am honoured to have been elected to this post, especially since I am officially retired. However, “retired” is a relative term, and I am simply incapable of doing nothing, as my last three month in Gothenburg, Sweden, and Montreux, Switzerland, have proved. And not having a parish and regular Sunday duties should be an advantage, since some of the Dean’s duties involve representing the Bishop at such things as institutions of new clergy which usually take place on a Sunday. I will also be available to visit and preach (if invited) in all the parishes of the Deanery on Sundays, which would be more difficult if I had a parish.
Though some of the Centre City churches have large endowments and solid congregations who pledge a good deal of money each year, others are much poorer and are financially much less stable. Two have already closed, though the Diocese still has possession of their buildings, some of which are fine. Another one is close to closure unless something is done to revitalize it. Our new Bishop, Daniel Gutierrez, is much more in the business of opening churches than of closing them. This he demonstrated very clearly in his former Diocese, when he was Canon-to-the Ordinary to the Bishop of the Rio Grande. So I am hopeful that he will encourage us to find new uses for these small churches rather than sell them off or tear them down.
There is one church in particular where I am convinced a week-day ministry would be viable for the thousands of people who come in to work each day in Centre City. I see parallels with a church in the City of London, which I looked after for a few years (St Michael’s, Cornhill) while I was Vicar-General of the Diocese in Europe and had few Sunday duties. The City emptied at the weekends, so I had just 20 or so people on Sundays, though we had a wonderful choir and organist. Yet during the week, as those of you who know the City can confirm, one could hardly move in the streets at lunch time. So I invented the Thank-God-It’s- Friday Mass, and put up posters about it all over the City. It started at 12.15, and I guaranteed it would last only 45 minutes, and therefore the quartet I hired sang only short settings such as Mozart and Hydn’s Missa Brevises (or should that be Missae Breves?).
Apart from the good music, I had three other attractions: first, I procured well-known preachers or speakers, such as a few Bishops , some Members of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, the Chairman of the Stock Exchange (which is in St Michael’s parish) etc. And they were only allowed seven minutes (and I said I would ring a bell if they went over that!). Secondly, after the Mass there would be a wine and cheese reception. Thirdly, and quite illegally. I gave it as my opinion that if someone came to the TGIF Mass that fulfilled their Sunday duty, and therefore they could go golfing or sailing or whatever on the Saturday and Sunday. Well, the first Friday we had about a hundred people, and I rejoiced. But the second Sunday there were more like three hundred, and so it went on. Luckily the wine and cheese after the Mass was paid for by the Drapers Company, who are the Patrons of St Michael’s.
So that is a roundabout way of saying that I am going to recommend to the Bishop of Pennsylvania that that could be done also in a city centre church which has now just closed. Center City, Philadelphia, is not the City of London, but there may well be some, Episcopalians or any other baptized Christians, who would come to such a midday Mass on a Friday.
That’s my first contribution as Dean of Southwark!