All Saints Day
October 18, 2020
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Church
One of the biggest changes around here at St. Mary’s since the pandemic began is that we aren’t having the reception after the 10:00 Mass (on Sunday). And we’ve had a surprising number of new, regular worshippers who have only known St. Mary’s since the pandemic began, but because coffee hour has been cancelled for safety reasons, they don’t get to stick around and meet other parishioners. It has been bizarre welcoming new people to our community without it.
I’m still trying to meet with every new person who comes through the door, but for obvious reasons, I’ve been trying to meet with people here at the church rather than in a coffee shop or restaurant. Since we don’t need it for the reception, a couple of months ago, the staff and I created a little living room area in the northwest corner of the parish hall with a couple of hand-me-down couches and chairs. The furniture is spread way out so that a few people can safely meet and chat for a bit. It’s been very interesting watching newcomers gaze up at the portraits of the previous priests of St. Mary’s that line the walls of the parish hall. With one obvious exception, Mtr. Lauren Lyon, the newcomers have had a plethora of white men to gaze at. Some are young, some are old, some look happy and content while others look scared and seem to lack self-confidence.
I’ve recently done some digging around the St. Mary’s archives at the Central Library, and during this first round of research, I’ve focused on my predecessors, both those who made the cut and are featured in the parish hall and those who did not.
Fr. John Klaren was one of the latter. He was priest-in-charge for about 8 months in 1918 at the end of World War I, and I came across a one-page court deposition in which the secretary of the Vestry gave testimony that Fr. Klaren had approached him and said a lot of nasty things, including the fact that the vestry and the wider parish were made up of “wicked men and must be rebuilt from the bottom up.” He added, “You yourself are not quite as wicked as some of the others, and I hope, perhaps, to make a place for you on the new Vestry [I wish to form].” The deposition also mentions that Fr. Klaren made the following announcement to the congregation on Easter morning: “The congregation are requested to pray for Arthur W. Miller into whose heart Satan has entered as he did in the heart of Judas Iscariot. Let us all join in silent prayer for our brother.”
Fr. Klaren’s portrait is not on the walls of the parish hall for a reason.
Beyond the occasional juicy tidbit like this, the archives are full of articles and photos and newspaper clippings and vestry minutes that exude holiness, and this is certainly true when it comes to the two longest-serving rectors of this parish, the portraits of whom are not only in the parish hall, they’re also hanging prominently on the back wall of St. George’s Chapel. Fr. James Stewart-Smith served as our rector for nearly 24 years from 1891-1915, and there are so many beautiful stories about his devotion to prayer, both at the altar and in private, and about his love and devotion to the poor of Kansas City. He developed the hobby of creating wrought iron scrollwork from the ironworker who created and installed the rood screen and this very pulpit. Various items that he made out of wrought iron are still with us, most importantly the cover for the baptismal font at the back of the church, and the crucifix in the inner sacristy where the clergy vest. Fr. Stewart-Smith died of a heart attack late one evening not long after his 64th birthday when he climbed the steep staircase leading up to the apartment after counseling the family of a deceased parishioner.
Fr. Stewart-Smith has become one of my heroes.
Another is Fr. Edwin Merrill who served this parish for 35 years from 1918 to 1953. He, too, was devout in prayer and in service to the poor. He was particularly gifted as a musician, and during his tenure, the congregation (and outside benefactors) raised the money to install a new organ in the church tower as well as replace the clear glass windows with many of the beautiful stained glass windows in existence today that lead us all to God. One evening, after hearing a confession, Fr. Merrill climbed the same steps to the apartment to retire for the evening and stopped to catch his breath, and died peacefully at the age of 74. At his retirement party, Bishop Welles said this of Fr. Merrill: I have tried to think of an apt quotation to describe the life of Fr. Merrill, and I believe that the 13th verse of the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians fits him well. “And now abideth faith, hope, and love…” Not only has he promoted the Christian faith, he has, himself, faith in human beings. During the Great Depression, and those were tough times for this downtown church, he never lost hope, and his hope was contagious.”
Like all the saints throughout history, these two men were considered especially holy for one reason: they allowed themselves to receive the riches of God’s grace and mercy through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. And that’s what we celebrate today on All Saints Day: those Christians who in some way figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s grace and forgiveness despite their own sin and wickedness – those Christians who loved God with all they are and their neighbor as themselves.
In my initial research in the archives, I focused on the clergy of St. Mary’s, but intermingled in their stories is, of course, the stories of your predecessors in faith in this holy place. Some of them stand out as particularly holy, and some do not. Today, on this great feast of All Saints, we remember the heroes of the faith and ask for their prayers, not because of their blameless lives, but because of their extraordinary ability to receive God’s unconditional grace and mercy. After the Creed, we will ask the saints to pray for us. As we do, you will recognize many of the names of the heroes of the faith. They represent the million upon millions of souls who have followed Christ through the ages. They represent the many thousands of souls who have walked down this aisle here at St. Mary’s to receive the body and blood of Christ. They represent “all those who rejoice with us, but upon another shore, and in a greater light, that multitude which no man can number, whose hope was in the Word made flesh, and with whom in the Lord Jesus we are one forever.” They represent the whole Communion of Saints to us because they figured out how to allow themselves to receive God’s extravagant grace and mercy.
As you and I ask for their prayers, let us be mindful that just as Fr. Merrill had a contagious hope, we should be hopeful that even the likes of the apparently awful Fr. Klaren may have lived a later life of holiness. For as St. Augustine once said, ‘There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” All ye holy men and women, saints of God, pray for us, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.
 From the service of Nine Lessons and Carols.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!