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St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue redefining what it means to be Anglo-Catholic

NY: St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue redefining what it means to be Anglo-Catholic
New rector will permit the marriage of same-sex couples
Canon Carl Turner's wife is a priest
ASA peaked in 2011 at 875, now stands at 625, a drop of 250 souls

By Mary Ann Mueller
VOL Special Correspondent
January 22, 2018

MANHATTAN, NEW YORK -- Anglicanism has two forms. Traditional Anglicans who adhere to the faith 'once for all delivered to the Saints' living it out through Gospel truths. On the other hand, post-modern Anglicans embrace societal norms of the culture, rather than engage the surrounding civilization in time-tested Christian moral ethics.

Now, it seems, the same can also be said about Anglo-Catholics. Traditional orthodox Anglo-Catholics (including Episcopalians) live out their much beloved Anglicanism while remaining true to the dictates of their church catholic faith, practice and order which first emerged through the 19th century Oxford Movement. So-called "Affirming Catholics" who rejoice in the High Church liturgy of the Oxford Movement have slowly jettisoned Gospel truths in practice and have embraced a liberal/revisionist theology which includes women in the priesthood and the episcopate along with LBGT inclusiveness resulting in openly promoting and endorsing same-sex marriage as well as transgenderism and full inclusion

St. Thomas, an Episcopal church, located on the corner of the famed Fifth Avenue and West 53rd Street in Midtown Manhattan, is one of three significant Midtown churches on Fifth Avenue including St. Patrick's Roman Catholic Cathedral between West 51st and 52nd streets and Fifth Avenue Presbyterian at West 55th Street. New York's famed St. Patrick's Day Parade marches before all three historic Fifth Avenue churches.

Other noted neighbors within walking distance of St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue, include: Trump Tower, Saks Fifth Avenue, Rockefeller Center, Madame Tussauds Wax Museum, the Venezuelan Consulate, the Spanish Consulate, Waldorf Astoria, Abercrombie & Fitch, Saint Thomas Choir School, Grand Central, Times Square and Central Park.

Other houses of worship in the Midtown area include: the Church of Scientology, St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church, Christ Church-Methodist, Hoy Cross Lutheran Church, St. Malachy's: the Actors' Church, St. George Greek Orthodox Church, Calvary Baptist Church, and Central Synagogue-Reformed.

It is into this rich fabric of faith and culture that St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue is woven as a long-revered Anglo-Catholic parish. The 194-year-old ongoing congregation was incorporated on January 9, 1824 when Manhattan was home to fewer than125,000 residents. Now nearly 1.7 million New Yorkers crowd into the 23 square mile island. Manhattan has the smallest landmass of the five New York City boroughs (county) yet it is the most densely populated of them all.

French High Gothic architecture

The current white limestone church was completed in 1913. The present church, an elegant example of the French High Gothic style of architecture is the fourth St. Thomas church building to be built on Manhattan Island. The first church's cornerstone was laid on July 24, 1824 by Presiding Bishop William White during his second term (1795-1836) as the IV Presiding Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. He was also the infant church's first presiding bishop (July - October 1789).

"We are assembled to lay the first stone of a building, intended, if God should prosper the undertaking, to be hereafter consecrated exclusively to the duties of devotion. "That the intended building may contribute eminently to eternal interests, let us invoke the blessing of Almighty God," the Presiding Bishop is reported as praying that Tuesday afternoon.

So, with that prayer the first St. Thomas Church was erected and an Episcopal congregation found its first home. The initial church was located at the corner of Broadway and Hudson in Lower Manhattan not far from the original St. Patrick's Catholic Cathedral on Mulberry and Jersey streets.

St. Thomas is not the first Episcopal church built in New York. That honor goes to Trinity-Wall Street dating back to 1698 and was built on a land grant issued by King William III of England to establish a Church of England parish in early New York. The fledging Colonial city was named for the Duke of York, the future King James II of England, who was the last Roman Catholic monarch of England. He was the great-grand nephew of King Henry VIII.

Within 20 years the St. Thomas had to be enlarged to accommodate a growing congregation. But in the spring of 1851 the church was leveled by a fire and quickly rebuilt.

Immediately following the Civil War the congregation felt a need to move. Their church was located within a stone's throw of Greenwich Village which "had degenerated into anchorage for cheap dance halls and concert saloons." New property had been secured at 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue. The new edifice -- St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue -- was ready for occupancy in 1870 but that church was also lost to fire in 1905. All that remained was the iconic tower.

Ralph Adams Cram and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue teamed up to design and build the new St. Thomas Church, a classic in French High Gothic Revival with cathedral-like dimensions. The pair were at the peak of their architectural skills and collaboration. Their award-winning design featuring stone ornamentation and an elaborate reredos. The famed New York architects also designed St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church (St. Bart's-New York), the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the United States Military Academy Chapel at West Point, the Princeton University Chapel in New Jersey, and the Rockefeller Chapel at the University of Chicago. They developed the Collegiate Gothic style and favored Gothic Revival for their ecclesiastical designs, especially Episcopal churches. The New York Times called Cram "one of the most prominent Episcopalian laymen in the country," and The Episcopal Church honors him each December 16 on feast day.

St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue has long been an Anglo-Catholic parish. It has a long line of rectors starting with Fr. Cornelius Duffie (1823-1827); followed by Fr. George Upfold (1828-1831); Fr. Francis Hawks (1831-1843); Fr. Henry Whitehouse (1844-1851); Edmund Neville (1852-1856); Fr. William Morgan (1857-1888); Fr. John Brown (1888-1900); Fr. Ernest Stires (1901-1925); Fr. Roelif Brooks (1926-1954); Fr. Frederick Morris (1954-1972); Fr. John Andrew (1972-1996); and Fr. Andrew Mead (1996-2014). In 2014 Canon Carl Turner was called as the Manhattan church's newest rector to continue and help maintain the Anglo-Catholic tradition of the historic congregation.

During the rectorship of John Andrew (1972-1996), St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue became a strong Anglo-Catholic parish adhering to traditions developed in the 19th century Oxford Movement which restored liturgical and devotional customs that have a decidedly "Catholic" flavor.


The Oxford Movement, was born during the Victorian era as Church of England clergy and Anglican theologians, with ties to Oxford University, sought to reinstate some of the older Christian traditions of faith into Anglican theology, liturgical practice and reconnect with their historic Catholic roots.

Some of the early well-known faces of the Oxford Movement include: John Henry Newman (1801-1890); Edward Pusey (1800-1882); John Keble (1792-1866); Charles Marriott (1811-1858); Richard Froude (1803-1836); Robert Wilberforce (1802-1857); Isaac Williams (1802-1865); and Sir William Palmer (1803-1885).

Many in the Oxford Movement eventually drifted into the Roman Catholic Church. They "swam the Tiber" including: John Henry Newman, who became a Catholic cardinal and is on the tract for sainthood. He was beatified on September 19, 2010 by Pope Benedict XVI while on a papal visit to England. Beatification makes Cardinal Newman one step away from canonization thus recognized Catholic saint.

Other noted Oxford Movement devotees who swam the Tiber include: Thomas William Allies, Edward Badeley, Robert Hugh Benson, John Chapman, Augusta Theodosia Drane, Frederick William Faber, Robert Stephen Hawker,
James Hope-Scott, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ronald Knox, Thomas Cooper Makinson, Henry Edward Manning, William George Ward and Benjamin Williams Whitcher.

They are the forerunners of today's Anglo-Catholics who swim the Tiber and enter into the Anglican Ordinariates. The term Anglo-Catholic first came into popular usage through the Oxford Movement

Both Fr. John Andrew and his successor Andrew Mead deepened St. Thomas' traditional Anglo-Catholic leanings.

St. Thomas Choir School

Music is very much a part of the rich Anglo-Catholic heritage and is a bedrock ministry at St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue. The church's rich history in music dates back to the earliest days and by 1870 the musical foundation was firmly set and now the church has one of the finest boys' choirs in the world. The St. Thomas Choir School was established in 1919 and is located at 58th Street and 7th Avenue, a block away from Central Park and a long block from Columbus Circle. It is one of a very few remaining church-related boarding choir schools for young boys. Others include Westminster Abbey Choir School (Church of England) in England and the Escolania de Montserrat (Benedictine) in Spain. The Cloister School at Durham Cathedral (Church of England) is co-ed.

Normally St. Thomas Choir School is home to 30 third through eighth grade boys who while are learning the basics of reading, 'riting, 'rithmatic, English, history, science, Latin, French, art, and physical education to provide a well-rounded classical education. However, their main focus is music with the goal of becoming world-class treble choristers. They sing about 20 hours a week.

Since 2005 St. Thomas Choir School has also hosted a nine-day Sacred Music Choral Experience for middle and high school girls. The girl choristers practice to perform at two Coral Evensongs and a Sunday worship service with the gentlemen of St. Thomas' Men and Boys Choir.

The Choir School's fact sheet mentions that 56% of the fulltime student body are ethnic minorities -- Asians, African-Americans, Hispanic and others. The choir recruits internationally to achieve its unique sound. Tuition for the current 2017-'18 school year is $15,000 of which 74% of the student body receive financial aid.

"The actual cost of educating each boy is around $80,000," the school's website explains. "No qualified boy is turned away due to financial need."

"The Saint Thomas Choir of Men and Boys is considered by many to be the leading ensemble of its kind in the Anglican choral tradition in the United States," the school's website notes. The combined choir made up of 15 men and 30 boys is vital to the liturgical music at St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue. Choral services, which are a huge drawing card for the church, are offered on Sundays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Sunday services usually include a Festal Eucharist while midweek performances include Choral Evensongs and Matins. More than 300,000 visitors enter into St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue each year. Down the street St. Patrick's Cathedral receives five million annual guests.

Fr. Meade saw the Saint Thomas Choir School being St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue's "Signature Mission" which is "to worship, love and serve our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage."

In addition to regularly performing for St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue liturgical services the Men and Boys' Choir has travelled around the world including: Westminster Abbey and St. Paul's Cathedral in London; King's College at Cambridge; Scotland, Germany, Denmark, and even the Vatican.

St. Thomas-Fifth Street in keeping with Anglo-Catholic tradition has liturgical services seven days a week. On Sunday there are three Services of Holy Communion and one Choral Evensong during the school term.

During the week Daily Office (Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer) is celebrated Monday through Friday followed by a Rite I Service Holy Communion. There is also a midday Rite II Service of Holy Communion at 12:10. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays the Evening Prayer is full choral experience.

The rector-emeritus Fr. Mead is quoted as saying that the "Daily Office as part of our mission to worship, love and service our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage."

Saturday there is usually only one liturgical celebration -- the 12:10 Service of Holy Communion.

St. Thomas' XIII Rector

The new rector, Canon Carl Turner, came to St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue in the summer of 2014 with a strong background and experience in Anglican liturgical music. He hails from England and was plucked from Exeter Cathedral where he was the Canon Precentor of for thirteen years. As the Canon Precentor Canon Turner was responsible for "all the Cathedral's worship and music."

His biography on the St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue website noted that "All of his parishes have been Anglo-Catholic in tradition with a strong love of music and liturgy as well as a strong commitment to the communities that they serve." He was also a member of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission and was once a Director of the Association of English Cathedrals.

"I feel immensely honoured to be called as the XIII Rector of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, Canon Turner commented when he accepted his call to New York. "I feel humbled to follow a distinguished line of Rectors and am passionate about deepening our shared faith, prayer and spirituality so that it transforms our daily lives. Michael Ramsey once said that the road from Calvary to Easter can only be understood by transfigured lives; the liturgical and musical life of Saint Thomas gives us a unique opportunity together to enter into the mystery and model our lives more and more on Jesus Christ, the Son of God who calls each one of us by name."

Currently he is a member of the Cooperation of Nashotah House, the Wisconsin-based Anglo-Catholic seminary which trains both Episcopal and Anglican clergy in High Church tradition. He has also reached out to and is forming ties with Berkeley School of Divinity at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut and the General Theological Seminary in New York City.

Affirming Catholics

Since Canon Turner's arrival at St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue, questions have been raised as to how Anglo-Catholic he really is and will he maintain an orthodox Anglo-Catholic tradition at the church.

Traditional, orthodox, conservative Anglo-Catholics reject women's ordination both to the priesthood and the episcopate as not being Scriptural nor in keeping with historic catholic thought and practice.

Those embracing the liberal progressive view of Anglo-Catholicity are called "Affirming Catholics."

"Affirming Catholicism came into being in 1990 when a group of lay and ordained people met together to identify and celebrate the positive, inclusive and joyful currents which lie at the heart of the Catholic movement in the Anglican Communion," the Affirming Catholicism's British website explains. "Affirming Catholics is a movement of inspiration and hope in the Anglican Communion, seeking to bring together and strengthen lay and ordained people who recognize the positive, inclusive and joyful currents in the Catholic tradition of Christianity."

The liberal wing was birthed out of Alban's Church - Holborn in central London by a number of Anglo-Catholic clergy in the Diocese of London who feel they had been marginalized by the traditional Anglo-Catholic groups because of their support for women's ordination to the priesthood. The movement has spread to The Episcopal Church.

Affirming Catholics are progressive in matters of inclusivity -- women's ordination to the priesthood and episcopate, same-sex marriage and transgendered issues -- but enjoy the high church pomp and ceremonial aspect of Anglican liturgical worship and music which they call "a lavish sacramental life."

"From the outset Affirming Catholicism has been about friendship and the desire to explore together an outward-looking, inclusive and Catholic attitude to life, faith and work," the British website explains.

"The church is the sacrament of the presence of Christ in the world. We are called to embrace the world with Christ's generous and transforming love. Our life is invigorated by Christ's presence in holy scripture, in the sacramental life of the catholic tradition, in prayer and in our understanding," Affirming Catholicism's American website fleshes out.

"As reformed and reforming Catholics, we seek to renew the universal Church by including those with different perspectives and bearing witness in the world to Christ's healing and reconciling love." the British website continues.

St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue's new rector seems to be solidly in the Affirming Catholics camp.

On Aug. 12, 2016 Virtue Online reported: "St. Thomas's Fifth Avenue in New York City has finally rolled over. Canon Turner who became XIII Rector of Saint Thomas Church in July, 2014, is allowing a woman to celebrate Holy Communion. Anne 'Mother' Mallonee was Trinity Wall Street's first female rector and is now Executive Vice President and Chief Ecclesiastical Officer at the Church Pension Group. A VOL observer wrote to say that it was inevitable. 'Fr. Turner had been permitting priestesses as guest preachers over the last couple years, but the dam has finally burst.'"

The Rev. Mrs. Alison Turner

In fact, Canon Turner's wife, Alison, is a priest. She was ordained a Church of England priest in 1998 for the Diocese of Chelmsford after she was married to Carl Turner. She has a Cambridge ministerial formation as well as earning an MA in Theology at St. Mary's University College, a Catholic university in London.

"Carl married his wife, Alison, in 1990. Alison is a teacher and a priest and, until Easter 2015 was headmistress of Exeter Junior School, a leading independent preparatory school in the Southwest of England," the Canon's biography reveals on the St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue website.

Currently the Rev. Alison Turner is listed as an assisting priest at the Episcopal Church of the Transfiguration a mile straight down Fifth Avenue to 29th Street.

Transfiguration's website states that Mrs. Turner has "a bi-vocational ministry, as both a teacher and priest" and that "much of her career in Education has been in Roman Catholic and Anglican multicultural schools in East London." She is also studying for a Masters in Sacred Theology at The General Theological Seminary.

The website mentions she is married but notes that "Her husband, Carl is a neighboring Rector within the diocese." St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue is not mentioned by name or reputation.

Church of the Transfiguration is listed as an Anglo-Catholic. However, Mrs. Turner is not the only woman priest listed. The Rev. Joanne Izzo is also listed as an assisting priest. She was ordained in 2014 as a late vocation priest.

In addition to being an assisting priest at Transfiguration, Mrs. Turner is also listed on the St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue website as being the go to person in charge of the nursery. " If you have any questions about the Saint Thomas Nursery, please contact Mother Turner," the website explains.

The St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue website also lists the Rev. Canon Anne Mallonee as an "Honorary Assistant."

Having women priests involved at St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue is not the only troubling issue the new rector faces. He also allows for same-sex marriages in keeping with the mindset of the culture.

The St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue website mentions requirements for baptism and confirmation but not weddings.

This is the response that VOL received to an e-mail query on the subject of gay marriage rites: "Thank you for your inquiry. The Rector permits the marriage of same-sex couples that satisfy the marriage policy of the Parish and the Episcopal Diocese of New York. Additional information on these requirements and other procedures is available upon request by those who seek to be married at Saint Thomas Church," replied David Daniel. "If there is a couple seeking to be married at Saint Thomas, I'm happy to put them in touch with a member of the clergy and the verger's office."

Traditional Anglo-Catholics believe that marriage is between one man and one woman and any other coupling is immoral.


During the past decade (2006-2016) St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue has shown a steady increase in baptized membership going from approximately 2,400 in 2006 to nearly 2,800 in 2016 a 14% increase on the registered roles. The Episcopal Church will release its 2017 bar graphs in the fall after all the information have been tabulated.

However, the church's ASA peaked in 2011 at about 875, but has been steadily declining since 2014 when Canon Turner came on board. Now the ASA stands at about 625, a drop of 250 souls in a church that will hold a thousand worshippers. In 2011 more than 31 per cent of St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue's membership attended Sunday services. In 2016 only 22 percent of those on the church roles showed up on a Sunday.

Income wise St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue was enjoying an increase in Plate & Pledge until the 2008-2010 recession hit. The Plate & Pledge bottomed in 2010 to $811,500 then it started climbing again and hit a high of nearly $1,250,000 in 2014 Fr. Mead's retirement year. Since then the pledge and plate income has dropped to about $1,177,000 in 2016.

In 2009, during the midst of the recession salaries were frozen for the staffs of both St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue Church and Saint Thomas Choir School. At the time Fr. Andrew Meade wrote, "As we are all acutely aware, the world's economies are in the midst of a recession and financial crisis that is expected to last well into 2009. The Every Member Canvass is about 16% lower than it was this time last year. The church's endowment, which underwrites the vast majority of our operating budget, has declined by over 30%. We must bring Saint Thomas through this financial crisis 'whole'. To this end, we are making significant budget reductions in 2009."

As a result the church cut its advertising in the New York Times and on WQXR radio resulting in a savings of more than $100,000. The parish also cut its flower budget by half. It will also sought ways to reduce the cost of the famed Men and Boys Choir.

It takes more than $12 million a year to underwrite the various on-going ministries at St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue of which only about 15% comes from the pledged giving. A full quarter of the multimillion dollar income goes to supporting St. Thomas Choir School. Another one million dollars goes towards maintenance and upkeep and it costs at least $300,000 to keep the lights turned on.

Canon Turner calls St. Thomas-Fifth Avenue "one of the finest examples of a church in the gothic style in North America," and "an oasis of prayer and a vibrant example of catholic worship in the most famous shopping street in the world."

He would like to see the pledge giving climb to $2 million and pledging units jump from 650 to 1,000. The 2018 Annual Appeal has been launched.

Mary Ann Mueller is a journalist living in Texas. She is a regular contributor to VirtueOnline

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