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Hallo again to all.

Life up thine eyesIn 1824, a young priest named Cornelius Roosevelt Duffie looked out over a small congregation assembled on the second floor of a commercial edifice on Broome Street in New York City. He said in solemn, bright tones:

Lift up your hearts

Today we answered him in tones as hearty as we could muster:

We lift them up unto the Lord.

Duffie's name is probably not on the tip of your tongue unless you inhabit the dustier parts of theological libraries. But he was a clergyman well-known and well-loved in his day: always called since his premature death 'the gentle Duffie,' he was an exemplar of the pre-Tractarian High Church tradition in the American Episcopal Church. A dear friend of John Henry Hobart (who burst into tears on news of his death), our beloved George Washington Doane and the later-maligned Benjamin Onderdonk, the gentle Duffie's short life has today faded from view. One can still read a small collection of things by and about him. But why and how did we exchange the Sursum corda with him this morning?

The gentle Duffie founded the parish that became the now-famous Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, where the full complement of AO's editorial staff gathered in person for the first time today, kneeling, praying, singing and communing from the same pew. As we sat in the cool of the nave, awe welled up inside of us whilst we admired the reredos and gave thanks for this parish's life shared with a vast city teeming around it. Between readings and hymns, the subway rumbled steadily underground as our eyes rose occasionally to look at the stained glass high above us and our minds thought of the expensive shops on the eponymous street behind us. Cram and Goodhue's architectural accomplishment inspired admiration and amazement in us, and it also made us think more than once that we were in a place we would be happy to call our spiritual home.

This is not the building in which good Mr Duffie assembled his fledgling congregation, nor is it their first, second or third building. The spiritual edifice whose cornerstone he laid still stands, however, and it was in that sense that our worship today was led by him who have gone before us. We wondered if he would recognize what his congregation has become, and felt sure that aside from significant differences of vesture, posture and gesture, the spirit of his ever-new parish is still intact. It still ministers to all sorts and conditions, combining service, education, worship and music in ways unequalled by many cathedrals or even dioceses.

The dangers of Dream Parish Syndrome are familiar to us, and we agree sincerely with the Venerable Bede that 'things are not to be loved for the sake of places, but places for the sake of good things'. Duffie's happy priesthood, in memorable words applied to another in an address at the end of today's service, is a blessing that continues to bless all those who come in contact with it. His early purpose to lead an earnest group of people in Christian prayer and praise has flourished with God's help, and we are confident that his first sermon in the first Saint Thomas Church was prescient:

Whenever we enter here, let all worldly thoughts be banished, and God and eternity be present to our minds. In the intercourse of the world, too much do earthly things overbear our spirits; too much do earthly advantages engross our affections; too much do time, its vanities, and its cares, shut out God from our souls. Let this place, as often as we enter here, be a sacred retreat from their influence. Here be our minds composed to calm reflection upon our Christian duties, our spiritual prospects, our eternal hopes, ever remembering the admonition of Scripture, "The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before him."

This is the house of the Lord; and because he is the God of whom cometh salvation, here shall the glad tidings of the Gospel, the good news for all people, the message of life which is for every creature, salvation through the merits of a divine Redeemer, be faithfully proclaimed.*

For such centres of excellence in Christian mission and its execution, we find ourselves always thankful. For more such inhabitants and bearers of a 'happy priesthood' moving us forward in faith to Christ himself, and leading us in service of his people, we find ourselves newly hopeful.

God, car mechanics and fast trains willing, see you again next week.

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Last updated: 17 June 2007

* Sermons by the Late Rev. Cornelius R. Duffie, A.M., Rector of St. Thomas' Church, New-York, volume two, pp. 92-93

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