Greenwich Gossip

Monday, September 17, 2007

Guess Who's Coming to Greenwich?

As if the scandal-ridden tenures of serial adulterer Dick Stearns and serial philanderer Becky Spencer weren't enough to blacken the names of their respective churches, let alone our Town in general, we now have the un-reverend Tom Tewell (he's been debarred by the Presbyterian Church from serving as a minister) coming here to Greenwich to speak.

Parishioner Sues Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, Saying Pastor Seduced Wife - ExChristian.Net - News and Opinion

Your scribe is scratching his head in bewilderment. As the younger generation would say, WTF? Is this the kind of person we need addressing our citizens, let alone a church group that is still recovering from the notorious Dick Stearns himself?

One hopes that the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich will reconsider its invitation for Tewell to speak at the church ten days hence. Even for a town with as checkered as history as ours, this one should be a no-brainer!


Rev. Thomas Tewell suspended for affair

So if he's been debarred from "formally or informally working in any Presbyterian parish until 2009," why is he coming to the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich? No doubt he will be getting travel expenses, some kind of honorarium, and perhaps even a hotel room (yikes!!) at church expense. If that's not "formally or informally" working the system, what is?

Oh, and just to bring everyone up to date: now that the husband has collected an undisclosed monetary settlement from Fifth Avenue Presbyterian, the wife has just recently decided to file a suit of her own:


And this is the man who is to be the "guest of honor" at a special dinner celebrating the completion of First Presbyterian's new $20 million building?!

The mind boggles, dear reader. Only in Greenwich could such a farce be taking place...


Your scribe ran into Sandy Herman at the library yesterday. Sandy was co-chair, along with Lisa Bienstock, of the building committee. She informed your scribe that she and Lisa had nothing to do with Tewell being invited to speak at the celebration dinner - the word had come down from the "senior leadership" of the church. She was clearly not happy about this, and wondered what effect it would have on attendance at the dinner.

She then went on to drop a bombshell: Tewell will indeed be spending the night in Greenwich, and will be preaching from the pulpit of the First Presbyterian Church the next day. Your scribe is utterly aghast. He has therefore sent an email to the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City, the body that issued the censure:

A number of us who belong to the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich, CT, are upset to learn that Thomas Tewell will be preaching at our church on Sunday, September 30, and also addressing a special dinner the evening before (September 29) to celebrate the opening of our new church building.

My understanding is that the Presbytery of New York City has debarred Mr. Tewell "from formally or informally working in any Presbyterian parish until 2009 as part of a written censure issued by the New York City Presbytery on Thursday." [from a newspaper article]

If this is true, is not Mr. Tewell violating the terms of the censure? He will undoubtedly receive an honorarium for the dinner speech and the sermon, travel expenses, and hotel accomodations. To me, this would appear to be "working" in a Presbyterian parish and being compensated for that "work".

Those of us who would greatly prefer not to have to have Mr. Tewell in our midst - and, as you may know, our church is still recovering from the scandal of the serial adulteries with women of the parish carried on by Richard Stearns, a former senior minister of our church - would be grateful if you would take a look at this situation and determine if it meets the letter and the spirit of Mr. Tewell's suspension.

Thank you for your prompt consideration of this matter.

The EP sent a reply that seems to indicate that Tewell did an end run. He went to the Presbytery of Southern New England and sought permission from them to come and preach in Greenwich. Even though the New Yorkers expressed their concern, the Southern New Englanders gave him the green light.

So, ladies and gentlemen, we will have yet another serial adulterer gracing the pulpit at First Prebyterian. Same old, same old. One would like to think that life in this Town might get better, not worse, but that seems to be a mere pipe dream.

So lock up your wives and girlfriends on the night of September 29. Tom Tewell is coming to Greenwich, whether we like it or not.

Update: September 21

Well, the comments are coming in thick and fast. The most recent comments were written by two people who seem to be defending Tewell, and your scribe has done his best to do justice to the first commenter in the blog thread.

The second commenter, like the first, appears to have joined Blogspot only yesterday simply in order to leave a comment or three for your scribe. Their blank home pages had no hits until your faithful reporter himself paid a visit and was informed he was the first and only visitor to date. Nothing wrong with this, of course; but it's clear that these two people are new to the blogosphere, and are putting in an appearance pro haec vice.

Since your scribe knows of no way to sequence the comments into their logical order - they are posted according to the time they were sent - he is placing the following comment directly into the blog so as to be able to reply to it in a sequential fashion:

FifthAveland has left a new comment on your post "Guess Who's Coming to Greenwich?": So you have proof of your allegations about these men and women you mention?Newspaper stories based on what? Read the most recent Post piece.And the censure specifically permits visits to churches.

Welcome to Blogspot, FifthAveland, and thank you for your comment. First of all, other than Tewell himself, your scribe does not recall mentioning "men and women." If Dick Stearns and Becky Spencer are meant, well, yes, there is proof aplenty of their misdeeds. But as for the FAPC situation, only Tewell has been mentioned by name.

In your scribe's first reply to T v. G in the blogthread, the facts as he understands them are laid out, 1, 2, 3. All opinions expressed are based on those facts.

"Newspaper stories based on what?" Your scribe is at a loss to answer this question, as he is unable to understand it. The Post reported on Tewell's suspension, and later on the fact that the woman in the case had filed suit against Tewell two months ago. Those are presumably verifiable facts; the first was confirmed in yesterday's email from the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of New York City, and the second is presumably a matter of public record.

Your scribe would love to read the most recent Post piece. Is it a retraction of the earlier pieces? Can you provide a date? (It doesn't seem to come up on Google.)

As to the censure allowing Tewell to visit churches, this assertion would seem to be contradicted by the EP's email, which stated that he had to receive permission from the Presbytery of Southern New England. If what you say is correct, why would such permission be necessary?

And so, dear reader, we enter another day of the "Guess Who's Coming to Greenwich?" controversy.

Saturday, September 21:

Clearly this is a topic which needs to be fully and fairly aired, and thus your scribe will be making periodic updates as warranted by new information and/or developments.

The most important of these new developments is a lengthy email from the Executive Presbyter of the Presbytery of Southern New England, The Rev. Dana Lindsley. Not wishing to be accused of selective editing, your scribe will quote it in full:

Dear William,

Thank you for your note about Tom Tewell's visit to Greenwich. It is an important issue that you appropriately raise and I'm glad you asked about it.

You are right that Rev. Tewell was temporarily excluded from any form of ministry by the Presbytery of New York City. When the invitation went to him, it was also forwarded to the Committee on Ministry of our Presbytery in Southern New England. They were asked if he could preach at that service and give a talk as he had been temporarily excluded from ministry. We all felt that it would be inappropriate for him to do this type of preaching and speaking ministry if he were excluded from doing ministry. The Committee on Ministry of our presbytery contacted the COM of the Presbytery of New York City as they are the body that is supervising the temporary exclusion.

We discovered from that COM that the time frame for the exclusion will have ended by the time of the engagement at Greenwich and that there would be no formal impediment to his accepting the invitation. Therefore, the COM in our presbytery did not take any action to either approve or disapprove of the request to have Rev. Tewell preach. Consistent with the Book of Order, the session of First Church has the responsibility to oversee worship, and the pastor of the church has the exclusive responsibility and authority over the preaching of the Word.

As to the advisablity of having Rev. Tewell preach given the history of First Church, that is a matter most appropriately dealt with on a session level. Specifically for this event with this guest preacher, there is no formal or constitutional reason for not permitting him to serve in this way.

I hope this answers your question. I would be glad to discuss this matter with you if for some reason this email does not fully address your concerns. Again, thank you for asking ... I am pleased to know that you have the ministry of the church and of Jesus Christ at heart!

Yours in Christ,

The Rev. Dana F. Lindsley
Executive Presbyter
Presbytery of Southern New England

Let it never be said, dear reader, that the Presbyterian Church is lacking in faithful servants. Dana obviously spent a great deal of time responding to your scribe's concerns, and your scribe hereby publicly expresses his gratitude.

Bottom line: Tewell's suspension is over, and he can go wherever and do whatever he wants. This does not square with the newspaper report that the suspension was to last until 2009; but we all know that newspapers do not always get all of their facts correct. Or, it may be, the suspension was shortened for some reason or other.

Dana's letter makes it clear that if the suspension had still been in effect, Tewell would not have been allowed to come to Greenwich. As it was, the Presbytery's Committee on Ministry took no position, believing it to be more properly a matter for the local session.

Did the session at the First Presbyterian Church of Greenwich approve the invitation to Tewell? Did they even know about it? These are questions to which your scribe has no answer at the moment.

You will note, dear reader, that Dana's letter mentions the "advisability" - and by extension, the lack thereof - of having Tewell preach "given the history" of the Dick Stearns episode. Again, several questions occur to the scribal mind:

Does anyone on the present session remember the bad old days of Dick Stearns? Are the senior minister and other clergy aware of the depth and breadth of Stearns's womanizing with parish members he was "counselling" at the hot-sheets motel? And does anyone care?

Well, dear reader, this is Greenwich, after all, where all the rules are made to be broken, and where the more outrageous your behavior, the more likely you are to get money and awards from the Town fathers. Stearns himself received a "purse" of money from the church in order to continue his "studies", even as he was blatantly stealing funds and sleeping around. The problem, you see, is that the then session didn't want to face up to his misdeeds, because it would have made them look bad as well for failing to do something about the situation.

But coverups never work, as Nixon learned to his cost, and the truth has an odd way of coming out despite all efforts to suppress it. Meanwhile, however, good people get hurt. And so it is here in Greenwich.

Quite likely there will be some of Dick Stearns's victims in church when Tewell preaches. What kind of message will they read into his appearance here? That the Presbyterian Church no longer believes the Seventh Commandment is relevant to our time and our society?

The "Wicked Bible", published in 1631, omitted the word "not" from the Seventh Commandment. This may well have been the Bible that the founders of our Town used a few years later when they came to Greenwich. So why should we be surprised that adultery has always been in fashion in this Town, and apparently always will be? Hell, even the churches are promoting it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Greenwich Genius

Well, actually he's from England, but 23-year-old James Kennerley is beginning his second year at Christ Church, having been promoted (and rightly so) to Associate Director of Music. You have read about James in these pages before, gentle reader, and it is pleasant to think that he is already a fixture in our fair Town. Just think: soon he will have spent 10% of his young life in Greenwich, and probably close to a third of his professional organ career.

Just to recap: James started his musical training as a chorister at Chelmsford Cathedral in Essex, England. Many of the founders of the Connecticut Colony came from that area, including Thomas Hooker; according to the web site of Chelmsford Cathedral, "The Cathedral also has links with Thomas Hooker, who was Town Lecturer in Chelmsford from 1626-29. He had to leave for the New World because of his Puritan views. He went on to found the town of Hartford, Connecticut and has been called the Father of American Democracy."

How nice that Chelmsford continues to send us its best and brightest! James went on to win a music scholarship to Harrow (Winston Churchill's school), and then an organ scholarship to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he directed and accompanied the two College choirs and took an Honours degree in music. He has also recorded a number of CDs, and played on national radio and TV broadcasts, as well as for the Queen Herself.

After Cambridge he joined the staff of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, giving recitals there and and at Westminster Abbey and just about every other major London concert venue. And from there he Greenwich!

Where last night he performed another of his spectacular recitals. The church's organs have never sounded better than than under his aegis; he knows intimately each and every sound the organs can produce, and how to single them out or combine them for the maximum effect. He began with Bach's "Great" Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor, alternating between the chancel and gallery organs to great effect. He took the fugue at a pretty good clip; the driving rhythm of its Dutch theme (used by Bach as a tribute to one of his friends) moved inexorably and without flagging to the great climactic final pedal entrance and full organ coda. Whoo-hoo! your scribe shouted during the loud applause.

The next three pieces were all settings of the great Gregorian plainsong hymn, "Veni, Creator Spiritus". The first, by Buxtehude, was played on the gallery organ, floating out over the church's spacious nave to the ears of the listeners below. A typical North German chorale prelude, it is full of exquisite ornamentation and scales beautifying the stately theme. Then came a Bach version, this one from the Orgelbuechlein, a sprightly setting with a recurring three-note motif suggesting the Trinity. Finally, James played for us the exquisite Baroque setting by Nicholas deGrigny, a multi-verse treatment that explores all the colors of the French 17th-century organ. It was amazing to hear pretty much the exact sounds that deGrigny's listeners would have heard, thanks to James's skillful registration.

The next piece changed the mood entirely. It was the "Sortie in E-Flat" by Louis James Alfred Lefebure-Wely; both the composer and the piece were new to your scribe's experience. (How nice it is to learn at the hands - and feet - of the younger generation!) Though written about 150 years ago, this piece sounds as though it was intended for a circus calliope, full of oom-pah's and bright coruscating runs and chords. Whee!

Next came Saint-Saens' "Danse Maccabre", transcribed for the organ. The sheer range of sounds that James enticed from the organ was utterly mind-boggling, as was his dexterity as his hands leapt from keyboard to keyboard. And speaking of dexterity, it is a pleasure to pay tribute here to one of Christ Church's newest musicians, the very talented Isabelle Demers. Your scribe first met Isabelle earlier in the summer as she was practicing Reubke's "94th Psalm" for a recital in her native Montreal. She is a doctoral student at Julliard, and is assisting James in his work with the Choir of Men and Boys. Her page-turning technique is as close to perfection as your scribe has ever seen: her hands appear a nanosecond before the appointed time, flip the page so quickly you can hardly see it, and then disappear a nanosecond later.

Equally skillful was her assistance in pushing registration buttons while James was playing away lickety-split. Her small hand would appear, poised on the button, while James's hands danced on the keys literally centimeters away. Her split-second timing was awesome. It is not too much to say that Isabelle's performance was an integral part of a bravura rendition that took everybody's breath away. Bravo to both!

The next piece, by Philip Glass, was also new to your scribe. "Mad Rush" was written in 1979 for a visit by the Dalai Lama. A simple, calm, almost boring, ostinato figure in the left hand contrasts with a more frenetic right-hand "rushing around" that seems to exemplify well the centered mantra of Buddhism vis-a-vis the frantic pace of modern life in the Western world. The piece tapers off...into silence. No one (except James, of course), was quite sure when it ended. Was there more to come? Yes? No? Only when Isabelle took the music away did we know it was time to applaud.

The final piece was Marcel Dupre's brilliant "Variations sur un Noel", composed here in this country in 1922. According to the excellent program notes written by James, each variation was written in a different city on Dupre's tour as he discovered for the first time American organs with their electric action (allowing for much more nimble fingering than the European tracker action) and adjustable pistons (which allow for quick changes of many stops at once, instead of having to pull each one on by hand). Like a kid in a candy store, Dupre went wild, creating, in James's words, "a kaleidoscopic variety of colours and textures of a kind that had never been heard before."

The French Noel carol used by Dupre is better known to us as "Now the Green Blade Riseth", often sung by the choirs here at Christ Church. The scintillating variations show Dupre at his best, with complex canons, a double canon, and astounding keyboard virtuosity, climaxing in a mighty toccata in the great French tradition of Widor and Vierne. We rose to our feet at the end, dear reader, giving James the standing ovation he so richly deserved.

As before, the action at the console was projected onto a large screen at the top of the chancel steps, so that we could see James's hands and feet at work while our ears drank in the gorgeous sound. After the great success of the Lenten concert series this spring, James has orchestrated a monthly series of recitals this fall, to occur on the second Friday of every month. Additionally, James has scheduled a "Hallowe'en Special" for Saturday, October 20, at 10 pm, when the 1926 silent film "Nosferatu" will be screened, with James himself improvising at the organ just as they used to do in the movie palaces of the old days. The announcement says, "Bring friends, pyjamas, and a snack!" Whoopee!

As you have seen, dear reader, James is not merely a talented musician, but a fine writer as well. To this we must add his publishing skills: he has used the in-house equipment at Christ Church to create a fabulous full-color brochure about the music programs and organs at the church. Last night he prepared another full-color leaflet for the organ concert series with great pictures and in-depth detail on the church's organs. It is fair to say that the level of musical offerings at Christ Church, and by extension the whole Town of Greenwich, has never been higher. And the credit for so much of this, as for last night's utterly knock-your-socks-off recital, goes to our resident Greenwich genius, James Kennerley. Bravo, James!

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

De Mortuis Nisi Bonum?

The Greeks probably had a phrase for it, too, but the earliest one of which your scribe is aware is the Latin tag, "De mortuis nil nisi bonum." Which means, of course, if you can't say anything good about the obnoxious creep who died last week, don't say anything at all.

Now, your scribe has never been one to subscribe to this theory. In his view, the truth remains the truth, both pre- and post-mortem. Are we to refrain from calling Hitler a ruthless genocidal maniac just because he's dead? Puleeeze.

And what about the Roman Catholic church vilifying Judas Iscariot as a traitor, or calling Mary Magdalene a whore? As to Judas, his kiss was a crucial link (pun intended) in Christ's passion and death. Many books have been written in both ancient and modern times to suggest that Judas' act was - and was meant to be - part of the plan that Jesus himself formulated as he "set his face towards Jerusalem" in the final stage of his life.

As for Mary M, legends of her possible liason with Jesus are as old as, if not older than, the Gospels themselves. Better and more serious writers than Dan Brown have explored what to many is a likelihood that their relationship was in fact a marriage, and that they had a son together. Why the early Catholic church deemed these stories to be heretical is beyond your scribe's understanding; and he is fairly certain that if Jesus were to return to earth today he might want to do some more ecclesiastical house-cleaning such as that which he carried out in the Temple a few days before his death. After all, every single element of the Christian religion as we know it was formulated by human beings, anywhere from decades to centuries after his death.

Mark's Gospel, the earliest, dates from about 70 AD; the books of the Bible were only codified for the first time at the Third Council of Carthage in 397 (which included the Gospel of Judas, by the way), and officially set in stone by the Catholics at the Council of Trent in 1546. For Lutherans, the books known as James, Jude, Hebrews, and Revelation were all (and still are) considered extra-canonical.

The point here (and yes, gentle and patient reader, there is one) is that the Christian religion is a man-made artifact (no women, of course, were allowed to have anything to do with the process, which is why Moses' sister Miriam and Mary Magdalene were suppressed by the Judaeo-Christian "authorities" of earlier times). As such, it is by definition imperfect, and subject to ongoing debate and revision.

Where were we? Ah, yes - Mary Magdalene, who, far from being a whore, was in fact a very central figure in Jesus' life. And if indeed they did parent together, and the ancient genealogies are correct, that would make them your scribe's 44th great-grandparents. Which would probably go a long way towards explaining his simple-minded devotion to the truth, which not infrequently tends to earn him the opprobrium of the ungodly hereabouts.

Today's post was prompted by a full-page ad in The New York Times, page A19, taken out by The Helmsley Organization. It caught your scribe's eye for several reasons, not the least of which was that it was indeed a full-pager, and a right-hand page to boot. Then there was the very odd orthography: Each And Every Single Word Begins With A Capital Letter. What this says about the current state of corporate literacy, dear reader, your scribe will leave to you to determine.

But it was the penultimate paragraph that really grabbed the scribal eyeballs:

She Was Deeply Loved By Her Family, Friends, Colleagues, And Employees

Gee...that's not what your scribe remembers hearing and reading about Leona. If anything, he was led to believe the opposite was the truth, at least as far as the underlings were concerned.

So here we are, dear reader: just because Leona Helmsley is dead, should we no longer tell the truth about her? Or even worse, publish a palpable untruth?

Your scribe could not let this particular piece of world-class hypocrisy pass by without comment. No doubt he will be thoroughly castigated by the Nisi Bonum crowd, which is particularly strong here in good ol' Greenwich, where the local rag, aka the Yellowwich Time, works overtime to avoid publishing the home truths that might otherwise make this into a better and more honest community. But hey - the truth is still the truth, and it needs to be told. Veritas, it says on your scribe's college beer mug. And it's probably written in the scribal DNA as well.