John Andrew

John Andrew

Canon John G.B. Andrew, OBE (born January 10, 1931 in Yorkshire, England) is a British-American Anglican clergyman and the Rector Emeritus of St. Thomas Church on New York's Fifth Avenue, where he served from 1972 to 1996.

Early career

He was born to Thomas B. Andrew and Ena Maud Friend Andrew. Educated at Beverley Grammar School, he was a boy chorister at Anlaby parish church in East Yorkshire. This early start at singing sacred music, as well as his later University choir participation would add much to his priestly career to come.

After two years in the RAF he attended the University of Oxford, earning his B.A. and M.A. in theology from Keble College. Following this, he proceeded to Cuddesdon College to prepare for ordination. At Cuddesdon, he began his career as a cantor. Ordained to the diaconate at York Minster by Archbishop Arthur Michael Ramsey in 1956, then to the priesthood in 1957, his first priestly assignment was to Redcar parish church on Yorkshire's east coast. Here he ministered to industrial workers, gaining valuable experience.

At the age of 28, Father Andrew continued on his path to St. Thomas' by crossing the Atlantic to serve as curate at St. George's by the River Rumson, New Jersey parish. He would not remain for long.

Chaplain, secretary, vicar & candidate

Archbishop Ramsey recalled Father Andrew to England to serve as his chaplain after only 19 months in New Jersey. This would be a great stepping stone, since Ramsey was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury just three months later, and took John with him as Domestic Chaplain. By 1965, the young priest succeeded as Senior Chaplain by the end of 1965, and made regular visits to the Royal Family by express invitation on numerous occasions.

In 1969, John Andrew received the appointment as Vicar of Preston in Lancashire, in charge of seven clergy and six downtown churches, as well as the title of rural Dean of Preston, a jurisdiction over another 39 priests. His skills as an orator, honed over 12 years as an ordained Anglican priest and exhibited before the Queen, were put to use in these parishes, as well as in ordination retreats to young men in England and Northern Ireland.

During his time as Ramsey's Chaplain and as Vicar of Preston, John Andrew also preached throughout England and the United States, including several visits to St. Thomas' Church at Rector Frederick Morris' invitation. In the summer of 1971, he and Dr. Morris exchanged parishes. Naturally, he was on the initial search committee list of 55 candidates to replace Dr. Morris, on the short list of 6, and finally was the unanimous recommendation of the search committee to be the 11th rector of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue.


The Bishop of New York, Paul Moore, installed Father Andrew as Rector on Sunday, December 3, 1972. The parish had been in decline for the last number of years; attendance had fallen off sharply during the 1960s, and the relatively 'low church' staid American Episcopal atmosphere of St. Thomas was not attracting new members. John Andrew, assuming the mantle of rector and the emphasis of 'responsible discipleship' from Frederick Morris, also added his unique enthusiasm for Anglican sacred music and relatively "high church" Anglicanism. His first full Sunday as rector brought change in the ritual of the weekly service, most notably bringing the Eucharist back on every Sunday, and not just once a month as it had been before.

Father Andrew also was receptive to his musical partner, newly arrived organist and choirmaster Gerre Hancock, whose career at St. Thomas' commenced in 1971. One of the greatest improvisationists of his day, Gerre was as receptive to modern sacred music as Father Andrew was willing to try it. The debut of Michael Tippett's "tonally risquee" "Magnificat" and "Nunc Dimittis" during a Sunday afternoon evensong raised a hue and cry among many St. Thomas' parishioners for being inappropriate and brash. Father Andrew risked his early popularity by defending the work of Tippett and his musical director. The defense of this work and others like it would characterize his entire tenure as a musical rector.

John Andrew was valued by many parishioners of the era for his magnetism as a preacher. His yearly introduction from the pulpit every Christmas Eve was directed at those almost directly beneath him who had come a little late for the service and were seated on carpets in front of the front pew: "Your bottoms may be cold, but your hearts are on fire".


In the early morning hours of August 19, 1988, Father Andrew was mugged while walking home from a late night supper. He was hit on the head and in the arm with a lead pipe and his watch, signet ring and $200 were stolen. Discovered by the police, he was taken to the Emergency Room at New York Hospital, where doctors worked through the night to correct the damage to his skull. He was back in the rector's pew in late 1988, but many parishioners believed he was never the same afterwards. Sudden changes in clergy over the next few years, the unfortunate situation of discrimination and broken promises towards a female deacon and the early morning resignation of the 28 year Choir School headmaster shook many parishioners' confidence in the triumvirate of Rector, Vicar and Verger during the mid-1990s.


In 1995, it was clear that John Andrew's retirement was near. On January 29 of that year, Bishop Richard Grein made him an Honorary Canon of New York, a title never previously bestowed on an incumbent rector of St. Thomas. Later that year, the Queen bestowed the Order of the British Empire, and the Cross of St. Augustine of Canterbury (an award he himself designed in 1963) was bestowed on him in the spring of 1996. Later in that year, his successor the Reverend Andrew Mead took over the mantle of rector.

Andrew's first book, "The Best of Both Worlds" was written in the late 1980s and published in 1990. He continued to write, publishing "My Heart is Ready - Feasts and Fasts on Fifth Avenue" in 1995, and later, "Nothing Cheap and Much that is Cheerful". On his retirement, he returned to England for a few years, travelling and preaching during this time, but re-relocated to New York in the late 1990s, where he served as interim rector at Grace Episcopal downtown and continued to visit parishes all over the United States as a visiting preacher.

Recently, he has returned to St. Thomas as Rector Emeritus, an assisting priest to the rector Andrew Mead. He continues to make Manhattan his home.


*The Reverend Canon Dr. J. Robert Wright "St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue". Eerdmans' Publishing, 2000.

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