On The 25th Anniversary of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Des Moines, Becoming A Cathedral

After I was elected bishop of this diocese in 1988, for the next couple of years I spent Christmas Eves and Easters away from my family. This, because in the tradition I was raised in, the Bishop was expected to be in his Cathedral on those high holy days – especially for Easter. And, in Iowa, the Cathedral just happened to be located three hours east of where the bishop lived and worked – Trinity Cathedral in Davenport!

That Cathedral had been established there for all kinds of good reasons. Iowa’s first bishop, Henry Washington Lee, had lived there and started the missionizing of Iowa from that base of operations.  Trinity was only the second church built specifically to be an Episcopal cathedral west of the Mississippi River.

But, as the state developed and the capitol was eventually established in Des Moines, it made sense for the Bishop of Iowa to live here, in the geographical, political, and eventually economic center of the state. Yet the Cathedral remained in Davenport!

Not only because of the slight inconvenience of those first Christmases and Easters spent away from home, but because St. Paul’s had functioned as a kind of “stand in” cathedral for many decades, hosting Diocesan Conventions and diocesan gatherings of different kinds and because St. Paul’s had a history of the kind of good liturgy and great music associated with cathedral churches, I began to wonder about moving Iowa’s cathedral here.

When I floated the idea there was some support –and some resistance! — here and also, of course, at Trinity, Davenport!  Here, because of a concern that “the diocese” and even “the bishop” might exercise too much control over St. Paul’s. In Davenport, obviously, because they had become quite accustomed to being the cathedral after 121 years!

But, because of the support of Dean John Hall of Trinity and Michael Barlowe who was rector here at the time and — I might add — a little politicking on my part, in 1993 we were able to pass a carefully-crafted Canon at Diocesan Convention entitled “Of the Cathedrals!”  Section 1 reads:

“The Convention of the Diocese of Iowa hereby acknowledges Trinity Church, Davenport, and St. Paul’s Church, Des Moines as the Cathedrals of the Diocese. Trinity Cathedral is recognized as the historic site, and St. Paul’s Cathedral as the liturgical center of the Diocese.” With that, we joined the Diocese of Nebraska and the Diocese of Minnesota – and a few others around the country – as dioceses with two functioning cathedrals, for similar historical reasons.

My experience and dream for a cathedral church had been formed and honed by the years I spent as Canon Residentiary at St. John’s Cathedral in the Diocese of Florida. That great Gothic church sits in the middle of downtown Jacksonville.

When The Rev. Bob Parks (later Rector of Trinity Church, Wall Street) was Dean, there had been a move to relocate St. John’s out in the suburbs thereby joining the “white flight” which was taking place out of the inner city in those days.

Bob fought that impulse and the congregation eventually recommitted itself to stay in the city as a witness to Christ’s healing and constant presence. Today (and when I was there) St. John’s boasts three senior citizen high rise apartment buildings, a nursing home, a cutting edge ministry in the heart of the inner city called Urban Jacksonville, and Jacksonville Episcopal High School.

Since I left, they have added a preschool serving the downtown area and serve a Friday Café luncheon in partnership with a local Culinary Institute frequented by business people and others from the downtown area. St. John’s is a vibrant presence known and respected by many in the city – church folk or not.

Well, the times are different today.  Government money is not as available to partner with churches and other non-profits which agree to sponsor and support such senior housing and nursing home projects. Church-related high schools and colleges are fewer and farther between.

But cathedrals still have special vocations and responsibilities today, as they always have, and as you no doubt heard from Gary Hall who knows a thing or two about the subject, having been Dean of Washington’s National Cathedral – one of our Church’s finest legacies.

I believe cathedrals should have a special relationship with the bishop and the ministry of the entire diocese in which they are located. Our family made St. Paul’s our church home during my years here. I was able to preach and preside at the Eucharist on most Christmas Eves and Easters as well as at a midweek service in the chapel from time to time.

When Mills House was undergoing some much-needed sprucing up, we enjoyed the hospitality of St. Paul’s as we officed here for a few months and Dean Barlowe and I even talked about the Diocese selling Mills House and building a second story over the office wing, having the bishop’s office down here… until we learned that structurally that would be impossible.

I believe that cathedrals should offer the best contemporary liturgy and music possible, reflecting — as far as they can —  the best of the spirit and style of churches across the diocese in which they are located. They should be models of good liturgy, great music, worship and prayer.

Cathedrals should offer a ministry of hospitality, not only to diocesan conventions and state-wide meetings, but a place all members of the diocese should feel is their “church home” when they are visiting or working in the “see city.” In Jacksonville, St. John’s offered a daily Eucharist presided over – not only by the Dean and Canons – but by visiting clergy from across the city.  Parishioners and non-parishioners alike attended those services.

When – as is so often the case – cathedrals are located in an urban center, they should be part of the city itself and active in ecumenical and interfaith witness when they occur. When that “see city” happens to be – as it is here – the state capitol, cathedrals have a special role to be a voice for the Church speaking truth to power, be that the governor, the state legislature, or the judiciary.

Cathedrals are often impressive church buildings offering a visual statement of the majesty of God and forming part of the beauty in the landscape of the city. But Jesus warns us about being too caught up in that aspect of our life in today’s Gospel,

“As (he) came out of the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher, what large stones and what large buildings!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’” (Mark 13:1-2). The transitory nature of earthly monuments!

Some attention will always need to be paid to bricks and mortar, and there is much to be said for visual witnesses to the presence of God in the city. But the heart of a cathedral, like any Assembly of God’s people, is our commitment to the Risen Christ and our witness to him! As the author of Hebrews wrote:

“…since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:20-25)

Hearts in full assurance of faith…holding fast to the confession of our hope…provoking one another to love and good deeds…meeting together and encouraging one another

Those are the marks of any Christian community, not only a cathedral.

But surely a cathedral is called – in a special way – to hold them high.

Thank you for being willing to rise to that challenge 25 years ago. And let me encourage you to find new and even better ways to carry it out over the next 25.

I’ll see you on the 50th!

 

 

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