I became Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in 1995, which makes me long-tenured by the usual clergy standards, but it still feels new to me. It’s hard for me to imagine serving any other place that would be as challenging and gospel drenched as St. Paul’s. I feel as engaged now as I did when I began nineteen years ago.
The façade of St. Paul’s Cathedral is crowned with an unusual faith symbol, a section of a nautilus shell spiraling out over a brilliant blue background. The nautilus invites a conversation about faith and the process of spiritual growth since a nautilus develops by creating new chambers as it outgrows old ones, but always keeping and building on the older chambers. It is constantly moving into a new place while staying connected to the old, much as we believe God is always inviting us into new places as we stay grounded in what has sustained us. It’s not an image that would fit most Cathedrals, but we aren’t like most Cathedrals. In fact, we may not be like any other Cathedral.
St. Paul’s began in 1820 as a downtown parish church, but was dedicated as the Cathedral for the Diocese of Massachusetts by Bishop William Lawrence in 1912. At the dedication ceremony he proclaimed that St. Paul’s would be “A house of prayer for all people.” It’s a vision from Isaiah made real by followers of Jesus, who we believe welcomed all people.
We have lived into that vision for the past one hundred years, welcoming poor and hungry people during the Depression and then again in the 80’s, when we started a weekly meal for hungry and homeless people that continues today. We initiated the first healing services in Massachusetts for those affected by HIV/AIDS and hosted them for over a decade. Since September 2000 we have welcomed Muslims each Friday who gather here for Ju’mah, their weekly Friday prayers. The Friday after 9/11 I went down to pray with them, making as clear as I could that they were still welcome and their presence in our church was an important statement at this hurtful time.
Our ministries include our Monday Lunch program, a weekly meditation group, a homeless writers’ group that produces a monthly literary journal, and distribution of mylar “space” blankets for those sleeping on the streets in the colder months. More projects bubble up all the time.
As the Diocesan Cathedral we are also a second home for Episcopalians across the diocese, who gather for significant services such as ordination and confirmation throughout the year. And of course we have our own Christian communities, those who worship here each week, making the Cathedral their spiritual home. We have two communities who worship on Sunday mornings, English and Chinese speaking. On Monday after the weekly meal, many members of our Monday Lunch community gather to share communion and preaching. And on Thursday evenings the Crossing community prays and celebrates together, mostly twenty and thirty-somethings who have created worship that blends ancient church traditions and rituals with a contemporary groove, yielding an unexpected and deeply authentic worship experience.
This spring we have embarked on a major renovation project designed to make our worship space more environmentally friendly, more accessible, more welcoming and better able to support all the ministries that happen here. We are bringing in natural light, creating a new chapel immediately inside our entrance to encourage people to slip in for prayers and replacing immovable box pews with chairs that can be placed as needed to facilitate worship, programs, and performances.
During these renovations we are worshipping at our sister church, St. John the Evangelist, with whom we are merging. St. John’s is at 35 Bowdoin Street, on the back side of the State House, about a ten minute walk from our location on Tremont Street. We hope to return to our new space in about a year, in the late spring of 2015.
I invite you to join us for worship, or any of our ministries and projects. I believe your life will be changed by Christ’s powerful presence here. I know you will change ours by the gift of your presence.