Almighty Savior, who at noonday called your servant Saint Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles: We pray you to illumine the world with the radiance of your glory, that all nations may come and worship you; for you live and reign for ever and ever. Amen. (BCP p. 107)
As is our custom, we celebrate the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, as our patronal feast. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of his Damascus Road conversion. In the Letter to the Galatians we hear of his mission to the Gentiles. In the Gospel we are told by Jesus what Paul himself would learn firsthand: That living a converted life that bears witness to Jesus’ love will open us up to the scorn and brutality of the world. Charming little dose of reality, don’t you think; and just the thing to encourage new folk to join in.
It is equally “delightful” (I put that in quotes in my text because my tongue is firmly in my cheek) that these are always the lessons for the occasion of our Annual Meeting. That means that amongst the business of electing vestry and hearing of the year past, it is also that time when the dean gives to the people of the congregation information on the state of the parish and recommends to their consideration such measures as he or she shall judge necessary and expedient.
If you take a look at the carving of St. Paul on the reredos behind the altar, you’ll see that he is holding a sword. It is, according to Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, the sword of the Spirit. It is, I pray, with the guidance of that Spirit that I come to you today, and through which I offer you this small piece of Paul’s writing from the Letter to the Philippians to frame today’s considerations.
If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:1-5)
The beginning of this passage can be confusing, and lead to some misdirection. “If then there is any encouragement…” sounds like a conditional clause, not unlike if it is raining I’ll carry an umbrella. That’s not its intent, it is a form of argument that is really declarative, like saying: “If I am your friend, and I am …. So we can hear it this way: If then there is any encouragement in Christ (and there is), any consolation from love (and there is), any sharing in the Spirit (and there is), any compassion and sympathy (and there is), 2 make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love
For this reason, I will use the declarations of this passage, Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy and Love to share some glimpses of our journey. These create, by the way, a worthy outline for each of us to use, at the close of our day as we reflect back upon it, asking of ourselves, where have I manifested these things in my life to the benefit of others in witness to Jesus?
Encouragement – The Cathedral has not been the easiest place to reach throughout much of the year. The M-1 Rail project has made getting here a challenge, and the “perception of getting here” an even greater challenge. Still, you have persevered, and to you I say thee, well done! The work will continue for about another year, so I will seize this moment to encourage your continued effort. Because our side of Woodward is done, it won’t be as challenging as the year past; keep coming and keep encouraging others to come and see.
By the way, more people are coming and seeing what is happening here. This year we’ve had the highest number of transfers in since I became your dean. What we do, in worship, in service to others, in education, in being a community presence, and in promoting and enhancing the arts is making a witness.
Consolation – This year, perhaps more than any other, we have commended into God’s loving arms many who have journeyed with us. Some rather new to the family, others of many venerable years; we will pray for them by name before the end of the day. Life has been celebrated even as we have, and continue to, grieve. Each of them now are part of that wonderful communion of saints – loved, missed, embraced, and healed. We are richer for having known them, but we miss them deeply.
Sharing – We are sharing our gifts. A practical example is found as we concluded 2015 in a financially healthy way. We proposed to you a budget last year that was essentially balanced (around a $1000 budgeted surplus). We finished the year about $15,000 to the good. The overall number of pledges has increased 12+%. The number of new pledges are the highest they have ever been in any single year. That’s great, but as you will hear from our Treasurer later, there are challenges and opportunities ahead of us.
1500 scarves, mittens, and hats; meals – The Breakfast, the Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day festivities; evening classes, and more; contributions to Mariners Inn, Crossroads, the Mayson Foundation, and Veterans’ Organizations all manifest Christ’s sharing in the Spirit. The hosting of Citizen Detroit and their efforts to raise awareness of community issues and empower informed citizenry is an exciting part of this sharing as well.
There’s another way also: Our sharing of the Spirit has increased with our Sundays at 4:00. Only half a year into a two year commitment, there is no doubt that our Evensongs, both choral and congregational, are providing new ways to new people and the cathedral community to worship, pray, and share in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Compassion and sympathy – The students and faculty of the CHIPS clinic, our program in concert with Wayne State University Medical School, the Schools of Pharmacy, Nursing, and Allied Health has been recognized in to two very high profile ways, including the Arthur Johnson award for impact in the community. Waller Health Center on Cathedral Green has expanded to include dental and pediatric care. Our Lay Healing Ministry, every week, seeks to meet people in their most vulnerable and tender moments. Listening ears and hearts in pastoral visits and Eucharistic visits extend the altar rail.
A shout out to our Deacon is in order here as well. His work with a very unique pastoral situation over a number of months, coupled with his weekly grief work at Mariners Inn, and a new aspect of his diaconal ministry through the board of St. Anne’s Mead broaden and bear witness to this part of our life in Christ.
Joy – We celebrate well at the Cathedral. The New Year’s Feast, the Cathedral Foundations work with Williams Pavilion – summer picnic, and the Christmas celebration; a festive Newcomers Tea, something new with more to come, we hope; coffee hour chatter, the Concert Series, Lessons and Carols, ordinations, Noel Night, Veterans’ Day, and more.
Love – Love starts us and ends us, if we look at the Philippians text carefully. This year we have taken steps to seek the mind of Christ that it may be in us, that we might draw the circle of love larger to include a bigger understanding of loving relationships. For many it has been a very long time coming, for others, there is still a struggle to understand or embrace. Our call is to live Christ’s love to all. It was, as we know, a bumpy road for him, time and again it appears to be that way for us.
Allow me a moment to express my love and appreciation to my colleagues in leadership: Canon Alltop, Deacon Shaffer, Canon Tarrant, Susan, Charles, Kit, Robin; Emery and Bob, or wardens; the vestry, the Chapter members and staff, and our volunteers. It is a privilege to walk with you, serve with you, and I am blessed by each of you.
These elements that Paul presents to us can be, and often are, challenging. We have some other challenges as well, so I want to depart from his elements for a moment to speak of them. As I do, I want us all to recognize that every challenge is also an opportunity.
The stock market was not, shall we say, our friend toward the end of the year, and that means that funds available to us to support mission and ministry from the Green Trust are down. We remain profoundly thankful for Leslie Green’s vision, but later our Treasurer will show you that for the first time in a number of years, we are showing you a deficit budget. When you see it, please help out where you can.
In addition to that, our beautiful cathedral needs some important care. Care that, if we defer it, will double in cost pretty much each year. Care that we have not done over about thirty years of those wonderful Michigan winter freeze-thaw cycles. The stone and windows need to be tended to – tuckpointing, resetting coping and finials, removing the protective glazing on the stained glass and replacing it. This will be about a $125,000 expense. The Cathedral Foundation is willing to generously assist, but we will have to raise our share. More on that to come.
Some opportunities are a challenge, as well. We have been working with a sculptor, Tim Schmaltz, to try to bring a stunning work of art to the Woodward lawn of the cathedral. It would be a permanent installation of his work, “When I was a Stranger.” This piece of art would create a new way to witness to and invite the community in, as we look to the increased exposure that the M-1 Rail, and growth of midtown and the city will present. A small maquette will be in Barth Hall today, and I will say more about this there.
As I work to conclude this part of our time together today, I have to reflect on the world around us. Chaos seems to reign: the racism, the sexism, the injustice of the justice systems, gun violence, violence and mayhem in the name of God, the failure of government to honor the public trust and be a force for good, discrimination of all kinds – minority, religious, sexual orientation. People say they’ve never seen it like this before. That’s part of the problem – these things seek to live and thrive in the shadows. They don’t want to be seen, but it does not mean they were not, and are not present. They have been, and they are. The lid, the shroud, the veil, they are all being torn away. That’s a good thing.
As people of faith and conscience, we must acknowledge our collective and individual roles. People of privilege don’t have to apologize for how and where they were born, but we do have the obligation, along with institutions of privilege, to dismantle anything that thwarts our oneness in Christ and that compromises the dignity of any, any, human being; for we are to be neither slave nor free, male nor female, Jew nor Greek, as scripture tells us, but one in Christ. That examination of conscience, along with repentance, and amendment of life are never easy or comfortable – but all things are possible through Christ who strengthens us. As I said earlier, those six elements from Paul’s letter can serve as a good starting place for reflection and change: Encouragement, Consolation, Sharing, Compassion and Sympathy, Joy, and Love.
The prayer with which I started, prays that God illumine the world with the radiance of [the Divine] glory. We are the lamps of that illumination, so I pray you to continue to let your little lights shine – brighter, bigger, and bolder. Amen.