Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Building Our Foundation" -- The Provost's Remarks at the Annual Meeting

A few months ago, John Kilgore loaned me a great book called Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I know many of you have read it and also its sequel, World Without End. They’re stories told around the building of a Cathedral in Medieval England. They’re great stories, but part of what I loved about them was that I learned a lot about the actual construction of a Cathedral.

In the second book, a builder named Merthin wants to take the existing Cathedral and build its main tower higher, so it’s the highest tower in all of England and it can be seen from miles around. But even before he could do that he had to deal with the fact that the existing tower was already cracking and pulling away from the rest of the Cathedral.

In investigating this, he discovered that when a previous builder had added to the original tower, he had neglected to reinforce and deepen the foundation. So he knew that before he could build it even higher – or even sustain the building as it was, he needed to deal with the foundation.

Before you build higher you need to see what your foundation is, shore it up, and if you want to build higher, you’ve got to build the foundation deeper.

Jesus knew this, and we see it in the Gospel reading we wrestled with tonight. The foundation is our confession of Christ. What I love about the piece from Sam Portaro that we also read is that even though he acknowledges that Jesus question of “Who do you say that I am” is the key one for us … that there isn’t just one right answer. We are not a narrow confessional church. But neither are we a “make Jesus in your own image and anything goes church.” We form our answer of that question together. And my answer informs your answer and your answer informs my answer, and so on.

That is our foundation. Where the story of our lives intersects the story of Christ. That is the foundation we need to reveal, discover, shore up and build deeper. We’ve already begun that work, and that’s where a lot of our energy is going to go this year. Buidling our foundation deep so we can build this Cathedral even taller to the glory of God so it can be seen from miles around.

So what does that look like?

First, it means organizing ourselves so everyone knows how things work around here.

We have a process for this already in place. We are using the Cathedral’s bylaws as a baseline and working with the committees that are defined in them. Every committee will have a clear description of responsibilities, meeting times, membership and not only identified leadership but a structure for transition of leadership so nothing becomes too dependent on one person and we’re always training new leaders.

We’re forming a personnel committee to look at job descriptions and personnel review and other issues. Mary Hovland, Steve Barney and Lorraine Kee are the initial members of that team. This is part of building our foundation.

But it’s also about what we do when we gather in those committees and teams. We live in a world where our to-do lists are getting longer and longer and the urgent often crowds out the important. The urgent is easy to identify – all the stuff that has to get done or we imagine big heavy things are going to come down on our heads.

The important is what we just did over dinner. Sharing our lives. Looking for the presence of Christ. Prayer. Reflection. Taking time to be with each other and honor and love each other.

When we meet in those committees, that work is going to rise to the top of the agenda. The first thing we will do is pray and spend some time with scripture and talk about how this intersects our lives and also look for what the gospel foundation of the work of this committee is. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What is God calling us to do not because it’s generally a good thing but because we are the Church, because we are Christ’s body.

A good example of this is community ministry. We have a long history of involvement in our community, particularly in ministries with our downtown neighbors. But we need to not just do things because we’ve always done them. We need to look at scripture and pray and take a fresh look at the community around us and listen to each other and to the members of the wider community. We need to have an accurate sense of what the situation and needs really are that is based on current information and not just suppositions and memories of days past. We also need to understand what our theological and scriptural foundation is for this work. We’re not the United Way. We’re not the Girl Scouts. Those are great organizations, but we’re called to be something different – the church. We need to discover what special calling we have as the church in our community and be sure we’re following that.

So, for example, as community ministry committee members meet this year, they will be looking at scripture around issues of poverty. They will be sharing stories from their own lives about what draws them to this ministry. They will be inviting people in from the city to educate them. They will be praying about what special role God has for us in this ministry. And they will be doing all these things not just for themselves but for all of us, and figuring out a way to bring us all along on their journey.

This is a transition. This is going to take time in setting this up and getting used to this new way of doing things. But this is where we’re headed because this is how we build deep to build tall.

But not everyone is on a committee or ministry team … and that’s not where the primary work of the church happens. The primary work of the church happens in our lives. At home. At work. At school. It’s about how we are changed people because of our faith and how we live differently because of our faith. And as a church we get to carry and support and hold each other accountable in that.

Church is not just something on Sunday. One way we’ve started trying to infuse this practice of faith seven days a week is through the Gnaw on This emails that encourage us to live with the Gospel all week long. To recognize as Dan Handschy said at our Eucharist and Community Life event in June that preparing to come to church on Sunday starts when we leave church the Sunday before.

But we need more than just an email to do that

You heard Jim McGregor talk about the energy around small group gatherings this year. I believe in looking at where the Holy Spirit is moving, looking at where the energy is and following that. So we’re going to take the energy around gathering in small groups and we’re going to run with that. Particularly in a church as diverse and geographically spread out as ours, small group gatherings are a wonderful way to build relationships of trust and support and accountability. To do what we have just done … know we have a place where we can share our lives and explore Jesus’ question together “who do you say that I am?” … and what does it matter?

So we’re going to continue that excitement.

I’m calling together a team to design and implement what I imagine will be several models of small group ministry for our congregation. B.R. Rhoads and Betsy Kirchoff have enthusiastically agreed to head that up, but anyone who is interested can help. All you need to do is see B.R. and Betsy and they’ll loop you in.

Now don’t’ get me wrong, we’re not going to circle the wagons this year. Building our foundation does not mean this is going to be a year of navel gazing. We are going to continue the great work we have begun to fling open the doors of this Cathedral and to hit the streets ourselves and to bring the city to our table. I want to talk about that a little bit.

First … some great news.

The Downtown St. Louis Residents’ Association, a nonprofit organization without a budget that works to build community among downtown residents was without office space. They were literally being run out of the volunteer executive director’s dining room table. I was meeting with her and she mentioned this and I said, “We’ve got this space on the fifth floor of our building that we’re not using … why don’t you use it?” So in the next months, the Downtown St. Louis Residents’ Association will be using office space and having meetings here at Christ Church Cathedral. They’re going to be raising awareness about this place and this congregation and we’re going to be actively giving back to this community.

Second, you know we have an ongoing relationship with Left Bank Books to host book signings whenever they have someone who will likely draw a crowd that is too big for their space. In 2009, we have both Madeleine Albright and Ree Drummond here to huge crowds. I’m thrilled to tell you that on April 10, Anne Lamott is going to be coming to Christ Church Cathedral as a part of that partnership with Left Bank Books.

That is not just an opportunity for some building use income. The people who will come here Anne Lamott are people who are spiritually inclined … people who will be open to what this community has to offer. This is an amazing evangelism opportunity for us!

But here’s the most exciting thing. This past Thursday, we reached an agreement in principle with Confluence Academy … the charter high school just down the street in the Central Library Annex … to rent out our gym five days a week, 12 months a year starting Monday, February 1.

Again, this is not just a great chance to get some building use income … though it is that. We’re going to have kids in and out of the building five days a week. It’s going to change the whole feel of this place. Plus I hope this is the beginning of a great relationship with Confluence Academy that will involve us in education in the City of St. Louis, which is something we absolutely should be involved in.

Now when we talk about us being out there in the community, I need to let you know how I’m spending some of my time. I am serving on the Grace Hill Settlement House board. I do that because Grace Hill is an excellent organization with Episcopal roots but also because with All Saints parish going through some very difficult times and the closing of Prince of Peace, we are the largest Episcopal presence not just downtown but continuing into North St. Louis. That’s our neighborhood, too, and we need to be involved in it.

I have also accepted a mayor’s appointment to the advisory board of the Gateway Mall Foundation, that wonderful new venture that will run from Kiener Plaza west along Market to Union Station and that CityGardens is the first great incarnation of. The northernmost part of the Master Plan for the Mall extends to the park right next to the Park Pacific building. And the most natural passageway connecting the Mall to the Washington Avenue retail is right past our front door. So I’m excited to be working with Tricia Roland-Hamilton on helping make this great project happen and have our Cathedral be a part of it.

I’m going to be accepting an appointment to one of the committees of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership and being involved in the development of the city that way.

I’m telling you this both to tell you what I’m doing with some of my time but also to say that I am intentionally spending a good deal of time engaging the city, but I can’t do that alone. You need to remember that everywhere you go, in all the places you work, live and go to school. In all the other organizations and activities you’re involved in, you are an ambassador of this Cathedral. Always be looking for ways for the city to be engaged with us and for us to engage the city. I’m doing this work, but it won’t work unless we’re all in this together.

To that end, we’re also calling together another group … an evangelism team. Now I’m someone who has never believed that Episcopalians are bad at evangelism. I think we’re naturals at it, we just have to get out there. We’re through having Christ Church Cathedral be the best kept secret downtown. I’ve asked Debbie Wheeler to be the convener and leader of this team … and I certainly can’t think of anyone better for this task. We’re starting with all the folks who checked an interest in evangelism on their time and talent sheets but just like the small group team, if you want to pitch in, just let Debbie know. There is room for anyone and everyone in this ministry
Finally, and yes, I do mean finally … I want to tell you what you’re going to be hearing from me this year over and over and over again. Three things: Prayer. Study and Reflection. Service. Not just in terms of what we do together, but in your daily life. This is how we build the foundation not just for our community but in ourselves. This is not just about building time in and adding to those to-do lists but often also reframing what you’re already doing. And so you are going to hear me asking are you taking time to pray every day. Are you taking time to study and reflect. Are you taking time to serve. That is discipleship. And if we’re not helping each other grow into that, then I’m not doing the main work God and you called me here to do and we’re not serving each other. And I need you to hold me accountable to living this myself. That I’m taking time for these things and not getting sucked into continual activity. That we’re supporting each other in living holy, healthy lives.

I’ve been here nearly 10 months. I can honestly say I haven’t been bored one second. It has been a joy. I said in our first “on the table” gathering when someone asked me why I took this job that it was the rare opportunity to be called into a community where you knew you already loved them. I knew you a little bit then, and I know you a little bit more now. And I really love you all. I am moved by the way you care for each other. I am amazed by the genuine way you welcome the stranger. I don’t know if you know this but you do this incredibly well, and it’s really rare. You find this incredible balance between being genuinely welcoming and not being creepy! Of letting people know that you are really glad they are there and you honestly are excited about them …and not having it feel like “AH … Fresh Meat!” I’m not sure you can teach that, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t need to be taught that. It’s a rare gift and you have it. And it and you are wonderful.

So when I talk about building a foundation this year, it’s clear that we’re not building from scratch. There is a strong foundation already here. Just look around you. And as we build down, and build up, I can’t wait to see where God leads us. Amen.

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