In case you missed it—and that would be hard to do, especially with that tent outside and all the wonderful flowers inside—yesterday we hosted here at Christ Church Cathedral our annual diocesan convention, the 49th—as our diocese begins its Jubilee year.
The first and most important thing I have to say today is THANK YOU. Thank you to our spectacular leadership team—Audrey Cunningham, Ginny Behlen, Cammie Israel, Lucy Wright, and their staff coordinator Caroline Etherton. Thank you to the Cathedral Staff—Carolyn Jeffers, Brenda Stanton, Christopher Powell, Katie Powell, Judy Jones for their months of extraordinary effort. Thank you also to our dedicated Mobile Police Department officer Leigh Anne Lattner, and to the Ben Radcliff team on site who went above and beyond in helping us make our campus work for this endeavor. EVERY event of the convention was contained on our campus. And THANK YOU—all 90+ of you listed below and some who are not on the list, I am sure—to every one of you who volunteered—to clean, to greet, to serve, to get us ready and to sweep up after. It was an amazing effort, and I have to confess that pride in you all is one of the big feelings that I have had all along.
When I spoke to the convention to welcome them, I spoke as I always do of this as “YOUR” cathedral. It is OURS, as a diocese. It is home. It is our roots, as the oldest church in our diocese, going all the way back to the founding here of the Diocese of Alabama. And I believe that the people of our diocese do feel that this is their home. Thank you for helping them to feel that.
In the wonderful video that we watched in convention, documenting the history of our diocese, Christ Church plays a central role. That role is not only historic (about yesterday), and present (in our life as the spiritual center of our diocese), but also growing into our shared future (as we are increasingly able to host and support diocesan ministries and mission.) In the closing worship of our convention, our bishop offered a prayer of dedication for our renewed spaces as a spiritual home for all. He will do this again when he visits us in April for the Cathedral Celebration.
In our opening worship—always an impressive symbolic display of our shared life, with all the diocesan clergy present and vested and representatives of every congregation present, all singing and responding wholeheartedly together—our bishop Russell gave his annual address in his sermon, which was grounded in the lessons we read last Sunday. I want to share a bit of what he said with you—and build upon it, for us.
The gospel lesson came from Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, his teaching to the crowd of followers who came to him in his ministry in Galilee. This part comes very near the beginning, right after the Beatitudes. After telling them that the kingdom of God he proclaimed belonged to them—the poor, the meek, the hungry, the suffering and those who mourn—Jesus looked at them and said, “YOU.” His teaching is about YOU. “You are the salt of the earth”—be careful that your saltiness is active, that you are a lively ingredient in life. “You are the light of the world”—it is through you that God is seen and known. You are the lampstand through which the light illuminates the whole house. You are the city on the hill that cannot be hid.
Jesus’ challenge to his listeners was and is to follow him in his way of love and healing and justice, bringing fullness of life and light to the world. His challenge is to be like him, to become his body in the world. Russell’s challenge to our diocese was and is to claim our life and light AS the diocese, the gathered and dispersed Body of Christ in this place. The salt and the light of the world we live in. His challenge was for us to thrive and to grow in our mission without the numbers of priests we have been accustomed to have, as more and more of our congregations cannot afford a full-time priest and the numbers of people in active priesthood diminishes. His challenge was to claim more fully the ministry of all the baptized, to grow into stronger and more active disciples, all of us, together.
Now I want to turn Jesus’ words to his followers and Russell’s words to our diocese toward YOU, the Cathedral Family. First of all, YOU ARE the salt of the earth and the light of the world! What you have done and are doing—in convention, in giving yourselves to this community and to the diocese, in giving for our mission, both in annual pledges and in our capital campaign—is being life and light in this place.
To YOU, I would say something more about what Jesus says: “A city on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they can see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”
Jesus says here that you are called to be MORE. As the return of our steeple, and its glorious illumination in the night makes clear—you are a beacon, a big lampstand, on a hill. You are not merely a parish, or a congregation just like all the others. You are something more: you are a CATHEDRAL, a leader, a beacon, a lampstand, a high place in this community and this diocese.
What does this mean? That our commitment to our mission—of welcoming all people to our tradition and worship, to serving our community, to growing leaders for our future, and of being the spiritual center of our diocese—is a commitment to continuing growth, deepening spiritually and in our engagement with ministry in and from this place.
What I said to the convention was this: All of the work on Phase II of our capital renovation and building project has a single aim: to equip this sacred place for mission, to serve this diocese and our community for the next 200 years, looking forward to our bicentennial year in 2022. Then I went on to give them an overview of our ongoing ministries: our work on BFL, our ministry interns’ work with our neighbors in the Gov’t Center and beyond, our relationship with the Kappa League, our relationship with the FIT program of Mobile PD, our work with Raise the Roof, our support of Threads of Hope (also raised $2500 at convention), our growing music ministry, our work for the diocese.
YOU have been sacrificial in making the securing and renewing and improving of our historic trust a reality. Indeed, what you are doing is sacramental—it is giving of your substance to give new life to our substance. That same sacrificial and sacramental action was apparent in your preparations for and superb hosting of convention—as you gave yourselves, your energy, your gifts and talents, your souls and bodies to the effort of true servant ministry. You were salt and light.
Now I am going a little bit longer and fuller, because I have something important to tell you. The business of our convention was to support the mission of the church—electing members to the Standing Committee (the “vestry” of the diocese), electing deputies to the next General Convention of The Episcopal Church (one of them being our own Jill Chow), and adopting our operating budget for this year (our own Ron Snider is Treasurer of the diocese, by the way.) Jordan Chow was one of the first ever youth delegates, with seat and voice and vote, at this convention. We learned more about the ministries this budget supports—not only our diocesan agencies (Wilmer Hall, Murray House, Beckwith), but also campus ministries in Pensacola and Troy, missions to our borders and beyond, missions in our prisons, missions to help disadvantaged children achieve gradelevel reading proficiency in order to succeed in life, the diocesan School for Ministry, ministries to form and strengthen all of us to more fully claim, embrace and live our baptismal promises. “The diocese” is not the bishop and his staff: it is all the people, engaged in shared mission, all the ministries that stretch us out into the world to share God’s love.
That mission, all those ministries, are resourced through the giving of our congregations, including YOU. But we are in the bottom 5 dioceses in The Episcopal Church in our giving for that mission. Christ Church Cathedral, despite all we do for our diocese, has not been able over the last 20 years to give at the goal level of 10% of our operating budget. This is because the tremendous growth of our congregation and our ministries has strained the resources we have to and beyond their limits.
This continues to be the case, as our annual stewardship remains stagnant, at the same time as all of the goods and services necessary for our work continue to increase in cost—and as we continue growing our ministries, all of them— formation for our children and youth, service to our community, care for one another and our world, and yes our support of our fellow Episcopalians in our shared mission.
Our challenge is to continue to deepen and grow in our spiritual lives and commitments and in our stewardship. You are salt. But elemental salt cannot taste its own saltiness. YOU can. You can examine your saltiness; you can assess it. Am I being everything I can be in this life? Have I done all I can to ensure the ongoing life of this life? Have I done my part, however small that might be?
Likewise, light doesn’t know it is light; it just is. But YOU can know, examine, and assess how well your light is shining, the condition of your lampstand and whether it is giving light to the whole house.
WE are that city on the hill in our community and our diocese. We cannot be hid, much as we might be tempted to sit back and leave that role to others. Are YOU doing your part in the life of that city? Are we together being all that we can be? God loves YOU. God gives life and light to YOU. God FEEDS you. And God yearns for you to share that love, that life and light and salt and food, with the whole world, beginning right here and now. AMEN.