Christ Church Cathedral’s 2022 annual meeting was held on Sunday, Jan. 30. During each worship service, The Very Rev. Gray Lesesne, CCC’s Dean and Rector, delivered his annual address as his sermon of the day. The text of his address is below, and the video is available on YouTube.
Gospel of the day: Luke 4:21-30
Jesus learns the hard way: religion is a tough business. Luke tells us that the crowd at his hometown synagogue is cheering him on, and, then, just a few moments later, they are filled with rage and chasing him out of town. The comments that seemed to irk the crowd into a frenzy? Jesus reminds them that God sent the prophets Elijah and Elisha not to the supposedly chosen ones of Israel, but instead to the lowly widow at Zarephath–a nobody–and to the leper Naaman the Syrian–a foreigner.
The crowd becomes incensed when they realize that their hometown hero, the supposed Son of God, is not going to perform any miracles or healings for them, but instead, he’s going to direct his attention to the widows and orphans and ne’er-do-wells and tax collectors and prostitutes and foreigners. They’ve come to the synagogue with the question on their minds: “what’s in it for me?” And Jesus tells them: his ministry, God’s mission, is focused outside of the synagogue walls. He has come “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” The crowd is not amused.
The great temptation of any religious tradition is always that we will become inward-facing and internally focused. That we will make God and the spiritual life all about us. No wonder Jesus’ message sparks a reaction, for he is reminding the people of the synagogue at Nazareth and us that the true spiritual path, the spiritual life, is always outward-facing and necessarily connected with our neighbors. The true spiritual life is about living in a holistic community with God, with each other, and with all of our neighbors.
2021 was definitely a year of Christ Church Cathedral heeding Jesus’ call to move outward–into our community, into our neighborhood. Of course, it helps that we were locked up for much of 2020….we were all dying to get out and do something, anything! If there were ever a silver lining to the COVID-19 storm clouds, it is this: the church was forced to (creatively) get out of our buildings, to take our message of God’s hope and love outside. One of our first liturgies of regathering on the Cathedral lawn last April, when we still couldn’t gather inside, led us to quite a serendipitous discovery: our neighbors here on Monument Circle and in the Mile Square really do take notice when we live out our faith, and they are drawn to and intrigued by our proclamation of a God who loves all people, no exceptions.
We used this discovery and realization to propel us into our ten-month discernment journey, which began last May, as we asked ourselves and our neighbors and our city and our diocese: “What is God calling Christ Church Cathedral to be and to do?” “How can we show up for and be present with our neighborhood and our city and our diocese in a way that is transformational and joyful and that echoes the ministry of Jesus Christ to bring good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free?”
The answers we received were enlivening. Our downtown neighbors, particularly those who are young and who have no current church connection, told us to boldly proclaim our values and to use our lawn and public liturgies to reflect our deep and wide understanding of God’s inclusive love and to showcase our multicultural, multilingual congregation. Downtown businesses and nonprofits challenged us to take a stronger lead in bringing together the community for important conversations. Diocesan partners encouraged us to be a gathering place where they could come to engage in beautiful worship and acts of social justice. Schools and educators encouraged us to reinvent our music ministry as a resource for the neighborhood and to connect with students in nearby schools who are very interested in our choir program as an after-school option. And you told us you are hungry for spiritual nourishment that will help you live out your Baptismal promises to seek and serve Christ in all persons and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Our discernment team held more than 100 conversations, gatherings, interviews, and Zoom calls, and we are so very grateful for the love, care, and energy that you and our neighbors brought to each one. Truly, it is your input, feedback, comments, ideas, suggestions, and loving edits that have made the difference! And I am so very grateful to Andrea Hunley, Jude Magers, Ann Schulz, Emily Shrock, Matthew Stevenson, and Raquel Salvador, who gave so much of their time in leading us in this discernment journey.
One comment in particular I heard during our discernment conversations encapsulated much of the thinking that went into our plan. One of you said: “Christ Church Cathedral is at our best on Strawberry Festival day each June. We are engaged with our neighbors, we are living out our faith in action, and we are serving and connecting with our community. What if every day at Christ Church Cathedral could be a Strawberry Festival kind of day?” I couldn’t agree more.
As our discernment team mulled over all that we heard, observed, and learned last fall, our Vestry and staff began to experiment with a more outward-directed focus. For the first time in our history, we were a title sponsor of Circle of Lights here on Monument Circle and featured both our 10 a.m. choir and our Coro Latinoamericano in the production and in a series of television ads featuring Christ Church Cathedral over the Christmas season. We reached out to Bishop Baskerville-Burrows and inquired if they might be interested in sharing office space and more ministry together, as a true Bishop, staff, and Cathedral working as a team, and her response was an immediate and enthusiastic “yes!” We reached out to our friends at Coburn Place, a local shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and asked if they’d be interested in a one-year experiment for a virtual holiday Adopt-A-Family, and it was a smashing success.
Those early experiments, along with all that we heard and learned, led us to our new Mission and Vision Statements. After ten months of work, Vestry adopted this new vision and mission this past Tuesday night, and which I am proud to reveal to you this morning. Our vision is that Christ Church Cathedral is a spiritual hub of transformation for our city and diocese, following Jesus Christ in practicing radical hospitality, working for justice, and proclaiming God’s peace, reconciliation and love. The way we will achieve that vision is by living out our new mission day by day, which is to “Glorify God. Serve our neighbors. Transform our city.”
There are five pillars, or areas of focus, that will undergird our mission and vision and help to focus and discipline us in our work. These are the areas we’ll be saying “yes” to in the coming three years. You can read more about each pillar in the Strategic Plan handout that is in today’s bulletin or at the link we’re sharing online right now in the chat on Facebook Live.
Convener & Connector
Pillar 1 is that we will be a Convener and Connector for our city and diocese. We will take the lead on gathering our downtown neighbors, businesses, and nonprofit for important conversations, especially conversations that focus on racial justice and serving our neighbors who are in the margins. We will be more proactive in offering trainings, gatherings, and opportunities for the people of our Diocese to learn and serve and advocate for our neighbors in need, using our unique location near the State House to put our faith in action when needed. We will serve as a bridge to connect the faith communities of downtown Indianapolis, both Episcopal and ecumencial. We will proactively reach out and build better relationships with diocesan congregations and leaders and make amends for times in the past when we as a Cathedral could have done better. And, we will create more opportunities for diocesan youth to come and use their Cathedral as a launching pad for their passions around outreach and social justice.
Pillar 2 is intrinsically related to Pillar 1; as a better convener and connector, we will be a place of Radical Hospitality and welcome for our city and our diocese. Nonprofits and community groups told us they would love to use our space, especially our lawn, more frequently. In order to be a true place of welcome and hospitality, we first will need to build stronger relationships among ourselves…so that we can then in turn welcome others. As COVID begins to be a memory in the rear-view mirror (we hope!), we look forward to more opportunities this spring and summer for us to socialize, be with each other, and enjoy each other’s company. This will enable us to both offer more outward-facing public liturgies for our neighbors such as blessing stations at the Night Out Against Crime, Ashes to Go on Ash Wednesday, and Dia de Los Muertos altars. We’ll more creatively use our buildings and grounds to make stronger connections with the Millenials who are moving to downtown Indianapolis in droves, and with the diverse Latino and African-American populations who live in nearby neighborhoods. The feedback we received about our inclusive additions to the Nativity Scene last Christmas was entirely positive and very encouraging, and we’ll present more offerings to our community like this. We’ll also focus on refreshing the experience our guests have when they walk into our doors for the first time. And, because food is such an important part of the Christ Church Cathedral experience of hospitality, we plan to form connections with minority and women-owned businesses who could benefit from a mutually beneficial relationship of having a downtown kitchen available to them every day and who could help us serve delicious meals to our guests and members.
Deep Beauty of God
Pillar 3 is at the heart of our Cathedral life together, and that is the Deep Beauty of God we experience in worship that nurtures and fuels everything else that we do together. Because music holds such a central role in the way we experience God’s beauty and holiness, it holds several areas of focus within this pillar. We will reinvent our chorister program into a more targeted, vibrant, everyday, after-school program that seeks to build relationships with students in our neighborhood to offer music, activities, homework help, and food. While we of course will always welcome every young person from any part of Indianapolis who comes to be a part of our choir, we will especially focus on building connections with schools nearby to the Cathedral during the next three years. We will continue to reflect and integrate a diversity of singers, composers and cultures into our regular worship. And we will enhance our concert series, focusing on building local partnerships with nearby universities, nursing homes, and community groups to provide stronger audience attendance and engagement. We also know that the Deep Beauty of God is not just limited to music, and so we will be seeking ways to forge stronger partnerships with local arts organizations, particularly artists of color, to regularly feature local art in the Cathedral building and on our lawn, and to offer occasional pop-up experiential worship services in coordination with the local arts community, . (As an occasional thespian, I would love to plan a pop-up worship service with the IRT or Phoenix Theater!) Finally, because experiencing the Deep Beauty of God in our worship is so essential to our spiritual lives, our plan calls us to offer opportunities to help you deepen and develop your understanding of our liturgical practices, so that what we do inside of here truly feeds all of us to go out and do the work of Christ outside in the world.
Spirituality in Community
Pillar 4 is that we will deepen our spiritual life together as a community and in the community. We’ve heard from you and from our neighbors that we all want to have more opportunities to learn about our faith, the Bible, spiritual practices, and living our lives as faithful people, but not necessarily in the church building. We’ll experiment with more public opportunities for spiritual formation and conversation at places like a pub on Mass Ave or a meeting in the common space at the Artistry apartments downtown. Imagine a Bible study at the library in Irvington, a bilingual prayer and study group meeting at Los Patios in Speedway, or a Lenten study series at the Pancake House on 86th Street. Rather than just offering random classes, we intend to develop and implement a comprehensive adult formation program that deepens our faith, knowledge of the Bible, Anglican identity and practices, and that connects us with each other so that whether you’re new to the Christian faith or Christ Church Cathedral, or have been here your whole life, there is a spiritual offering formation for you that challenges you to grow. And, we intend to entirely refresh our children and youth formation programs, keeping in mind that some of the formation may happen during weekdays with our chorister program.
Living Our Faith in Action
Pillar 5 is the most crucial pillar of our vision and mission, and that is putting our faith into practical action that follows Jesus’ invitation “to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Based on the needs we’ve heard from our downtown neighbors, conversations with potential nonprofit partners, and your feedback, we have faithfully decided to narrow our outreach efforts for the next three years to three key areas: ministry with people experiencing homelessness, advocating for fair immigration practices and helping people with immigration needs, and working toward interrupting and ending systemic racism. Our Outreach Team will be developing strong partnerships with local nonprofit groups in these focus areas to offer all of us hands-on ministry opportunities, and to identify where we can direct our covenant grants to make a transformative difference in the neighborhoods around us. We will enhance our Sunday Community Breakfast Ministry by inviting community partners and nonprofits to offer our guests social services and also opportunities to experience art and beauty and conversation along with their breakfast. We will ask our Cathedral Foundation to explore investing a portion of our endowment in missional-related investments that align with our strategic missional priorities. We will create stronger opportunities for our youth to activate their passions and be leaders in outreach. And we will develop our stewardship ministry to invite the people of the Cathedral to generously invest in our ministry as an act of discipleship and as a spiritual discipline.
This is an ambitious plan, for sure. But at this unprecedented time in our world and state and city, where our common civic life is so badly strained, where divisions and discrimination are rampant, where religion seems to be losing ground, and where it would be easy for us to turn inward, Jesus is pointing us outward. He is calling not to shrink back, but rather to go to the widow and the orphan and the leper, he is inviting us to connect with people who are not the usual religious suspects, he is challenging us to see our neighbors and our neighborhood with a fresh set of eyes….and to do all this with the mindset of setting the captives free, of liberating the oppressed, of bringing Good News to the people who need to hear it most, with our words and deeds.
Friends, we have so much Good News to share. We have a God who loves us unconditionally and more than we will ever know. We have the most wonderful location in the State of Indiana and the City of Indianapolis from which to offer ministry and hospitality. We have both our own financial resources and those of our endowment, offered by the faithful over the years, to make a tremendous, transformative difference in the life of our city and diocese. We have a vibrant, interesting neighborhood where more people are moving in every day. And we have you, the people of God, here because you have faithfully heard and responded to Jesus’ invitation to love your neighbor as yourselves. We have what we need to do this ambitious work. Now, may God grant us the courage, and energy to do it, the grace to laugh and enjoy ourselves along the way, and the faith to believe that we will truly be a hub of spiritual transformation as we glorify God, serve our neighbors, and transform our city. Amen.