The 2024 Annual Meeting of Christ Church Cathedral takes place Sunday, Feb. 4 at 11:30 a.m. in the sanctuary. During this time we will share all we have accomplished together in the past year and elect new leadership to the Vestry and to represent us at Diocesan Convention. The Dean’s Address will be given as the homily at each service.
The Dean’s Address
The Very Rev. Gray Lesesne delivered his annual address as the sermon at each service on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024.
When the Psalmist penned Psalm 147 somewhere around the year 535 BCE for the Hebrew people, she or he had no idea that it would become the supporting scripture some 2500 years later for the 185th Annual Meeting of Christ Church Cathedral in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Psalms were and are, after all, the original hymnbook of the Hebrew people. Psalm 147 is one of the last five Psalms that lead up to the big finish at Psalm 150. The big idea of these five final Psalms, according to Old Testament scholar Rolf Jacobson, is that “the audience is called to open our mouths, lift up our voices, and join in the psalmist’s joyous song…” as we “sing those songs out in the world.”
We know we are a congregation that likes to sing inside the church, and we do that well … our vibrant hymns and anthems such as “Alleluia, sing to Jesus” and “Vaso Nuevo” and “Sumérgeme” and “Steal Away” and “Ubi Caritas” fill our rafters with notes of God’s love and glory. But we are also a congregation who likes to sing outside of our church, through our words and deeds. As I think about the songs of God we as the people of Christ Church Cathedral have been singing out in the world in the last year, they are these: Songs of God’s hope for a broken world. Songs of inclusion and welcome and God’s love. Songs of connection and collaboration and co-creation. Songs of service with and transformation for people in the margins. Songs of spiritual growth and vitality.
These songs we have been singing, both inside our church and out in the world, have led to some very positive signs for Christ Church Cathedral in 2023. Our participation and energy is way up: We saw a 20% increase in average Sunday worship attendance last year. We welcomed over 60 new members. Your financial giving and support of our ministries through stewardship is at a 10-year high. Our ministry leaders are welcoming and integrating new people by the handful, and longtime members are trying out new ministries. We realize that we are an exception to the rule right now at a time when many churches are facing steep declines and budget cuts and leadership and volunteer shortages, and that is because of all of you. For all of those outward and visible signs of vitality, energy, and support, your staff, your Vestry and ministry leaders and I thank you.
Today’s sermon serves as our Annual Meeting address and uses pieces of Psalm 147, along with the pillars of our three-year Strategic Plan, to help us reflect on our ministry together in 2023, and also to think about challenges and opportunities that will come our way in 2024 and beyond. You may remember that there are five pillars or areas of focus of our ministry to Glorify God, Serve our Neighbors, and Transform our City, so let me share with you what’s been happening!
Pillar 1 • Convener and Connector
Pillar 1 is that Christ Church Cathedral serves as a convener and connector for our city and diocese. The second verse of Psalm 147 seems fitting here: “The Lord rebuilds Jerusalem; God gathers the exiles of Israel.” God is always in the business of rebuilding and gathering, renewing and resurrecting, and as God’s holy place on Monument Circle, we have a particular vocation to be part of the rebuilding and renewal of our city and her people. In 2023, we hosted many gatherings for outside community groups, and we convened special interfaith community meetings about affordable housing and about legislative work to allow for driver’s licenses for new immigrants to Indiana, a subject area close to our heart.
As well, our Cathedral community was a pivotal part of the push to establish a low barrier shelter/one-stop housing hub for people experiencing homelessness, especially for our unhoused neighbors in the Mile Square. Working together with Downtown Indy, the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention and Prevention, and many other downtown stakeholders, businesses, and nonprofits, we were the primary cheerleaders that encouraged the City-County Council to pass an economic enhancement district that would fund an assortment of downtown improvements, including the operating funds for the shelter, last December. A challenge for 2024 in this area has already arisen, as political forces at the State House have colluded to stop the economic enhancement district as a part of party politics.
We will continue to be public advocates in the areas of homelessness, anti-racism, and immigration, and the contentious and divisive rhetoric that is already building around the 2024 presidential elections will necessarily require us to embrace our role of bringing people together for civil discourse, conversation, and collaboration at the heart of the city. We now have a rapid response team that can be ready at a moment’s notice to offer hospitality and a public voice for inclusion and welcome; if you’d like to learn more or be a part of the team, I know that Michael Landon, Canon Mariann Scott, or Deacon Fatima Yakubu-Madus will be glad to connect you.
Pillar 2 • Radical Hospitality
Pillar 2 of our strategic plan is that Christ Church Cathedral offers Radical Hospitality. Here, verse 4 of Psalm 147 describes the kind of hospitality God is interested in: “God counts the number of the stars and calls them all by their names.” For God, there is nobody, no one, not one thing that is considered “other” or “unimportant.” Jesus assures us of this in Matthew’s Gospel when he tells his disciples that even the strands of our hair are numbered. If God is so particular, then so must we be particular about making every person who walks through our doors feel that care and welcome of God. 2023 saw a significant deepening of our hospitality ministry as part of our strategic work. Our staff grew as we added Allison Stevenson as our Volunteer and Hospitality Coordinator and Michael Wilson as our Hospitality Coordinator, and you have likely noticed some changes they’ve been part of: The welcome table in the entrance to the church now serves as a proactive way for us to greet newcomers and guests. We now have formal greeters at our 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. services, and we are working on developing a team of greeters for our 1 p.m. liturgy. Michael’s delicious food is making mealtimes at Christ Church Cathedral taste like the good old days again. These are all great first steps; but there’s a deeper issue we need to address. The good news is we have lots of newcomers! In 2024, we have an opportunity to wrestle with this question: How do we, as a Cathedral community, and we, as individual members, extend the radical hospitality and love of God to every person who is our guest? What is our common vision and understanding of hospitality, and how do we live into that vision together? And how do we help incorporate our many newcomers into our community, helping them to get to know our culture and beloved traditions while leaving room for them to share something of themselves with us to make our church even better? Your new Vestry and I will be weighing this heavily at our upcoming retreat.
Pillar 3 • Deep Beauty of God
The first verse of Psalm 147 captures well the essence of our Cathedral’s third pillar, which is the Deep Beauty of God we experience and share together here. Verse 3 proclaims, invites us to sing out loud even: “Hallelujah! How good it is to sing praises to our God! How pleasant it is to honor God with praise!” First and foremost, Christ Church Cathedral glorifies and praises God through our worship and music. Our Choir School continues to welcome new students (seven students last fall!), and our students are deepening their repertoire and leadership abilities, which were showcased as our choristers and choir professionals led a spectacular tour that ministered at Hereford and Rochester Cathedrals last summer. A small working group has been pondering several options about how we might continue to grow our choir school ministry now that we have almost two full years under our belt. They will be making their recommendations to the Vestry in February. As well, our Coro Latinoamericano continues to grow in size and in their ability. The Coro learned 127 new pieces of music last year: hymns, anthems, service music, Psalms. That is absolutely amazing, and especially considering that they are a volunteer choir! Wow! Thank you, Coro.
Let me share how we will approach our search for new leadership for our music ministry so that we can continue all this good work. Through May, we are in the capable hands of our own Associate Directors of Music, Chase Loomer and Bruno Sandes, and we will be blessed by the presence of Canon Bruce Neswick, who is serving as our Artist-in-Residence at the Choir School on weeknights and on selected Sundays. This summer, we are planning to hire an interim director of music who will serve us through May 2025. Our Vestry and I intend to use this interim season to invite our congregation to ponder several important questions, including:
- What is our common vision that we all share about our music ministry?
- How can our music ministry, especially at our English-speaking liturgies, better mirror/integrate with our Cathedral’s growing emphases and ministry partnerships that focus on diversity, anti-racism, and work for social justice?
- How does our music ministry operate as a whole rather than in “parts”?
- How do we support the continued upward trajectory of both the Coro and our Choir School?
I hope you’ll be part of those conversations, which will happen late this spring and into the early summer. As progress happens with our music ministry search, we will keep the congregation updated.
While music ministry is an important part of our pillar of the Deep Beauty of God, we are also thinking about how we use our spaces well to welcome spiritual seekers who want to experience God’s mystery and beauty and majesty using many other media. Some of you were able to be a part of our sound bath last summer as part of the Spark on the Circle. It was an amazing and transcendent experience like none other. Canons Mariann Scott and Jodi Baron are working now with a small team of parishioners to bring other art and artists into our sacred space. So stay tuned for the possibility of our being part of a First Friday later this year.
Pillar 4 • Spirituality in Community
Pillar 4 is Spirituality in Community. Verse 12 of Psalm 147 reads: “But the Lord has pleasure in those who fear God, in those who await God’s gracious favor.” To fear the Lord is not to be afraid of the Lord, but rather to be in awe of God, to be in love with God, and to revel in the mystery of God. In order to await God’s gracious favor well, we know that we, as followers of Christ, must be lifelong learners and in a lifelong development of our relationship with God. Our spiritual formation ministries at Christ Church Cathedral continued to open many new opportunities for growth as disciples of Jesus last year. More of you, our congregants, are now participating in a spiritual formation ministry or class than ever before. Many of these gatherings happened not only here in the church, but also out in the community. Our Lenten Meditations and Posadas in our Ministerio Latino, held in people’s homes, had their highest attendance in many years in 2023. Our experiment last fall with hosting the Darth Vader and the Prodigal Son Series at the AMP at 16 Tech was wildly popular and helped push us out of our comfort zone, talking about the love of God in a community space. Our Lenten and Advent meditation books were so popular last year, we had to reprint them because we ran out. And this isn’t happening just with our adults: Our young people’s formation ministries are also exploding with growth. Our Youth Ministry Team recently completed a visioning process about who God is calling them to be and how we can support them, and our youth are now connecting with our outreach ministries so that they can join us in serving our community. As well, our Godly Play ministry for the youngest members of the Cathedral continues to have a full house many Sundays as our lay leaders invite them into exploring the stories of the Bible through wonder and play. I want to especially thank The Rev. Canon Greg Baker and his team of dedicated lay leaders and staff (Anne Tordai, Ellen Grayson, and Melissa Chavez) who are pushing us forward with growing in God’s love and awaiting God’s favor. As we continue to make progress, there are two big formation opportunities in front of us: The first is to connect with the many new youth and children who have been baptized and are now attending our 1 p.m. liturgy and to invite them into formation with us. And, in fall 2024, we look forward to starting small groups that will meet in homes around the city for spiritual conversation, Bible study, and meals together. This will be a great way to get to know the members of the Cathedral who live near you.
Pillar 5 • Faith in Action
Verse 3 of Psalm 147 emphasizes the mercy of God: “God heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” God does all this work of healing and binding through us, God’s people. Our Outreach Ministry has been eagerly at work as they’ve helped support our fifth and final pillar of ministry, which is putting our Faith in Action. In 2023, our Outreach Ministry team intentionally chose to deepen ties with our two existing partners (Dayspring Center, Immigrant Welcome Center) and to develop ties with two new partners (Exodus Refugee Immigration, and Voices of Indianapolis); this group of four partners feels like the right size and scope for the time being and keeps us grounded in our outreach priorities of ministry with people experiencing homelessness, work with immigrant communities, and work in anti-racism. The work we are doing with each partner is transformative and takes time to build trust, common rhythms, and shared work together. Our Outreach Ministry appreciates that you, the members of the congregation, are showing up to work days with our partners, that you are donating when we have special asks, and that you are giving of your time to help mentor young people, prepare new immigrants for citizenship tests, and help young families transition to permanent supportive housing. In 2024, we want to take these four partnerships and deepen them even more, so we hope you’ll say yes when opportunities come along to put our faith to work. As well, in 2024, we are looking forward to connecting more with our diocesan ministry partners in Brasilia, with a strong possibility that we could be partnered with their Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Resurrection, for a one-to-one companion parish relationship.
These five pillars and our strategic plan have served us well for the last two years, and the feedback we have received from you is overwhelmingly positive that we are on the right track. In September of 2023, your Vestry and I commissioned a self-study from Holy Cow Consulting (yes, there is a consulting group actually called that) to take the temperature of the congregation. This was a follow-up survey to one that was taken in 2019 before you called me as your Dean. Nearly 80% of you said that you are satisfied with our direction and vision and that participating in our ministries was very valuable to you. The survey also measured our “vital signs” in the areas of hospitality, morale, conflict management, governance, spiritual vitality, readiness for ministry, engagement in education, and worship and music. You can see that from 2019 to 2023, those vital signs all moved in a positive direction. Below you can see the graphics comparing the 2019 and 2023 satisfaction ratings. You can read the executive summary of the Holy Cow report online, or if you’re technologically challenged like me, we can provide you with a paper copy of the report. Just ask.
You may remember that our Vestry, as part of our strategic plan, also commissioned a year-long external Racial Justice Audit from the Mission Institute to help us identify how we’re doing in becoming a more anti-racist, multicultural congregation. We just recently received the report, and, again, you can read the executive summary online, or contact the Cathedral office for a copy of the full report. However, here are some of the report’s major recommendations:
- That we continue to utilize regular prayer and meditation to strengthen and maintain CCC’s awareness, clarity, and spiritual connection to the work.
- That we maintain humility to allow for recognizing and acknowledging the strength of others, and putting their needs and concerns before the predominant white culture’s instinct to control or solve.
- That we implement and maintain a system of accountability to address implicit bias and measure our systemic changes, especially around how we make leadership decisions and in our hiring practices.
- That we continue to educate ourselves about racialization and the history of whiteness while accepting the experience of oppression is different based on cultural backgrounds.
Our Racial Justice Team is reading the 76-page report in-depth and will be making recommendations to us about how to implement those recommendations in the spring.
Friends, while your parish leaders and I feel that we have made major progress, we also know we have more ministry and work to do. Our Strategic Plan carries us through the end of 2024, and your Vestry and I are intending to renew the plan for at least two more years. This summer, we’re planning a series of renewal and refresher conversations around each pillar…and we’ll need your feedback and guidance as we make plans and listen for God’s call together. At our Annual Meeting in 2025, we will share with you the next iteration of the plan.
Finally, a word of gratitude. Today marks my fourth annual meeting with you as I begin my fourth year serving as your Dean. I am so very grateful for the responsibility you entrust me and our staff with to serve as your leaders. To support and empower you in Glorifying God, Serving our Neighbors, and Transforming our City is our highest honor. I am so grateful to all of our staff, who are simply the best team in the church business.
Together, all of us sing God’s songs of peace, hope, joy, justice, and love, both in here, and in the world. May God continue to bless us and give us voices that never stop, that never give up, and that are always faithful. Amen.