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Interview with Dean Gray

Q&A: Pastor leads effort to engage downtown residents

February 18, 2021 | Mason King

Rev. Gray Lesesne on Feb. 16 became the dean and rector of Christ Church Cathedral, which was established on Monument Circle in 1837. Beyond its official role as the cathedral for the Episcopal Diocese of Indianapolis, the church has long been an active participant in community and cultural life downtown.

Lesesne, 45, previously served the congregation as canon and senior associate from 2008 to 2015. He then embarked on a new mission, starting a ministry in Brownsburg, to be named Good Samaritan Episcopal Church.

How daunting of a challenge was it to start a church from scratch?

I found it invigorating.

I was trained in a classical model where people come to us.

Once they walked into the doors of a church, we engaged with them.

But in starting Good Samaritan in Brownsburg, we really had to go to them. We were a church without walls at the beginning.

So, I picked up all of these practical tools about how to be present in a community and how to connect with people who had no prior experience of a religious tradition. I learned how to show up at community events. I learned how to have an elevator speech. I learned how to make connections with people who were initially skeptical.

The joke in Brownsburg is that we would turn up at every event like a bad penny. We would go to race car festivals and events at the public library and show up at the farmers market in Brownsburg. And for them, that was a natural connection to build relationships. And I grew the church from zero to 250 people during those five years.

Are you bringing some of those lessons to your new position?

I think that’s part of the reason they called me. If you think about the Mile Square, it’s one of the fastest growing areas in Marion County. And there are so many opportunities to connect with neighbors—but not in our building.

I intend for us to be showing up at the downtown farmers market. If there’s an event on Monument Circle, we’ll be out there connecting with folks—not with sort of a proselytizing agenda, but rather to make connections first, just as neighbors. Or what would it be like for us to regularly offer theological reflection for people at Mass Ave Pub rather than expecting them to come down to our fellowship hall?

What issues facing downtown do you want the church to be involved in?

As downtown recovers from COVID, we want to be a key partner in ensuring the vitality of downtown. How do we create community and connectivity in that neighborhood, especially given that it’s also a very transitory neighborhood in some ways?

I think that there has to be a comprehensive plan to serve our neighbors who are experiencing homelessness. We’re already partnering with Downtown Indy. I know they’re working on a plan, and we want to be a vital player in that. I think there are still questions around racial justice and reconciliation and healing. How do we advocate for and partner with our neighbors to build a more just and equitable community?

As a church, I think we have some introspective work to do on our own privilege and in the ways that we’ve benefited from systemic racism. And then we need to build bridges out to other community organizations.•