Let me begin with thank you’s. As I examine the Gospels, Jesus repeatedly offered thanks to God, even before anything had happened. If you need a bit of confirmation spend some time with the account of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus.
It has been a challenging year with discovery that a longtime member of the staff violated our trust and misappropriated our funds. But to a person the Wardens, the Vestry, the Finance Committee, our staff, our legal advisors, auditors, the bishop, and the members of this community of faith supported our every effort to be honest, transparent, and effective in the work of healing, of responding with integrity to repair the damage, and to make our operations surer and stronger.
I also want to say a special word of thanks and appreciation to Deacon Watton, who celebrates the first anniversary of her return to the Cathedral as we celebrate this feast. What a year it has been, and what a job she has done working first with bookshop matters and then as our interim financial bridge. I am sure she never anticipated this, and I know I speak for many when I say I hope you are planning to stick around for another year, and more.
I also want to acknowledge some very special work of three parts of our community of faith. The Veterans’ Day Committee has really stepped up with renewed energy and commitment. This year’s celebration was, in the voice of others, “Grand in the way it used to be.” The combined work of the New Year’s Feast and Scarf Project has both inspired us, and knit together more than just yarn. It knit together people. Also, to our Cathedral Youth! This year they raised significant funds for to support the efforts of a youth group in Juneau, Alaska, to rebuild the parish kitchen after a fire destroyed the whole church, by collecting bottles and cans. They also undertook a project to build stuffed animals which were donated to children undergoing cancer treatment at the Karmanos Cancer Center radiation oncology unit. If all that sounds daunting, and scary, I assure you it is, and those cuddly animals can absorb a tremendous amount of fear.
To all who setup, sing, pray, clean-up, offer hospitality, lead worship, teach and learn and help in this place. Thank you.
In the early years of the past century the Very Reverend Samuel S. Marquis spoke in words both passionate and elegant about the nature of this cathedral, saying that it was to be “a symbol of the spiritual in the midst of all that is material … a reminder of the invisible and eternal surrounded by the visible and temporal. In the midst of the roar and rush of a materially dynamic city, what better place could be found, than in the heart of it, for a symbol and reminder that man cannot live by bread alone?”
Begun 1908, in the same year that General Motors was founded and in the midst of an industrial and technical expansion the likes of which this country, even the world, had never seen, his words, such as “materially dynamic city” ring a curious and somewhat doleful note today, harkening to a time not nearly so familiar to us a century later.
Henry Ford, a friend of Marquis, would further expand the material largess of the city, the region, with the institution of the $5. per day wage in 1914. In the midst of sprawling footprint and changing skyline the presences of this incredible and imposing structure was, and still is, a ministry unto itself. But, it was a different time, before either of the “two great wars,” the Great Depression or the Great Recession.
Sociologically, it was a time when huge portions of the population would be found in church on any given Sunday, on every given Sunday. This was true for believers and even for non-believers and skeptics, so great was the sociological pressure associated with “going to church.” No Lions, no Tigers, to lure us away, and Pistons were still only pieces of machined metal to be fitted onto a camshaft and into a cylinder block. A super bowl was simply a very large dish. This was a pattern that would continue even into the 1950’s. As Detroit reached closer and closer to the 2 million population figure, leaders of this cathedral discussed the possibilities and complexities of moving the nave walls out to the level of the transepts because four services a Sunday were standing room only. 2
Blink your eyes and the passing of another fifty years unfolds. We are at the beginning of the second century of this cathedral. Times have changed; circumstances are very different. GM is no longer the largest producer of automobiles in the world, much less the largest corporation, and, in fact, is only months out of bankruptcy. The city limits of Detroit hold a fraction of the people, by a factor of greater than one-half than it did fifty years ago. Its material and economic base is has eroded as well. The collar-communities are quite different, not nearly as agrarian, but not quite industrial either. These are all realities with which those of us who find ourselves drawn to place, are all too acquainted.
Today the Church is not a location or institution sought because of sociological norms: that would be Starbucks and Facebook. To be sure, the Church should never have been a place populated by sociological norms or other societal pressures, but rather by individuals inquiring about the nature or existence of God and who was this Jesus, and why does it make a difference anyway.
I invite you to blink your eyes again, and let the time machine of your imagination carry you back to the start of the second century. No, I did not lose my place … go back to the start of the second century of the Church. The challenge for the faithful of the day was so very similar. Neither government nor societal institutions brought any positive pressure in relationship to the Christian religion. Fact is, government and many societal institutions were openly hostile to it. Today’s hostilities can be found in bookstore displays with titles like, God is Not Great and others.
But, infused by the Holy Spirit, just as it continues to be infused to this day, the Church grew. It thrived. It grew, not because of glorious buildings. It has never grown simply due to glorious buildings. It grew then, as it will grow now, because of the people. Buildings, stained glass, written, assembled and published Scriptures, musical instruments … all have been, and continue to be, important and useful tools for spread, the sharing, and the nurture of “the faith.” But, in the first “second century” just as in this one, the essential element at the heart of the Church was, and is, is people.
Filled with the Holy Spirit at our baptism, the state of the Church in this city, in this part of Michigan, rests firmly on our shoulders. Now my hope is that you find this truth exciting, invigorating, and even inspiring. The Church in the early centuries grew because the people who formed it easily told their stories of why believing in Christ, why life in Christ, made a difference. The Church grew because in a time when power and position and wealth were sought and used for personal gain and the oppression of others (based on news of recent times this sounds familiar) they dared to believe the message that to be first of all we are first to be servant of all. They dared to believe that giving love to others would return vastly more to the giver. They dare to believe that gates of freedom and peace and life everlasting had been flung open wide through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah of God, not just for a single chosen people, but for all who believed. It the story you and I are called to tell – with our words, and by our actions.
On the doorstep of this second century, we are called to be witnesses. We are called to be healers and reconcilers. As we anticipate the Centennial Celebration of the Dedication of this Great Cathedral building, let us renew of commitment to Christ and Christ’s Good News of loving even when we are unlovable, healing even when we are wounded, committed to reconciling a broken world to God and to one another.
Our Vision is to be an extraordinary spiritual gathering place where people of all backgrounds and ages are welcome to question and learn, pray, worship and serve; being loved by God in ways that change and improve their lives and the lives of others.
By God’s grace and through our commitment and action, may it be so. Amen.