The Cathedral of St. Paul Annual Meeting Sunday

The Conversion of St. Paul (TR) January 27, 2013

In the “out there, beyond the Cathedral walls” world that clergy are often times accused of knowing nothing about we have had a recent batch of memorable movies – at least according to the popular press and the collective critics of the Hunter household – Lincoln, The Hobbit (though with some kvetching over the whole multi-part thing) and Les Misérables are the current big three.

There are also some Hunter family classics. Harkening to one of them, I want to share a moment of Hunter real-life. I knocked on the door of bedroom where our friend Peter, also a priest, was sleeping having come to spend Thanksgiving time with us. From the other side I heard, “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You wake me from my slumber. Prepare to ….”

Now for truly memorable annual address, I would be best served to have arranged for Neil Patrick Harris to offer a well-crafted musical retrospective, but since that is not possible perhaps, I begin best by saying, “Hello. My name is Dean Hunter. It is the annual meeting, prepare to … do whatever you do at this time in the annual meeting – listening actively would be good. But, one thing: No sleeping. There’s no sleeping in annual meetings. (A mixed movie metaphor.)

At our last annual get-together we celebrated many things in, around, and amidst the centennial year of St. Paul’s cathedral ministry. Here are some words from that time, a mix of cautionary perspective and celebratory commitment:

From a year ago: Let me also acknowledge this truth: If our celebration is only about what we have accomplished in the past, we have died to past. If it is only about exalting in the successes of the present moment, then all we celebrate is a narcissistic desire to pat ourselves on the back. But, if we choose to celebrate the legacy of the past, affirm joyfully the accomplishments God has made possible in this moment, and LOOK WITH VISION, HOPE AND EXPECTATION TOWARD WHAT GOD IS CALLING US TO BE AND BECOME – then dear sisters and brothers, we not only celebrate well, but our celebration becomes, in words of our patron, St. Paul, prayer without ceasing.

Part of the good news at this time last year was that, while we presented you with a deficit budget, we had resources in the bank to cover the gap if needed. That was a major accomplishment and we all went hoorah! But, you went further in 2012! We did not need to touch the reserves. Through your commitment and energy, we did not have to touch some of the possible income sources that were budgeted. Through your commitment, and energy, and faith, your support has allowed us to finish the year with funds on hand to carry over to the 2013 budget – that is right, we ended the year with a slight surplus. Very nice.

Are we doing everything God is calling us to do? Are we being everything God is calling us to be? Not yet. But, through your generous spirit, and lay leaders and staff being responsible stewards of both your money and your trust, we are in an increasingly viable pursuit of God’s mission in this place. As you will soon see, we enter 2013 with a balanced budget.

As you know – 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.

I believe we are, to borrow from Paul’s message in Acts, being obedient to this heavenly vision that has been given to us. And the vision is emerging more and more day after day. It is not fulfilled, but it is growing. I see daily the manifestation of the Psalmist’s words – God has been merciful to us and blessed us, and the light of God’s countenance is shining upon us.

Allow me a moment to reflect upon some of the moments of God’s blessing and countenance even as change has touched us. With hearts full of love we blessed, as God blessed, the change in the diaconal calling of our much loved Deacon Watton. She will always be a part of us, and thankfully continues to join us from time to time to bear witness to diaconal ministry; this even while she is learning to live under the vows of a professed religious.

With hearts full of love, and eyes and cheeks full of tears, we blessed the – can we call it real retirement (probably not) – of Canon Logan. Beautiful, fitting, lovely, and holy was the celebration of the life that he and Dr. Mary Logan shared with us, with the diocese, and with the community for over sixty-two years. We could not bring ourselves to say goodbye to them, but we could and did say, “Shalom.” Rochester, NY now has the blessing of their presence.

We blessed one Susan (Susan Shetzler) in the opportunity presented to her to further her career, and with special kindness (at least that’s what we will call it) to the congregation we did not burden them with having to learn a new name, and we welcomed Susan Combs to the work of the Office Administrator of Cathedral. We have been blessed to welcome Cathy Behnke to our midst as she journeys toward ordination as a Deacon in the Church. God willing, that will happen June 22, right here! We are also blessed to have (now) Fr. Bob Alltop sharing the joys and challenges of ministry with us, and us with him. A word of thanks must go to Bishop Gibbs, who invited us to live and learn with Bob through the McElroy Ministry Development Program.

Through the course of these changes, our mission and ministry has continued and flourished. The steadfast hand of Kathleen Baltman and others have kept the handmade scarves and hats coming for those who need some added warmth and love. Jennifer Dye, through her own journey with job searches in light of layoffs offered a place for improving skills and facilitating the return to meaningful work. The New Year’s Feast took on a new feel this year, it was different, at times even feeling odd, but we served more people and offered a time for conversation and celebration. And certainly we must offer a “shout out” to the faithful people of Temple Beth El for their participation – now seven years and growing. Kudos as well to the efforts of choir parents in the establishment and work of the Parents Guild of the Cathedral Choir School.

Moving forward, God will no doubt shift the composition of our work in accomplishing the vision given us. I am convinced that the shift will be from the Good News of attending faithfully to be beams in our own eye/challenges in our own house (always on-going work), to the sharing of the Gospel Good News, that has empowered us to travel so far in such a few short years, with those beyond our present cathedral community to grow our community.

This will be a great challenge for two key reasons.

First, over the years, over the decades, evangelism and discipleship are not words that come easily into the daily expression of life for most people of the Episcopal tradition of Christianity. Simply put, we are going to have to get over that. We have to grow. I have no doubt that technology and social media will become a partner to facilitate what we need to do. (Acknowledging that this very media can be a two-edge sword.)

Just the other day I noted an online posting, complete with picture, that was done as person sitting in our pew anticipated the start of our 10:30 Eucharist in observance of Martin Luther King, Jr. Some in the pews may not be good at saying over the break table at work – come join me at the Cathedral for worship, or a particular event, but making a Facebook post or sending out a “tweet” or creating Tumblr pages can get the word out in immediate and broader ways. I was on the cutting edge of technology when I was in seminary – that meant that I helped make possible moving computers so seniors could use them for GOEs, and “computerizing” congregations. They didn’t teach that in seminary, and I thought they should. Now there are new tools – important tools like social media – and we have to get good at using them. Chris Hooker is helping with that in extraordinary ways. But, I have much to learn, including new patterns of communication. We all do.

The second challenge is this: A large part of Christianity has allowed a small part to hijack what we are, and what we are about, from a public perspective.

We have allowed the mainstream media to tinge all Christianity with the judgmentalism of the Westboro-like churches of the world in the same way Judaism has been branded as Zionists and Islam has been branded as terrorist. Further, all three Abrahamic faiths are being painted with the brush of being ancient legends, now without truth, usefulness, relevance or purpose.

We cannot allow ourselves to forget – media is not about balance, it is about selling a message. This is true about print, radio, television, digital and social. If we had the time to read and reflect on it all, we might find balance and truth. Instead, more and more, those who are adept at the ever-changing worlds (digital) delivery offer us fast food news and try to convince us it is really solid food. Just as we have been duped by the drive-thru, we are falling prey to the blast, the blog and the tweet in large measure because our voice is not out there. Paul, our patron, took the message – a whole message – of Jesus to the people through all the forms available to him – oration, one-on-one conversation, letters, sending others, private, public and so on.

Over the past few decades, and especially in the past few years, the whole message is not getting out there. Further, I think we are to blame. The extremist message gets out, in part because it is sensational, but also in part because we are not adept at or resolved in over-coming it. We have to overcome that, but we must do it with grace, and without rancor or attack.

In the past week or so, articles have appeared about a mother in Texas raising two (now) teenagers “without God.” She lists seven reasons, but infers there may be more:

1. God is a bad parent/role model
2. God is not logical
3. God is not fair
4. God does not protect the innocent
5. God is not present
6. God does not teach children to be good
7. God teaches narcissism

She says she does not want religion to go away, just for it to be kept at home or in church where it belongs, and she wants her children to be free not to believe and to know that our schools and our government will make decisions based on what is logical, just and fair.

Now, I could stand here and succinctly counter each of her points; and it looks like I may be working to prepare a Lenten series of classes to do just that. But, here’s the thing. It is not logical for a family to take in or adopt a teen with a troubled history, thereby risking financial burdens and exposing their current children to significant risks and challenges. It is not just for a government to be predisposed to the premise that it is better to risk a guilty person going free than to imprison/sentence an innocent one. It is not fair for Habitat for Humanity to offer a house at cost and for the small mortgage to be at 1% or 2% interest when everyone else has to pay market rates. These things are not logical, just or fair, but all of these things happen and we want them to happen!

For too long we (the big out there “we” and the cathedral congregation “we”) have been focused on keeping the Church instead of being the Church. If we are the later, the former will be addressed. It is time to make sure that God, the love of God and message of Christianity are not being reported solely by the extremists.

The day after Easter this year, I will start my seventh year with you as your dean. What a journey it has been. What faith you show me, what blessing, what manifestations of God’s countenance. We have much to celebrate, much for which to praise God. We also have much to do in our stewardship of all things, and even more to share such that 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.

May God continue to give us blessing, and may all the ends of the earth stand awe. Amen.