An Urban Cathedral

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A Reflection by Dean Shambaugh

In his essay “My Vision for an Urban Cathedral,” the Very Rev. John Downey, retired Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Erie Pennsylvania and longtime chair of the North American Dean’s Association, describes a cathedral as being both open to all and grounded in Christian faith and practice, centered in worship, education and outreach, and focused on serving the city and the diocese at large, providing a space of gathering and home for both. I would add that a cathedral is a beacon of hope and light, a place where all are always welcome and where the community can gather, a model of excellence and resource for other congregations, a keeper of tradition and a crucible of experimentation where traditions are broken and new traditions are formed, and a catalyst for change and new life in the community itself. As one of the largest congregations with one of the largest budgets and largest physical plant in the diocese, St. Luke’s can provide worship in a way that can be found nowhere else in Maine. Located in the city, St. Luke’s is uniquely situated to offer unparalleled service to those in need, an incredible venue for music and the arts, and a gathering place for the wider community. As illustrated with the beautiful kneelers depicting congregations from around the diocese, St. Luke’s is the spiritual home for more than 10,000 Episcopalians across the state, and even more who join us from around the world via our live-stream. At diocesan events, I highlight this by saying “welcome to your cathedral.” As the seat of the bishop, the cathedral is overseen by and provides a podium and public, with cathedral dean often speaking on behalf of the diocese and representing the diocese at civic events and on the public square, sometimes saying things the bishop himself cannot say. We also have the resources to support diocesan ministries such as Mission San Lucas, St. Elizabeth’s, diocesan youth ministry events, diocesan convention, ordinations, celebrations, and more. Like most cathedrals in this country, St. Luke’s is also a church with its own congregation which does everything a normal congregation would do. Even as a church, however, our context and our special strengths compel us to action. It is not by accident that the numbers of people who come to our pantries on Tuesdays or Thursdays are the same as the number who come on Sunday mornings. It is not by accident that the same is true for the numbers who attend our concerts and musical events. Each is part of who we are called to be as a cathedral and as a church. Striving to live into what it means to be a cathedral and a church has been an 18 year journey of discovery and joy. The combination of the two has made Cathedral of St Luke a truly special place for me. I pray the same is true for you and for all those in Portland and across Maine who call St. Luke’s their home. 

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