During the second half of May, I had the privilege of leading an Eastertide Holy Land Pilgrimage. The group of 25 included pilgrims from both the United States and Canada, 11 of whom were from the Erie area. It was my fifth trip to Israel and Palestine, the first one in 1985 and then four since 2004. In some ways, the spiritual impact of journeying to the Holy Land had been accomplished for me in previous trips. However, leading a group, sharing their experiences and seeing things anew through their eyes was a blessing for me. And the itinerary included a few places I had not been before.
We began with three days in Galilee, staying at the beautiful and restful Pilgerhaus, a German Benedictine guest house. From that base, we saw Nazareth, Cana, and other sites near or around the Sea of Galilee. A particular joy was worshiping on Sunday morning at Christ Church, Nazareth, an Episcopal Church packed with parishioners and pilgrims for a Eucharist in both Arabic and English. In Galilee, I was especially aware that we were immersed in the sights and sounds of the places where Jesus grew up, and where his vision and mission were forged.
Our journey then headed south through the West Bank where we saw vividly the difficulties and challenges of what is often called “the situation,” that is, the continuing occupation of Palestinian territories. This includes the region of Samaria and the town of Nablus, where Jacob’s Well can be found, as well as an Episcopal parish and hospital. The Diocese of Jerusalem supports many such hospitals, clinics, and schools, often in places of great need. Further south, we renewed our Baptismal Covenant at the Jordan River and went on to two days in Bethlehem, arriving the same day President Trump had been there. In addition to the Church of the Nativity, we visited ministries sponsored by Roman Catholics and Lutherans. After a visit to Hebron and the Tombs of the Patriarchs, we made our way to Jerusalem for our final four days.
While in Jerusalem we stayed within the walls of the Old City at a guest house in the former seminary of the Latin Patriarchate. We visited all the holy sites one would expect including the recently restored Tomb of Jesus (Holy Sepulchre). We shared in joyous worship at St. George’s Episcopal Cathedral where I was invited to concelebrate with two bishops from England, one from Trinidad and Tobago, my colleague and co-leader the Dean of Hamilton, and the Dean of Jerusalem, who is an Arab Israeli. And this really was just another typical Sunday at St. George’s!
Along the way our group celebrated the Eucharist on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, in the Shepherd’s Fields in Bethlehem, and, on the final day, at Abu Gosh, one of the sites which recalls Emmaus. At each of these sites, the Roman Catholic custodians were most gracious in providing for our celebrations like any other group of pilgrims. As we were about to leave Abu Gosh, I noted that the statue at the Lady Altar looked like a modern rendition of Our Lady of Walsingham, the principal English image of Mary. As I drew closer, I saw a plaque with the Canterbury Cross on it beside the altar. Stitch by stitch, the broken Body of Christ is being repaired.
In the pilgrimage brochure, I had written, “A pilgrimage to the Holy Land changes things. Past and present, sacred and secular – these are seen in new ways, somehow not so neatly separated as we usually view them. To be at the great biblical sites and the historic holy places alongside the current life of Israel and Palestine is a singular experience which changes how we understand things, and often changes us.” Once again this proved to be true in the experiences of our group. Talk of the next pilgrimage is already beginning.
The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey, Dean, the Cathedral of St. Paul
This article is reprinted from the November issue of The Bell, the monthly newsletter of the Cathedral of St. Paul.
As I write this, Election Day is just a few days away. I am writing, however, thinking of the days which will follow the election. For so many of us, this campaign has been distressing, and often discouraging. As a child and young person, I followed presidential campaigns with excitement. Now parents and teachers are not sure children should even watch the debates. How we got here should not be oversimplified and, while it came to a head in this campaign, the factors are multiple, complex, and were a long time in the making. There will be much to reflect on and learn from for many years, if we are willing and able.
It will be most important, in the aftermath of this election, to take up the work of repairing our damaged social and civic fabric. This damage has touched so many aspects of our lives, form our institutions, to our relationships, to our memories and imaginations. High profile leadership will be important, but the most important work will be done by us, quiet work, person to person, in our homes, workplaces, schools, neighborhoods and communities. Our baptismal commitments point the way – to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself; to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.
One of the prayers in our Prayer Book puts it well. “Renew the ties of mutual regard which form our civic life. Send us honest and capable leaders. Enable us to eliminate poverty, prejudice, and oppression, that peace may prevail with righteousness, and justice with order, and that men and women from different cultures and with differing talents may find with one another the fulfillment of their humanity.”
It is a gift of grace that we can come together with Jesus week by week at the Lord’s Table, and then go forth from there to take up the life of God’s Kingdom in a troubled world.
The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey, Dean, the Cathedral of St. Paul
This is a post about the partnership between the Cathedral of St. Paul and Emerson-Gridley elementary in the City of Erie public school district.
I remember it very well, my first-grade classroom at Asbury Elementary in Millcreek Township. I loved everything about it. I was so excited to finally be able to go to school and could hardly wait for the first day. My mother made me a special new dress; my name was embroidered on it so my teacher would know my name at a glance. Our desks were in neat rows and I sat in the front of the room. I remember this because our music teacher would roll the piano into our room right in front of my desk. I would watch her fingers fly across the keys, sparking my interest in piano lessons and asking my parents for a piano.
Now fast forward to this past February when I was heading into a first-grade classroom at Emerson-Gridley to volunteer. I had all of the clearances and training required and was excited about this opportunity. Probably not as excited as anticipating my own first-grade experience, but excited about spending time in a classroom. I have always felt the pull of becoming a classroom teacher, either in music or general education. My degrees are in organ performance, choral conducting and church music, applied music, not music education. At many points in my education and career I have considered adding teacher certification to my credentials. When the Cathedral began its partnership with Emerson-Gridley and the call for volunteers in the school came along, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for me to give it a try.
So my first day began by meeting the school guidance counselor who took me on a tour of all the first grade rooms ending in Mrs. Steele’s classroom. This is where I would be volunteering. Mrs. Steele welcomed me and introduced me to the class. The walls in the room were brightly decorated. There was a “Word Wall” with columns of words under each letter of the alphabet that the students were learning every week. There was a list of the children’s names on one board. I could only pronounce a few without help. The desks were grouped into three or four sections, not rows, and there was a carpet on the floor for story time. She asked the students to read at their desks and then called on a few children and me to sit with her to read aloud. We worked together to help students sound out words and read sentences. Once she saw I was comfortable working with her students she asked me to work with several children who needed some extra help with reading. We made flashcards and played relay games and all sorts of things to help them recognize the difference in their “w” and “wh” words. I was hooked. I knew my Monday mornings from then on would be spent with Mrs. Steele’s class at Emerson-Gridley.
As that first morning progressed, one student left the room and came back with a box of snack bags for the children filled with cherry tomatoes. Every day the students are given a mid-morning snack of fresh vegetables. They look forward to it. If the designated child doesn’t remember to go for it, she is reminded by her classmates. She always offers me a snack, too. She and others in the room often express concern that I might be hungry, too. The students all receive a hot breakfast before class begins, a mid-morning snack and lunch. Many stay after school for another snack and some for dinner before going home. Monday morning is difficult for them. Many do not have regular meals at home and they are very hungry when they come to school after a weekend. It is not unusual for several of them to fall asleep with their head on their desk while I am there. There are lots of red and watery eyes looking up from a book or paper as they struggle to stay awake and concentrate.
Now they and I are anticipating the end of the school year. I have been going weekly and have developed a good relationship with the class. Mrs. Steele has given me the freedom to prepare a music lesson each week. We are working on developing a steady beat, following directions, using body percussion, chanting poems using their rhyming words and recently added playing percussion instruments. They love to share their latest achievements with me, “Mrs. Downey, did you know that I….” Now I share their mid-morning snack with them. We chat and giggle about the fresh green pea pods or juicy tomatoes or squishy cucumbers. I love the big smile that comes across each face when I call them by name. I love it even more when they cheer when they see me come through their classroom door with my bag of instruments. I think about each child often. They are now in my prayers, not just as students at the school but as individuals with names, faces and feelings. Some days I leave in tears because so many were overly tired and out of sorts. But more often than not, I leave with a big smile on my face and a happy heart.
The City of Erie schools are stressed. The administrators and the teachers are stressed. And most importantly, the students are stressed. A volunteer’s job comes with little stress: just show up and spend an hour or two a week in a classroom with some amazing children. Learn their names. Talk to them. Smile at them. Read to them. Love them. And pray for them and everyone who works to care for and nurture them. You will be hooked. And you will never be the same again.
Sharon Downey, Canon Musician, The Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA
July 26, 2015 — Dean Downey’s sermon during the service for the Centennial Year of St. Paul’s as a Cathedral
A few years ago, we were between bishops. I noticed that the area around the Cathedra (the Bishop’s Chair) was looking kind of shabby. The carpets and cushions needed to be replaced and it seemed a good time to do it, since it would be a while until
The Bishop’s Chair
we had a bishop to sit there. I lifted the cushion of the chair and saw a flat piece of wood underneath. Looking closer, I saw that it was a plaque, put there like a magazine under the couch when guests are coming. It was so worn and beat up that it could barely be read, so I asked A.J. Noyes to restore it. I will tell you what it says, but not yet. We’ll get there by way of the stories of two other plaques, found at the back of the side aisles, which commemorate two men, father and son, who served here as priests and who were sent out west from here as Missionary Bishops.
This beautiful church was built in 1866, during the Civil War, and was consecrated in 1869 by Bishop Kerfoot of Pittsburgh, one of the great reconcilers after the war. The priest who led the building project was the Rev. John Franklin Spalding. During his time in Erie, he not only built St. Paul’s, but he also planted and built Episcopal churches in the four corners of the growing city. This was the time of the Strong Vincent and his brother Boyd, who became the Bishop of Southern Ohio. One of the earliest baptisms in this building was that of Harry T. Burleigh, the renowned African-American singer and composer.
John Franklin Spalding’s passion for mission led to his being elected the Missionary Bishop of Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico. The Episcopal Church in those days consecrated Missionary Bishops to start and develop the Church in new territories. This broke the stereotype that we only sent bishops to new places when they could ride the train in Pullman cars to towns where churches and nice homes were already waiting for them. So Spalding was consecrated bishop here in this church, at the end of 1873, and sent to the western frontier.
While he was here in Erie, he married Lavinia Spencer, of the prominent Spencer family. One of their children was named Franklin Spencer, after both his parents. He was born in 1865, while the church was being built. He lived in Erie until he was eight years old, when the family moved to Colorado. Franklin returned to Erie to spend alternate summers with his grandparents. After attending Princeton and General Seminary, he joined his father as a priest in Colorado. In 1896, twenty-three years after he had left Erie as a boy, he was called to return as Rector here at St. Paul’s.
Like his father, Franklin Spencer Spalding had a passion for mission. The younger Spalding, however, focused more on social transformation than church planting. He was a strong advocate for the working class, caring deeply for their struggles in the new industrial economy. His building project was not a church, but St. Paul’s first parish house, seen in those days as a bold statement about civic engagement and the church’s life beyond worship services. And like his father, he was elected a Missionary Bishop, in his case of Utah, and, again like his father, was consecrated bishop here in this church and sent west to take up his work.
His social concern only grew during his time in Utah. In the latest history of the Diocese of Utah, the chapter about Bishop Spalding is entitled, “The Socialist Bishop.” In his many trips east to raise funds for his mission work, he became known as a compelling and challenging speaker. He had the opportunity to preach in Westminster Abbey during the time of the Lambeth Conference and the Pan-Anglican Congress in 1908, but perhaps his most provocative sermon was preached during the General Convention of 1913 in the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York. Here is part of what he said,
“We worship in a great church like this, and it makes us forget the slums just over the way; we wear our holy vestments, and we forget the millions who have only rags to wear; we debate our canons and names, and we forget the toiling workers who are pleading for a living wage; we discuss hymns and prayers, and we forget that there are ten-thousands of thousands whose hearts are too heavy to sing and whose faith is too weak to pray.”
The following year, Franklin Spencer Spalding was killed at the age of forty-nine when he was hit by a car while crossing the main street in Salt Lake City. The next year, 1915, one hundred years ago, this church, built by the elder Spalding, this church where father and son Spaldings served as priests and were consecrated Missionary Bishops, became the Cathedral of Saint Paul, the first Episcopal Cathedral in Pennsylvania.
Symbolically, what makes a cathedral a “cathedral” is the fact that it is the place of the “Cathedra,” the bishop’s chair. In 1943, some remodeling was going on here, and a new Cathedra was built. It was given by Mr. and Mrs. Norman W. Wilson. Wilson was one of the great business leaders of Erie and a strong leader and benefactor of St. Paul’s. And so now I will tell you what was written on the plaque I found underneath the cushion of the Cathedra.
To the Glory of God and in Memory of
The Rt. Rev. Franklin Spencer Spalding, D.D.
1865 – 1914
Rector of this Parish from 1896 – 1905
Bishop of Utah from 1904 – 1914
Was Given in Grateful Remembrance by
Mr. and Mrs. Norman W. Wilson – May 13, 1943
A great business leader honoring a socialist bishop! This is the Episcopal Church at its best and this is the deep DNA of this place, of St. Paul’s, of the Cathedral of Saint Paul, at its best. Like any Cathedra, this chair for the bishop represents the fact that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our congregation alone, something that extends across time and space. And this particular Cathedra, in this particular cathedral, embodies a generosity of spirit that reaches across political and economic divisions out of a greater concern for the common good. And that generosity of spirit is desperately needed in our nation and world. I appeal to us today to claim our heritage of missionary passion and generosity of spirit and to do so, like the Wilsons, with “grateful remembrance.”
This place and its people have a distinguished past — the Spaldings are notable but not alone. We have come to a happy centennial celebration as a cathedral, with a much longer history as a parish. The future holds great challenges. How will we respond to the “Nones” and the “Dones” — the growing number of younger people who claim no religious affiliation and the growing number of older people who no longer practice or perhaps even believe like they once did? How will we find significant and meaningful ways of participation and support for religious life as the ways we once knew slip away, part of a culture that matches up less and less with life today? How can we make a difference in the face of things like poverty, violence, extremism of all kinds, environmental changes, and the emergence of multi-cultural societies and globalization?
Now, Christians are hopeful people. Desmond Tutu says we are “prisoners of hope.” Even with all the challenges, I find much to be hopeful about. In particular the younger people who are finding their way in or finding their way to the Episcopal Church give me hope. That includes some fine younger clergy. They have never known any church other than the one we have today with all its challenges. These younger people and clergy are part of what God is stirring up among us.
And our ultimate hope is in God, the God who came to us in Jesus, who died on the cross and rose from the dead. Jesus whose passion propelled him into the Temple to restore its purpose as a house of prayer, and a house of healing, and a house of hope for all people. Jesus has done this again and again in the past, and will continue to do so, sometimes in ways that are disruptive and disturbing, and often in ways we could never expect. This Cathedra, this chair, in this church, embodies such hope, and so I would like to give the last word to Franklin Spencer Spalding, in whose memory the Cathedra was given, words he spoke not long before his death.
“The Church must become Christian, and, therefore, missionary in its real essence. It must realize it can only know the Doctrine by doing the work. The Church’s history, its form of government, its liturgical services offer constant temptation to waste time and thought and dissipate energy. Just as truly as the individual must forget himself in the cause to which he is devoted, if he is to advance the interests of that cause, so the Church must forget herself, her boastings about her Catholic heritage, her efforts to perfect her liturgical forms, her fussing over already too complicated national, Provincial, and Diocesan organization and make it her one and only duty to save men from sin and all the misery which sin creates. She must realize that the only reason there is a Church is that collective action is more efficient than individual action. We in Utah are a feeble folk and we have little or no influence over the Church at large — but we can do our duty in the little sphere of service to which Christ has called us.”
Could I repeat that last sentence with just a slight change? We at the Cathedral of Saint Paul in Erie are a feeble folk and we have little or no influence over the Church at large — but we can do our duty in the little sphere of service to which Christ has called us.
The Very Rev. John P. Downey, Dean of the Cathedral of St. Paul, Erie, PA