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
Prayer is awareness of our relationship with God. We are always related to God, God is not “somewhere else” but within us, around us, between us, as well as beyond us, whether we are conscious of God or not. In prayer, we become aware of this relationship. Such awareness can come spontaneously, perhaps in the heights or depths of our lives, but it can also come amid the ordinary. Often, as C.S. Lewis said of “joy,” we catch this awareness in the fleeting moment it passes, and are left with an imprint of God on the soul.
At other times, we become aware of God in intentional, cultivated ways and
practices. These could be formal, liturgical, structured prayers like the Daily Office, or they could be informal. Informal prayer can be conversational or reflective. In my own life, prayer has become increasingly reflective, a
contemplative shared silence. Desmond Tutu described this as something like sitting before a fire, absorbing the warmth.
Like all relationships, our relationship with God has its seasons. Sometimes closer, sometimes more distant, sometimes going into the Dark Night when all sense of God’s presence is gone, and the old ways no longer “work” as they once did. The witness of Christian spirituality is that times of darkness are often the passage to a new and deeper awareness and practice of our relationship with God.
Perhaps the deepest prayer is a profound sense of unity — with God, with others, with ourselves, and with all creation. This awareness is not experienced as something separate from life, but rather the deepest connection with it. For most of us, such moments are rare, but unforgettable.
The Very Rev. Dr. John P. Downey, Dean, the Cathedral of St. Paul
This is the first installment in our Prayer series that will run up to the Diocesan Prayer Vigil in March. Click here to view other stories in the series, and here for more information on the Vigil.
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
It’s hard to believe that it’s already over two weeks since the North American Cathedral Deans’ Conference came to Erie. Without question, all our guests had a wonderful time; and as well as taking part in discussions and conference sessions, they showed enormous interest in the local community which was showcased beautifully in so many ways throughout their four-day visit. Under Dean Downey’s leadership, planning for the conference began well over a year ago, before the dean and Canon Musician Sharon Downey left for the 2015 conference in Jerusalem. So by the time the 2016 conference began in Erie on April 7th, a team of volunteers from the Cathedral had long been hard at work to make sure it would be the most perfect event in every way. The Cathedral of Saint Paul was to shine brilliantly for all four days.
As a conference and event planner, I know from experience what it takes to bring a major event to that perfect-opening-moment on site. But this was so different. Sharon had kept me constantly informed of the steps she was taking along the way, I knew everything was in place, every detail had been addressed. But the first thing I realized upon arrival in Erie was that the dedicated staff and volunteers of the Cathedral had completely adopted the conference and surrounded it with such love and warmth, it had a life of its own. This was not just business as usual, this event would share a message with congregations throughout North America and beyond, and it would be a reminder of how much we accomplish whenever we come together as Christians. Those attending the conference were welcomed like friends and family, and they were so touched by the warmth and hospitality of our Cathedral. It was an amazing, emotional and uplifting time. It had the personal touch and feel of everyone involved, staff and volunteers, who had given so much time to the planning. It was such a professional, well-run event, but at the same time there was a relaxing atmosphere of such ease and comfort. People were laughing about the freezing cold weather (not in the plan) while thoroughly enjoying the warmth of the welcome inside.
John and Sharon Downey play important roles in the international organization of the North American Cathedral Deans – which is why the conference came to Erie this year. As many of us got to chat with our visitors, it became very clear that both the dean and Sharon are wonderful representatives of our church and diocese on the national front. One of the visiting deans mentioned that they were looking forward to finally hearing Sharon Downey play in her own venue for a change. Well she didn’t just “play” she played so splendidly it just took everyone’s breath away! The choir was simply amazing and several members performed separately during a tribute to Harry T. Burleigh. The hours of rehearsal for all of them must have been endless! But the church, packed to the rafters both Thursday and Sunday, felt the presence of the Holy Spirit and there was such gratitude, love and happiness in that beautiful House of God. The choir and entire congregation raised the rafters even higher as they sang so loudly proclaiming the gloriousness of the resurrection and celebrating the very presence of the Holy Spirit among us. Never was the Peace of God exchanged so vigorously as it was that Sunday morning! Through it all, the magnificent old organ resounded so brilliantly I’m sure it was heard downtown as well, carrying our message of hope forward as the conference concluded.
Cathedrals are usually in city centers and downtown areas and by nature have more transient congregations. The Cathedral of Saint Paul is no different in this, but we are extremely blessed to have continually attracted such amazing talent, not just to the music program but in leadership, teaching and most importantly what every church needs: a strong family of those who come to volunteer and serve the community, to do the work we are asked to do. It’s what we continue to do so well in our downtown Cathedral under the dean’s leadership. I’ve often heard Dean Downey mention the diversity in our diocese. Each church (including the Cathedral) has times of weakness and strength, we might worship and evangelize in different ways, but our goals are the same and in our diocese there is a healthy tolerance for diversity. So it was particularly meaningful, and quite humbling, when Bishop Sean told the deans in his welcoming speech, that the congregations of the diocese look up to the Cathedral of Saint Paul. That was such a meaningful statement. Growing up in England, cathedrals were always “ours.” Whatever your religion or place of worship, the great Cathedrals were the standard bearers of the Church of England and they were ours! They are rich with culture, history and great music. I hope the wonderful people in the Diocese of NWPA, will continue to look to the Cathedral of Saint Paul as a source of inspiration as we all seek to proclaim the Gospel of Christ in our corner of the world.
Nina Palattella is a high school senior blogging about her experience as a Christian. Click here to read Nina’s previous blog posts.
Hello again and welcome to my seventh blog post! I hope that all of you are enjoying the return of spring and the Easter season. Easter is a universal time of joy in the church; although Lent was in my church a necessary and productive period of reflection, I was happy to enter into a multi-week celebration of Christ’s return that includes flowers throughout the church, loud hymns, and unapologetic use of the “alleluia.”
I have another piece of happy news to report—after much stress, research, and careful deliberation, I have decided that I will be attending the Honors College at Kent State University this fall! I made my last visit to another large research university, my second top choice, this past Thursday, and after that I felt I had all the information necessary to make my decision, and I wanted to go to Kent. I am looking forward to being a student of the Honors College and living in a dorm with other kids in that program, and I am excited to begin my studies as an English major under the direction of very competent and enthusiastic faculty. My brother will be around to help me if necessary, but we don’t expect to run into each other all the time, which is most likely a good thing.
Earlier this month, my church had the pleasure of hosting the annual North American Conference of Cathedral Deans; as the name suggests, priests from cathedrals around the continent converge in a different location each year for a long weekend of discussion, prayer, and fellowship. The conference is not usually hosted in locations as humble as Erie, Pennsylvania (think Jerusalem and Hawaii), but the dean of my cathedral made a very convincing argument—the phrase “Rust Belt Chic” was mentioned more than once. I was not present for all the events of the conference, but our congregation was praised many times for their involvement in the entire process, including showing the deans around our (unfortunately cold) city, baking and arranging treats to be served after the Sunday service, and simply being visiting with our guests. My parents spoke repeatedly of the wide variety of friendly, interesting priests whom they had the pleasure of meeting; the deans included people from different generations, genders, races, nationalities, sexual orientations, and cultural backgrounds, reflecting the wide reaches of the bonds and acceptance of Christ, which is a wonderful aspect of the Episcopal church that has always made me proud to be a member.
At the last gathering of The Vine, the Episcopal youth group in my community, we had the pleasure of having the Very Reverend Miguelina Howell come to speak to us. Rev. Howell currently serves as the dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, and when she was installed in early 2016 she became the first Hispanic woman to be elected dean of an Episcopal church in the United States. In addition to the short PowerPoint presentation she prepared, Reverend Howell spoke about her experience growing up in the Dominican Republic as well as preaching there and in the US. She told stories about her parents, and spoke very affectionately of her father, who was not formally educated but insisted upon education for his children. She talked about a camp that helps serve the youth of Santo Domingo, which seemed very similar to the church camp that I attend except that it operates year-round, helping better the lives of children who are often very poor and disadvantaged. I admired that she has done so much great work in the country where she grew up, but followed what she felt was her call to serve in the United States. It often takes a great deal of bravery to recognize exactly what our individual call to serve might be, and it requires even more courage to follow it, but great people like Reverend Howell have shown me that it can be done.
After the conference had ended, my dean gave a sermon that tied in the theme of the conference, which focused on the perseverance of faith in times of loss and hope. Cathedrals, he said, are different from regular churches because they are at the heart of the community, both in terms of location and involvement in the lives of the people whom they serve, and the Cathedral of St. Paul is involved in its community through varied efforts such as food pantry, outreach dinners, and special events such as the conference. Christianity, cathedrals, my community and similar communities across the country—each of these has experienced its own form of loss, from declining attendance to declining populations to financial uncertainty. Change is evident in every facet of life, and occasions like this conference give us a multitude of reasons to be hopeful; they show us that our work is appreciated, worth continuing, and far from finished.
Eighty deans and their spouses from Episcopal cathedrals in the United States, Canada, England and the Bahamas descended on Erie for 4 days, beginning on April 7th, for the North American Cathedral Deans’ Conference. This is the first time the conference was held in Erie, which was the perfect backdrop for the conference theme of Loss and Hope.
The deans arrived to a typical Erie welcome, temperatures in the thirties and a mix of rain and snow. Many of the deans expressed an excitement to be in Erie and to be a part of the discussion around loss and hope. Dean Leighton Lee from the Cathedral Church of the Redeemer in Calgary, Alberta, said that he was especially excited to hear Sister Joan Chittister’s talk. He also mentioned that the theme of decline “speaks to all churches.” His sentiments were echoed by the Very Rev. Dr. Donald Brown, Dean Emeritus, from Trinity Cathedral, Sacramento, CA: “This is like a family reunion where one can network and generate ideas.” He also agreed that Sister Joan was a highlight and that he was looking forward to see Erie’s Cathedral of St. Paul at work in its own environment.
The conference began with Evensong, an Anglican tradition of evening prayers, psalms and canticles, which was followed by a talk from Sister Joan Chittister. Sister Joan, a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, PA, is an influential religious and social leader. For 40 years she has advocated on behalf of peace, human rights, women’s issues and church renewal. She spoke about a spirituality of struggle that leads to hope. She told the audience that transformation and change doesn’t always come when we want it but rather when we least expect it. She counseled that we can choose how we respond to loss by staying forever wounded or by engaging in a process of struggle that leads to change and transformation. During a question and answer session after her talk, Sister Joan discussed the Benedictine vow of stability, the notion that they commit to one place no matter the struggle. Sister Joan has committed to Erie.
Bishop Sean Rowe and his wife Carly hosted the deans at the Erie Club for dinner on their first evening. Bishop Sean spoke to the deans about how the congregations of the diocese look up to the Cathedral of St. Paul. He also commented that the Diocese is committed to the region of Erie just as Sister Joan is committed.
A cathedral, though a parish, has a mission to the larger diocese and to the community. This allows deans, the head of the cathedral, to take risks in the name of Christian justice for the larger community. The Very Rev. Dr. John Downey, dean of Erie’s Cathedral of St. Paul, sees the Cathedral as having the potential to be “the voice to the soul of the city.” His vision for this conference was to show that Erie’s Cathedral has “embraced loss and hope in our places and in our lives with realism and resilience, all within the horizon of the great hope celebrated at Eastertide.”
The keynote speaker for the first full day of the conference was the Very Rev. John Whitcombe, dean of the cathedral in Coventry, England. The original cathedral in Coventry was destroyed by the Nazis in a bombing raid on November 14th, 1940. The dean spoke of how the building embodies loss and hope for the community. He talked about how cathedrals share in the life of the city: “When cities struggle the cathedrals do to.” He said, “There is a rich vein that runs through Coventry and it has run through it for the last 75 years and its roots lie in the Second World War and it is a vein of reconciliation.”
The conference also included local author Tom Noyes reading from his book “Come by here: A Novella and Stories,” and a presentation on school and cathedral partnerships where the panelists received a standing ovation. The conference was accompanied throughout by the music of Harry T. Burleigh. Henry Thacker Burleigh, whose grandfather was a slave, was an American singer and composer born in Erie in 1866. He made the musical and spiritual riches of the American Negro Spiritual available to vast audiences. Mr. Burleigh was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church (now the Cathedral) where he also sang in the choir. As Dean Downey has said, “his music was all about loss and hope.”
One of the highlights of the conference was the “Taste of Erie” night at the Cathedral, where local foods were highlighted and enjoyed by everyone. Dean Jep Streit from the Cathedral of St. Paul in Boston, MA, approached Dean Downey with a Smith’s hot dog in one hand and a glass of wine (provided by a Cathedral member) in the other. He exclaimed his joy at the pairing of the hot dog and “the finest Chardonnay.” Dean Downey replied, “That is Erie.”
Welcome to the new series where we will hear from Nina Palattella about her experience as a Christian in her senior year of High School. Nina will write a blog post about once a month over the course of the school year. This is her fifth installment. Click here to see the others.
Hello there and welcome to my fifth blog post! I hope that you all are staying warm and safe. I have now entered into the second semester of my senior year of high school, which is both exciting (that’s so little time!) and excruciating (just get me out of here!) With all of the news coverage about the cold temperatures and heavy snowfall in places, it seems hard to believe that, at about this time last year, I was experiencing drastically different weather as well as a radically different way of life—I was in the midst of a trip to the state of Kerala, India, with my family and eight other parishioners from The Cathedral of St. Paul. That trip was a life-changing experience like no other and the subject of this blog post.
I enjoy traveling, but before this trip I had never visited another continent, let alone a country as seemingly other-worldly as India. I was wary due to the preventative medicines my family had to take for foreign ailments such as dengue fever and malaria, and I was also unsettled by the knowledge that I would have to be alert about things that all my life I had taken for granted—such as not drinking the water and not eating the fruit. The journey to our destination consisted of three flights totaling approximately 20 hours with layovers in three different countries, and, combined with the time difference of plus ten-and-a-half hours, it took almost two days for us to actually get to India. Our trip officially started when we were picked up at the Cochin International Airport, a busy place even at three-thirty in the morning, and taken to a “refreshment center,” which, despite its designation, defied all western expectations of refreshment. It was a small house adjacent to the travel agency office, occupied by a family and possibly other travelers. Though my brother and I were exhausted—I would be awake for forty hours straight—our mother instructed us to keep our shoes on when we laid down on the bed, so sleep was impossible. At one point during our short but hazy stay, a woman walked around and appeared to be counting all of us; we learned that she was determining the number of guests for whom she needed to make food.
Despite the frightening introduction, I quickly became enamored with India and all its eccentricities. I took pictures of practically everything I encountered, from a goat that I saw standing in the middle of the street to a tree made of Communist flags, crowned on top with a golden hammer and sickle. I consider myself a fairly adventurous eater and tried many new cuisines, including idli, a Southern Indian dish of rice patties that I ate every day for breakfast and still long for every now and then; however, I was equally delighted to encounter the familiar macaroni and cheese on the menu of a restaurant recommended to our group by our driver, a citizen of the region, who served not just as transportation but also as a saving grace in more than one instance. We visited the Eravikulam National Park and encountered the Nilgiri tahr, an endangered species of sheep whose population is limited to certain areas of the southwestern Ghat Mountains. The dean of my church and his wife, who had visited India and this park before, said that they had seen only a few of these animals from a distance on their previous trip, but they walked among us freely. I rode an elephant and hiked to a tea plantation, one of many near our resort in the beautiful mountain city of Munnar. I learned that, in an unfamiliar place, even the mundane activities become exciting; traveling through the city was a stressful and seemingly perilous act, and without the benefit of our driver I guarantee that I would not be here to write this post.
Without a doubt, the most spiritually enriching part of our journey was our visit to the St. Paul’s CSI Church of South India; as I have mentioned in previous posts, with the help of the Cathedral of St. Paul in Erie, our sister church in India was able to revitalize their church building, and on this trip we delivered to them a donation to help them build a Sunday school, which is serious business in India. Our group was greeted by a procession of musical instruments, bright colors, decorative umbrellas and a village full of parishioners, all of whom wanted to greet us and thank us for our generosity. The church building was filled with people for the service, which was spoken almost entirely in Malayalum, the predominant language of the state of Kerala. The time of our visit was also that of a local festival; after the service, we had the pleasure of staying for an additional celebration, during which I had the opportunity to drink directly from a coconut. Although I may not have been able to communicate at length with many of the people I met, their faith, gratitude and excitement were plainly evident, and I was overjoyed to be present in their company. This is true of people whom I encountered throughout our stay: my brother readily became friends with boys whom he met through a shared love of soccer, and strangers whom we encountered at different places we visited wanted to ask us our names, where we were from, and possibly even invite us to take photos with them. It was their welcoming attitude that made a foreign place seem not so much different than any other place I could call home.
Episcopalians celebrate the Blessing of the Animals where people have the rare opportunity to bring their pets to church to receive special blessings, on a Sunday close to the Feast of St. Francis. This past Sunday was the feast of St. Francis.
St. Francis of Assisi was well known for his love of animals. Stories tell of him preaching to flocks of birds, dissuading mosquitoes from biting him and even convincing a wolf to stop stalking humans and livestock in Gubbio, Italy, where he once lived. At the Blessing of the Animals, people remember and emulate Francis’ example of love for animals and appreciation of God’s creations.
The Episcopal Church has long taken a pro-animal stance, reminding members that animals are gifts from God and that people are responsible for being good stewards of the earth and all its inhabitants. In the 76th General Convention (2009), the Episcopal Church reaffirmed that animals are part of creation and that humans must be responsible stewards over them. The church has gone so far as to speak out against puppy mills, factory farms and any other animal husbandry methods that cause suffering to animals. These positions are not new. Even in 1840, The Rev. Thomas Fuller regretted that humans had exterminated some species and enslaved the rest, writing, “We have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the devil in human form.”
See pictures below of how some of our churches celebrated.
This is the second installment in a three part series highlighting the stories of our three seminarians. Click here to see the first story about Nicholas Evancho, written in April of 2015.
Making arrests. Threats of being blown up by those who have cut their gas lines to avoid arrest. Gun fights. Taking parents away from their children. All of these can be in a day’s work for Nick Kuchcinski, a member of the Cathedral of St. Paul and one of three seminarians in the diocese, in his job as an Adult Probation/Parole Officer. None of these things are typically events that we equate with being particularly evocative of God or ministry. However, for Nick, they are just that: “Some people see incongruity in my career and the ordination process. I see my career as a perfect gateway into people’s lives to be a witness to Christ.”
Nick’s journey to his career as a probation officer and to the ordination process in The Episcopal Church began in Erie, where he was born and raised. He was brought up in the Roman Catholic Church. Even as a teenager, Nick felt called to holy orders, however, he also felt just as strongly that he was called to have a family. Being Roman Catholic, he couldn’t do both. He attended Gannon University, where he majored in Criminal Justice. After college, Nick got married and focused on his career in criminal justice, which first took him to Allenwood, PA, to work as a corrections officer in a federal prison before returning to Erie for his current job. During that time, Nick and his wife had two wonderful children, but ended up divorcing, and he has since remarried.
It was the divorce that started Nick’s journey toward The Episcopal Church and the ordination process: “After the divorce I really started discerning my spiritual home not being in the Roman Catholic Church. I felt like a second class citizen because I wasn’t allowed to receive communion.” Nick hit a point where he couldn’t be true to himself and stay where he was.
Nick spends a lot of time in the courthouse, located across the street from the Cathedral of St. Paul, for his job. He started researching the Cathedral and eventually met with the dean of the Cathedral, the Very Rev. Dr. John Downey. Dean Downey reassured him that, in The Episcopal Church, he could receive the sacraments even though he was divorced. Armed with that knowledge and finding a comfort in the liturgical nature of the church, a part of the Roman Catholic Church he had always loved, Nick soon found a church home at the Cathedral.
That was 5 years ago. Nick quickly got involved and the thoughts of priesthood started coming back to him. One Sunday in 2012, when he was vesting to serve as an acolyte, he finally got the courage and asked Dean Downey what it would take to become a priest in The Episcopal Church. Dean Downey responded, “I wondered when you were going to ask.” The rest is history.
Nick Kuchcinski spent two weeks this past June at the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP) starting work on his Masters of Divinity degree. He is enrolled in their low residency program, which meets on campus twice a year for a few weeks and has online coursework the rest of the year. This is an ideal situation for him as he can work towards his degree while still maintaining his career.
While at CDSP, Nick enjoyed the schedule of classes bracketed by prayer (morning prayer, noon Eucharist, and evening prayer) that helped him feel fully immersed in the seminary lifestyle. Nick also enjoyed the intentional community and being able to form bonds with his fellow classmates: “We still pray together online every couple of weeks.” He was also amazed at the common experience of sitting in chapel with people from all over the world praying out of the same prayer book.
The plan is for Nick to be a bi-vocational priest, meaning that he will keep his job as an Adult Probation/Parole officer while serving part-time at a congregation. This is fitting for Nick as he believes that he can be a witness in his role as a probation officer, just as well as when he is in his role as a priest. He sees the key as recognizing that every person, including the one he is arresting, is a human being made in the image and likeness of God. While it can be difficult at times, he pushes himself to deal with people with love so that others may see Christ in him and learn to see Christ in every person. By joining his secular vocation with his ordination, he hopes to be able to reach even more people with the message of Christ.
Nick will return to CDSP in January for the next on-campus immersion for his Masters in Divinity.
By: Julien Goulet, Assistant for Communications and Administration and Vanessa Butler, Canon for Administration
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