Cathedral of St. Paul Source of Inspiration

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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.18.57 PMAs 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.

Screen Shot 2016-04-26 at 1.13.54 PMJohn 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.

12994463_1153312074701453_7107254429042034600_nCathedrals 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.

Diane Mitra

‘Courage To Follow A Call’ by Nina Palattella

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.

12957437_1154559797910014_7548171173434636891_o  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.

12321334_564938103673208_5533117079208251553_n 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.

Nina Palattella, The Cathedral of St. Paul

Deans’ Conference Highlights Loss and Hope

12957437_1154559797910014_7548171173434636891_oEighty 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.

12994463_1153312074701453_7107254429042034600_nA 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 12998532_1154559187910075_2792845279713295376_nWhitcombe, 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.”

12973169_1153309974701663_6144300669018867337_oOne 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.”