‘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.”