As you might know by now, Magdalene is a two-year residential program for women who have faced lives of abuse, prostitution and addiction. The results have been unheard of. 2 1/2 years out of the program, 78% of the women are still clean and sober ... and these are women who have been seriously heroin and crack addicted. That is a recovery rate the most expensive inpatient treatment centers can't touch ... even with people who aren't dealing with having been survivors of child sexual abuse, which almost all of the women in Magdalene are.
I first learned about Magdalene when I met Becca Stevens at a conference in 1998. When I was the Episcopal Campus Missioner at Washington University, I used to take groups of students down there for fall break. I said then and I say now that this ministry is the closest thing to the Kingdom of God I have ever seen. It is extravagant love incarnate. It is community without outcasts. It is women who are willing to acknowledge their brokenness and find healing deep inside them and in the arms of one another.
And it works. The tagline of Magdalene and their social enterprise Thistle Farms is absolutely true:
Love Heals Every Body.
So what is my role sitting at that table last night? It has everything to do with what the historic role of a Cathedral is ... and what the future life of Christ Church Cathedral can be.
The church is an institution, and as such even though we are meant to be an alternative community, we tend to mimic other institutions in society. That's why for most of the 20th century the mainline denominations behaved much like corporations. We had large central offices and bureaucratic structures with top-down, command-and-control power structures. We had different, churchier names for it, but individual churches were deemed successful using the same metrics as corporations used -- market share, market penetration, profit and successful branded product.
So a successful church was one with a glorious building, a large staff, high attendance ... particularly with families with children ... big budget, and lots of programs and ministries that it created and sustained all by itself. Things we could point to and say "My church does this."
And none of this was bad. And much of it was good. And wonderful things happened. Great programs and ministries were born. Great buildings were built and we held huge national meetings in convention centers as big as airline hangars.
But the world is changing, and the buildings and structures that once were a sign of our success are increasingly pianos strapped to our back. We know this from our own financial struggles of late. And so, as the global economy begins to sag under the pressure of more than a century of runaway consumption, we have an opportunity to reach back to our best past to find God's dream for our best future.
Historically, cathedrals were not just centers of one congregation or even one denomination. They were centers of entire communities or even regions. Cathedrals were where people came together. Where great ideas were discussed. Where connections where made. Where ministry and mission was born.
That past is an intruiging and exciting possible future for us. If ministry means programs that are solely generated and sustained by us, using only our money, our staff, our people, our resources ... than the ceiling for what we can accomplish is fairly low.
But if ministry means being a catalyst for the Gospel. If ministry means doing on a wider scale what we do at the Eucharist ... gathering people around the presence of Christ, be it in a person or an idea, or even a problem or a question ... lead people in giving their lives to that work of healing and then sending this new creation out into the world. Well ... we can do that over and over and over again.
Like the Eucharist, that is a well that never runs dry.
The benefits of this view of ministry are enormous. Not only are we not creating new programs that we are solely responsible for sustaining, in bringing diverse people together around a sacred vision, we are literally being what Paul tells us we are supposed to be -- ambassadors of Christ gifted with the ministry of reconciliation.
And she did.
In the past six months since Becca, Katrina and Sheila were here, 30 people have gone on immersion trips to Nashville, we are setting up a board and a 501(c)3, have a good bead on our first house, have more than $10,000 in initial pledges and donations and have more than 70 people expressing interest in being actively involved in this work. The group includes not only people from Christ Church Cathedral (it does ... several!), but people from EIGHT other area episcopal churches, the U.S. Circuit Attorney from St. Louis, a municipal court judge, and the President of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen as well as social workers, college students, nonprofit leaders and pastors and laypeople from other non-Episcopal congregations.
My role sitting at that table is not to be the executive director of Magdalene St. Louis. I already have a job and I really love the one I have! My role is -- with the help of wonderful people like Celeste Smith -- the same role I have standing at the Eucharistic table or sitting at the Chapter table. To gather people around the presence of Christ ... in this case in this amazing possibility for healing ministry ... encourage us all to give our lives to is and ask questions like "what do you notice?" "what does this look like here?" and "what does this mean for us?" ... and then be a part of all of us going out into the world to make it happen ... and then together with you all to be on the lookout for the next thing that looks like the Kingdom of God that we can gather the community around.
... and see what happens!
Why is this important for Christ Church Cathedral?
First, Magdalene St. Louis is important because it is about the mission of the church, which is the ministry of healing ... of reconciling all people to God and each other in Christ. It is no accident that Jesus hung out with prostitutes ... they were and remain on the lowest rung of the discarded in society. As followers of Jesus, it is our place to be with them as agents of love and healing. That is why this is important for us as Christians. And so as Christians at Christ Church Cathedral, it is important because it will be another opportunity for us to live our faith in a powerful way.
But as a Cathedral, Magdalene St. Louis is important because it is a chance for us to try out this new/old way of doing mission and ministry. Of being a catalyst and incubator. Of being a force for reconciliation in bringing diverse elements of St. Louis together for greater purposes. It's important because it's a step toward Christ Church Cathedral becoming known for more than just a beautiful building, welcoming people, heavenly music and a few strong social justice ministries but as a heart for mission and ministry that draws all St. Louis together so amazing things can happen.
What do you think?
What do you think about this concept of being a catalyst for ministry? What excites you about it? What confuses you? What makes you anxious? Do you think it's an appropriate role for the Cathedral or a church? Why or why not? What do you think God's best dream for Christ Church Cathedral as a force for mission and ministry might be?