Friday, January 9, 2015

CCC in crisis: A Gospel awakening we will not waste.

“Never let an economic crisis go to waste.” – The Rt. Rev. Greg Rickel, Bishop of Olympia.

Bishop Rickel preached these words on my first Flower Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral in 2009. They were true then. They are true today.

Economic crisis has led us into mission before. Economic crisis led us to partnering with Lafayette Preparatory Academy these past two years, generating nearly $70,000 in annual income and making us contributors in the battle for education equality in St. Louis.

Two Sundays ago, Junior Warden Urlene Branch shared that – even with the income from LPA – Christ Church Cathedral faces a deficit exceeding $150,000 for 2015. Even after all our efforts – generous giving of Cathedral members, more than 100 people and $15,000 in the first year of Friends of Christ Church Cathedral, and the fair-market-value rental of the Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building – we are still in economic crisis.
The time has come to explore new options for sustaining
the old buildings that are increasingly becoming an
unbearable burden for the Cathedral congregation.

In December, your Chapter identified four essential realities:

*Christ Church Cathedral cannot continue to function as it has. Pledging and building income can’t make up this deficit. Endowment draw is already on the high end of recommended. Money reserved from the Pope Bequest for program and staff is nearly exhausted.

*The Cathedral congregation is healthy but overburdened. We are growing in health and numbers … particularly with people in their 20s and 30s. Current staffing is inadequate for growth or even maintenance at current levels. Cutting further is not an option for growth.

*The biggest piece of the burden is our buildings. We have two enormous buildings with decades of deferred maintenance that are increasingly expensive to maintain. The nearly $120,000 we had to spend replacing the Cathedral HVAC system this fall is undoubtably just the beginning of what these buildings require.

*The Cathedral as an institution is an increasingly vital part of civic life. We have relationships of mutual respect and are a source of unity and a force for the common good throughout the region. Our profile is as high and positive as it has been in decades.

Based on these realities the Cathedral Chapter believes the congregation will never thrive and will inevitably decline as long as it is charged with the maintenance of the Cathedral and BTM. In fact, we will continue to decline, eat into endowment and close if the status quo is maintained. 

This is not bad news. This is Good News. Economic crisis has led us into mission before ... and it will once again. That the status quo is unsustainable is a gift because it opens us up to new opportunities to be the church in the city in transformative ways. It opens us up to possibilities of partnership for mission beyond what we have previously imagined.

Our challenge and opportunity as we look toward the 150th anniversary of the dedication of Christ Church Cathedral in 2017 is this:

How do we restructure Christ Church Cathedral to be a thriving presence of the Gospel and force for the common good in St. Louis for generations to come?

After naming these realities, in December, Chapter unanimously passed this resolution:

Resolved, the Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral authorizes the senior warden, treasurer and Dean to meet with Bishop Smith to explore new options regarding the structure of Christ Church Cathedral as congregation and institution to ensure its long-term sustainability and impact.

This initial conversation will happen in the next week or so. There are models out there in the wider church that can help us, and we have people throughout the region -- Episcopalian and non-Episcopalian alike -- who recognize the value and potential of Christ Church Cathedral who are able to be (and some who have already offered to be) a part of this exploration.

Our belief is we can create a new structure for Christ Church Cathedral that will enable the congregation to continue to thrive and grow in the Cathedral home it loves ... and that will enable the wider diocese and St. Louis region to bring their broad resources to bear in creating and realizing a new vision for the Cathedral and Bishop Tuttle Memorial Building that both contributes to making our neighborhood and the region better and is financially sustainable for decades to come.

Working with Bishop Smith and others on this task will be my primary focus as Dean for 2015. The work that Chapter is wrapping up on the strategic plan for the Cathedral congregation will be essential not only for the mission growth of the congregation but in providing a framework for this exploration -- whatever new structure we create will have to support the mission of the church. We are before anything a people called to bring ourselves and the world into deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ.

There will be many opportunities to talk about this ... beginning with our annual meeting Eucharist at 10 am on Sunday, January 18. I hope you will be there.

It's important to note we have lots of company in this struggle. As society transitions from Christendom to post-Christendom (read the Bishop's convention address about this here), the grand buildings that were the hallmarks of the success of mainline Protestantism are both deteriorating and left to far fewer (and less-monied) people to maintain. We are not alone in this struggle. In fact, we can be not only a partner but a leader in helping the wider church be reborn for new generations to come.

We are in crisis at Christ Church Cathedral. But this is not bad news. In fact it is a Gospel awakening and an exciting call into the future. And we will not let it go to waste.

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