Monday, August 31, 2015

A weekend in Memphis: historic connections and new opportunities for Christ Church Cathedral

This fall, I have accepted several invitations to travel to different parts of our Episcopal church and share our experience of being a Cathedral … particularly as it relates to the past year and the new civil rights movement that began in Ferguson. I have accepted these invitations because it is both our job and joy to share what we are learning … and because whenever we build relationships across the Body of Christ, we give opportunities for the Holy Spirit to enrich us in wonderful and unexpected ways.

Sacred Conversations on Race & Class, Protest and Power
in the St. Mary's Cathedral Undercroft on Saturday morning
That certainly was my experience this past weekend as I spent the weekend with our sister cathedral, St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis. I drove up Friday for an early meeting about bringing a theatrical production to CCC and to tour the National Civil Rights Museum; on Saturday I led a 3-hour workshop called “Sacred Conversations on Race and Power, Protest and Privilege,” and on Sunday I led a forum on our “On The Table” Eucharistic model for being a Cathedral and preached at two services.

It was a gift to be invited into the lives of so many people, and seeing how Memphis is dealing with (and, in some cases, not dealing with) the issues that have sprung up in the streets of our city, gives me a perspective that I will be spending much thought and prayer on in the weeks and months to come.

For now, I want to share three tangible fruits that this trip has brought forth for us as a Cathedral community.

As the members of the vocal ensemble, 'Inversion,' look on --
Frederick Douglass (Bakari King) breaks down beneath
 Anne Murray (Kelsey Unwuzuruigbo) - in
'Frederick Douglass: American Prophet,"
coming to Christ Church Cathedral in early 2016. 
On Friday, I met with Grammy-Award winning singer/songwriter/director Marcus Hummon and the Rev. Chris Girata, rector of Calvary Episcopal Church in Memphis. Marcus has taken Frederick Douglass’ autobiography, Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave and turned it into what he calls a “concert theatrical,” (something like an operetta) called "Frederick Douglass: The Making of An American Prophet" that has been performed to great acclaim in churches in Nashville.

In late January/early February, we will be part of the first road show of this project. Marcus will take the production to Memphis for Friday and Saturday shows and then up to St. Louis for a Sunday night performance at Christ Church Cathedral. We will be looking to partner with other faith communities and institutions to ensure a packed house … and after the performance we will have a forum with Marcus, cast members and people from the St. Louis community discussing how Frederick Douglass is alive today in the civil rights struggle happening in our own community.

On Saturday, I had the honor of meeting Terri Lee Freeman, the incredibly impressive president of the National Civil Rights Museum. We talked about the possibilities of the Museum (which I had a chance to tour on Friday … and it is absolutely extraordinary) being not just a chronicler of the past but a place where the ongoing story of civil rights is told. I invited her to come to St. Louis, visit Christ Church Cathedral and meet with some of the amazing leaders of the movement in our own community, and we will be working in the coming weeks to set this up.

Finally, on Sunday, I learned of a deeply holy connection between Christ Church Cathedral and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Part of the history of St. Mary’s is its role in the 1878 Yellow Fever epidemic. While most people fled the city from the disease, several communities of Anglican and Roman Catholic nuns stayed behind to nurse the sick – St. Mary’s Cathedral being a base of operations. (These brave women are called “The Martyrs of Memphis – as most ended up dying of yellow fever – and are commemorated on the Episcopal calendar on Sept. 9).

The story of Louis Sanford Scbuyler told on the wall of Martyrs Hall
at St. Mary's Cathedral in Memphis, TN
I knew this story. What I didn’t know is that a young priest. knowing it meant almost certain death, insisted on coming to Memphis to help. That priest was Louis Sanford Schuyler, son of our founding Dean Montgomery Schuyler (for whom Schuyler Hall was named). Schuyler indeed was stricken with yellow fever in the course of offering comfort, died soon after, and is buried in Memphis. His role is commemorated in this story board in Martyrs Hall at St. Mary’s.

This connection hit me hard. Not just a relationship but a relationship based in a conviction that we follow Jesus into the deepest pain and brokenness even at great personal risk … exactly what we had spent the weekend talking about in terms of our Christian call to stand with the oppressed in our own day.

This connection has led us to conversations about next year having a group from Christ Church Cathedral take a weekend pilgrimage to Memphis during their Martyrs Weekend in September. To tour the Civil Rights Museum. To spend time with our sisters and brothers at St. Mary’s and talk about our experiences and see how our Cathedral – less than 5 hours drive apart – might work together. And also to hear some blues and eat some BBQ, too.

If this is something you’d be interested in being a part of … please let me know.

In the coming months, I will be traveling to Buffalo, Columbus, and Richmond, VA … as well as spending a Sunday with St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, listening to their dreams for their Cathedral. Wherever I go, I bear Christ Church Cathedral on my heart … and I look forward to bringing more fruit back from the people of God in all these places.

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