One of the greatest worship experiences of my life was the time Susan and I were able to be in St. Alban's Cathedral on the Feast of St. Alban. St. Alban was the first martyr in Briton, therefore often called the first English martyr. On this day, we had travelled not far from London where the massive cathedral stands. Before we went in, a docent (a person who conducts tours) explained that St. Alban's Cathedral was originally a little wooden church.
I guess I realized for the first time that cathedrals often did not start as cathedrals. They began as parish churches, even chapels. For a variety of reasons a number of factors come together resulting in a parish becoming a flagship congregation. Often a bishop or one of the leading officers of the diocese (Archdeacon, Canon etc.) ends up being the Rector of the congregation. The parish serves in the further development of the diocese. Eventually the church, if the vestry approves and with the congregation's support, ends up being declared a cathedral or pro cathedral.
Something similar has happened at Church of the Holy Communion. When I was interviewing many years ago for the position of Rector at CHC, I was already a Bishop. I asked the search committee and vestry at the meeting in the Schleicher Library why they would want to call a Bishop to be their Rector. After all, any Bishop who also serves a parish has to wear two hats; his job description encompasses both parish and diocese, and in my case also teaching some at the seminary. It can be wonderful for both the minister and the congregation, but both need to realize the give and take of such a call. I was so impressed with the sense of vision I heard that day along with the ideas to follow from the Search Committee and the Vestry. Their response was unanimous: they wanted CHC to be a beacon for traditional Anglicanism, even a flagship congregation some day.
CHC, from the moment we first set foot on this amazing campus, impressed us. After meeting long ago with the Search Committee and Vestry, when I was being considered as your next Rector, there was no question in my mind that God had a special plan for this parish. We dreamed together in those meetings, now eleven years ago, of what has continued to be God's calling for us as a congregation. It has worked out beautifully for CHC and our ministry together.
What we all envisioned long ago specifically began to become clearer many months ago. Over a year and half ago Bishop Grote asked the Vestry of CHC at his annual visit in the spring, 2011, if they were open to a larger role for the parish in the diocese. Eventually he expressed his desire to recognize all that happens at Church of the Holy Communion by designating it a Pro Cathedral.
A Pro Cathedral is a second cathedral in the diocese that serves the main Cathedral in Houston (Katy), Texas, hence the iteration, "pro," or "for," the Cathedral. Pro Cathedrals appear typically in a diocese that is spread out over large geographic areas. There is a long history in Christianity of second cathedrals in a diocese where the former is the case. Before I came to CHC I served our seminary in Shreveport. It so happens that the Episcopal Church has a pro cathedral there. The main Cathedral for the Diocese of Western Louisiana in the Episcopal Church is in Alexandria. Although we were and are not connected to it, nor are we simply trying to be like TEC, the fact is that the needs for a second Cathedral in a Diocese are universal. Such is the case now in the Diocese of Mid America of the Reformed Episcopal Church. Our diocese encompasses all the middle part of the country: roughly from the Mississippi to the Rockies and from Texas to Canada. The area is enormous. In time it will be broken up into other dioceses as we have enough congregations to support a Bishop in the various areas. For now, we need a second Cathedral to help the primary See in Houston. CHC has and does serve in this capacity. The Bishop has asked the Vestry essentially to proclaim what we are already doing, serving as a Pro Cathedral.
In response the Vestry began to dialogue with Bishop Grote as to what this would mean for CHC. There were the important concerns such as, "Would this cost the parish more money than its regular assessment?" The answer is, "No." In fact Bishop Grote explained that he wanted to begin to put in the diocesan budget, slowly but surely, some monies to augment administrative work; this has already begun.
Then there were the questions, "Would the congregation still own its property?" Yes. "Would CHC still be operated under the auspices of the Vestry, meaning would the Vestry still be in control of the physical property and finances?" Yes, and yes came the answers from Bishop Grote. "Would I still be the Rector and maintain my usual responsibilities in the parish?" Yes again was the response. Basically, Bishop Grote explained that the designation was not going to change anything, except the "Doing Business As Name," however the Vestry wanted to express it in concert with the Bishop's approval. All pointed to win/win for CHC as well as the Diocese.
The Vestry prayed and discussed the Bishop's first conversation for well over a year. I mentioned these developments in my annual report. The Wardens conveyed what the Bishop had raised. The Long Range Committee, headed by Werner Heissenhuber, noted in the report at the last Annual meeting that what the Bishop had asked was in fulfillment of the Long Range Plan for CHC. Even after all of this reporting, the Sr. Warden noted in the July, mid year up-to-date meeting on finances and a number of subjects, the Vestry's support. Feedback was requested and the congregation's response was encouraging to the Vestry. Consequently, the Vestry has responded to the Bishop's invitation with our unanimous consent to accept his proposal to designate Church of the Holy Communion a Pro Cathedral.
In my Rector's Page this month I am pleased to update you on the details of an actual time to make public the Pro- Cathedral-Designation. The Vestry has approved and coordinated with Bishop Grote for CHC to be designated/proclaimed a Pro Cathedral at a 4:00pm Evensong on the First Sunday in Advent, December 2nd. Following the Evensong, we will have the Bradley Welch Organ Concert at which we dedicate the new ranks completing the new organ at CHC. The afternoon venue will allow clergy and laity from other congregations to attend, participate and show their support.
The Evensong itself will be a choral, festive version of the service; the Bishop will be vested in his cope and miter to do the designation. Distinguished guests will be invited from within and without the community. Clergy from the REC and elsewhere will be invited to vest and process. The Bishop will offer an address with his proclamation.
After the Pro Cathedral designation service, we will break for about fifteen minutes to allow folks to leave and others to arrive for the concert. We have wanted to dedicate the new ranks to the organ for over a year. Some faulty parts delayed us. We chose to wait for the most opportune moment. Bradley Welch agreed that an early Advent concert would be ideal. The concert will last about an hour. Our own excellent organist, Chris Hoyt, will also participate.
The Pro Cathedral designation and concert will be followed by a reception in Lunt Hall. We hope to have many guests with us for some kind of light but special refreshments. May this be the beginning of a powerful new chapter in the history of bringing God more glory at CHC! Pray for these exciting events and for CHC, soon to be Pro Cathedral.