On the Occasion of Trinity Cathedral’s Bicentennial
A Sermon Preached by The Very Rev. Tracey Lind
11th Dean of Trinity Cathedral
Sunday, November 6, 2016
Two Sundays ago, I walked through a portion of Central, the neighborhood just south of us where Marion Sterling School and Trinity’s Urban Farm are located. Accompanied by an organizer from Greater Cleveland Congregations and a journalist from the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, I talked with residents about criminal justice reform, neighborhood concerns, and the importance of voting. It was a great experience, and every person with whom I spoke knew of Trinity Cathedral and our long-standing commitment to this city. As I walked and talked, this morning’s words from the 58th chapter of the prophet Isaiah reverberated in my heart.
For two hundred years, Trinity has been a beacon of God’s justice, love and mercy in the city of Cleveland, the Diocese of Ohio and the wider church and community. For two centuries, Trinity has raised up many generations, repaired many breaches, and restored hope on many streets. Since the early 1800’s, Trinity and its members have strived to remove the yoke of oppression, share food with the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.
Most of us know the story of our humble beginnings. On November 9, 1816, one year after the incorporation of the village of Cleveland, Phineas Shepherd and a small but faithful group of settlers – members of the newly formed Episcopal Church in America – enlivened by the Gospel, organized a small congregation in a log cabin near the banks of the Cuyahoga River. Worshipping at what is now the corner of Detroit Avenue and West 25th Street, the church’s initial membership included Cleveland’s first doctor, lawyer, banker, innkeeper, librarian, shopkeeper, and village trustee.
Nearly 100 years later, Trinity’s leadership – industrial, commercial and civic magnets of the early 20th century – demonstrated the vision and generosity to build a grand Gothic cathedral at the corner of Euclid and East 22nd Street. They constructed a magnificent landmark that, in the words of Bishop William Andrew Leonard, was intended to be a church for the masses that would inspire the social, economic and spiritual development of a great American city.
At the beginning of the 21st century, Trinity Cathedral joined forces with our diocese to create Trinity Commons, a piazza – sacred pubic space – in the middle of what was a distressed urban neighborhood. It was an effort that launched the green building movement in Cleveland and stimulated the revitalization of both the Campus District and Euclid Avenue.
Here we are today, Cleveland’s oldest congregation celebrating our 200th birthday. What a great year in which to mark this occasion. The Cavs won the NBA Championships, The Indians won the American League Title and almost won the World Series. The Republican National Convention came to town. Movies and television shows were filmed in our neighborhoods. The inner belt bridge was finally completed. Amidst the orange cones and construction cranes, new buildings, roads, bike paths, and parks are emerging. And yes, Cleveland is once again at the epicenter of electing a president to lead this great but divided nation.
It’s also been a challenging year in Cleveland. Public schools continue to struggle; gun and gang violence is still on the rise; community police relations remain very complicated; local infant mortality rates outpace that of the nation; opiate addiction has become a serious public health crisis; the lake continues to be vulnerable; and racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia still rear their ugly heads.
Trinity Cathedral sits – a beacon of hope and light – right in the middle of it all. I love walking through the Euclid Avenue doors with the light streaming through the stained glass windows and being greeted by Jesus standing above our high altar with his arms open wide, as if to say, “Come in. All are welcome.” This beautifully carved statue invites the passerby into a sacred landmark, a dwelling place of God, where, in the words of the apostle Paul to the ancient church in Ephesus, “Nobody is a stranger or alien but all are members of the household of God.”
I have read, marked and inwardly digested the history of Trinity over the past two centuries, and I’ve been impressed with its faith, courage and resilience. I admire Trinity’s pioneer spirit during Cleveland’s early days, its abolitionist stance during The Civil War, its moral influence, and philanthropic generosity during The Industrial Revolution, its ministry of compassion during The Great Depression, its service of care and comfort through two World Wars, its activism during The Civil Rights Movement, and its fidelity to stay in the city during Cleveland’s decline. For nearly two decades, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing first-hand this cathedral’s courageous and visionary leadership during Cleveland’s quiet and then not-so-quiet crisis, and our celebration of Cleveland’s renaissance while holding accountable those in power to work for justice on behalf of those left behind.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, the evangelist Luke reminds us that this is the essence of the church’s ministry. As the Body of Christ and followers of Jesus, we are called to stand with the blessed who are poor, hungry, weeping, hated, excluded, and defamed, for to them especially belongs the kingdom of God.
I’ve said it so many times – where goes Cleveland, so goes Trinity Cathedral. Trinity’s past is Cleveland’s history. Trinity’s present is a reflection of Cleveland today. Trinity’s future is Cleveland’s tomorrow. This congregation has always turned into the wind and faced the challenges of its time with determination, hope, and expectation. Trinity Cathedral was, is now, and will continue to be a spiritual inspiration for Cleveland and its people.
Over the past few years, like many of you, I have contemplated the future of the church and especially cathedral parishes like Trinity. Last summer, I asked my friend, historian James Carroll, what he thought. Jim said, churches such as Trinity will be like the abbeys of Christianity during the dark ages – our mission and ministry will be to keep alive the story, vision and hope of the Gospel for generations to come.
In 1907 Bishop Leonard wrote: “Embodied in lofty arch, in massive column, in glorious construction, in overhanging tower, [the cathedral] indicates permanence. It is a sort of parable in stone…to teach young and old that there is a permanence and stability in Christianity…It is built for future generations as well as our own…
Our spiritual ancestors established this congregation and built this marvelous cathedral. It is our responsibility and our privilege to create new models of congregational life and new ways of cathedral building as we walk into the frontiers of the future, holding onto our cornerstone – the ancient faith of the church.
We are living in volatile and uncertain times. Trinity Cathedral is needed more than ever before. People are hungry for spiritual meaning in their lives and desperate for places of hope and healing. Trinity is equipped to meet this challenge with vision, faith, and agility. Christ has called us to this ministry, and God will give us the resources we need to carry it out.
Together as the body of Christ, we can be, and we can raise our children to become, thoughtful and faithful Christians in a pluralistic world. Celebrating our diversity, we can demonstrate that the things that seek to divide may be overcome in the oneness of God. Building upon our rich tradition of common prayer, we can offer vibrant and reverent worship that both deepens the faith of believers, and invites seekers into the mystery, joy and love of God.
We can learn, teach and practice how to live more lightly on the earth, and in doing so, envision and help build a just and sustainable economy. We can show compassion to the poor and the stranger and defend those who have no helper. And, in partnership with our bishops, fellow Episcopalians, and people of other faith traditions, we can make a difference in this city, state, nation and yes, even the world.
Today, through confirmation and reception, we welcome fourteen new members into the Episcopal Church. Through this sacrament, you are being commissioned to help write the next chapter of Trinity’s history and continue to build a church that will thrive for generations to come. In doing this work, the prophet Isaiah offers assurance to us all: God will guide us continually, and satisfy our needs in parched places, and make our bones strong. We shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Our ruins shall be rebuilt; we shall raise up the foundations of many generations; we shall be called the repairer of the breach, and the restorer of streets to live in.
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