So I’m in St. Louis with a group of travel writers and we show up at Christ Church Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in downtown St. Louis at 1210 Locust Street. I’m a little nervous, as I want my fellow Episcopalians to make a good impression on my colleagues and friends.
I shouldn’t have worried.
For one thing, Christ Church Cathedral is gorgeous. Not as ornate as the Cathedral Basilica, but beautiful nevertheless (I was especially pleased to see its stained glass window of Abraham Lincoln, one of my heroes). They have an ornately carved altar screen and Tiffany windows and the sort of soaring interior space that lifts your heart as soon as you step inside it.
But what made me most proud was to hear how they are using that beautiful space. The cathedral’s provost, The Very Reverend Michael Kinman talked to our group about the cathedral’s mission as a downtown church. He spoke about how it was a meeting place for people of diverse backgrounds and how it tried to serve the needs of the poor and marginalized. He mentioned an upcoming speech on a controversial topic and reminded us “there’s no issue so dangerous that it can’t be talked about—and certainly there’s nothing so controversial that it can’t be prayed about.”
Then he told us that eight years ago, a homeless person had murdered one of the staff members at the cathedral, but that it hadn’t changed their mission. “We either need to embrace the city or leave it behind and go someplace else,” he said. “We choose to stay.”
Christ Church Cathedral is open to everyone, including the homeless, throughout the week as well as on Sundays. It continues to be a place that serves not only its parishioners, but the larger city. During a recent charity race for cancer research, for example, Kinman stood outside the cathedral and blessed the runners as they passed by. “Pray for me—I’m having surgery on Monday,” one runner told him, stopping for just a moment as he anointed her forehead with oil and said a prayer.
That’s a nice metaphor for what a church should do, I think. Most of us are running at breakneck speed through our lives, rarely stopping to think about Eternal Things. But places like Christ Church Cathedral are there to give sustenance and inspiration to us along the way. Even when it’s not easy for them. Even when they suffer loss because of their commitment to service.
Now that’s what makes this cathedral truly beautiful, don’t you think?