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Two things have puzzled me
about Christmas through the years. I’ll offer a view – by no means pretending
to be definitive – a view – on these
First, why are we making such
a big deal over the birth of Christ as if the birth alone had done something important?
I grew up in a penal substitution theology in which it was all about Good
Friday. The only point of Jesus’ birth was to set up his death. Resurrection
was a bit of an anti-climax. Salvation was all about the death. Without meaning
to deny the centrality of the Cross to our faith, there is more to the story.
Anglicans in particular have long emphasized that Incarnation itself is
salvific. One of our Eucharistic prayers, recounting the story of our
He took on our human nature
that he might live and die as one of us.
This is a point of emphasis in
Anglicanism but seeing Incarnation as salvific in itself is core orthodox Christianity.
The Nicene Creed says,
For us and for our salvation,
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary
and was made human . . . .
St. Athanasius (a key player
in shaping the Nicene Creed) said, “He became what we are so that we might
become what he is.”
Something happens in the
Incarnation. It is not just a necessary step toward the rest of the story. This
is one angle on it. Neuro-science demonstrates that we humans are hard-wired for
empathy. It’s built in through our mimetic neurons. When we watch a needle
plunged into the hand of another person, we wince.
Ah but we are also hardwired
for self-preservation. We sense that are vulnerable and mortal. The theological
word is contingent, meaning not
necessary. The world was here before us. It will be here after us. It can get
along quite well without us, so we are at risk.
Through evolution, we learned
that we can increase our survival chances by teamwork with those who are like
us – family, clan, tribe, race, nation, religion, etc. Any criteria will work
to form a team with which we identify.
Now here’s the scary thing.
When we watch the needle plunged into the hand of one of our teammates, we
wince mightily. But if the needle is plunged into the hand of someone not of
our team, someone beyond the pale of our concern, we do not wince much if at
all. And if we think plunging the needle into the hand of the outsider will
make us and our team safer, we are right ready to do it.
That kind of thinking— when it manifests as thinking at all – is primitive,
regressive, and dangerous. But that kind of feeling
goes with the turf of being human. We’ve all got it to some degree. It
divides us, traps us in groups, sets us against each other, and leads to war,
persecution, and genocide. In short, it may be natural (as in evolutionarily
ingrained) but it is a problem.
Now look what happens in the
Incarnation. Instead of clinging to his divinity, instead of resting secure in
a safe Heaven, God chooses to “take on
our human nature, to live and die as one of us”. God, who is so far beyond
us as to be called by theologians The
Wholly Other, becomes one of us precisely to share our vulnerability. God
who could be beyond the reach of any hardship assumes compassion -- com-passio –
to suffer with – as his chief attribute.
God is the source and destiny
of all things, including our lives. God is the meaning and purpose of all
things, including our lives. God in the Incarnation makes compassion overriding
self-preservation the be all and end all of existence itself, including our
existence. In the Incarnation, God decisively moves the goal posts. God in the ultimate
act of compassion “becomes what we are so that we might become what he is” –
The second problem is that we
celebrate Christmas as if it has now made an end to hardship and all has been
No more let sins or sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
Handel quotes Isaiah about
the lion and the lamb. Mary’s Magnificat says justice has finally arrived. The
angels sing. And Handel announces with exuberant joy:
The Lord God omnipotent reigneth. Hallelujah . . .
And he shall reign forever and ever. Hallelujah.
It sounds like as of that
night in the stable these, 2,100 years ago, all has been hunky dory. But then
there is history. Things got really bad right there in Bethlehem in 66 AD. It
isn’t that great today. We have had plague, holocaust, nuclear immolation of cities,
terrorism, torture, and all manner of horrors. This Christmas falls at a time
fraught with some grim foreboding. I sometimes see the religious celebration of
Christmas as if it means the Kingdom has come and I wonder, what are we
Has Christmas brought peace
on earth or not? Has the Kingdom already come? Can we claim such a thing with a
straight face? This is a tentative thought.
There is a sense in which the
answer is clearly no. Just like our Jewish brothers and sisters, we are still
waiting for the messiah – in our faith, it is to come again in power and great
glory. Jesus taught us to pray “thy Kingdom come” because he knew the Kingdom
was and is still a-coming. The Christmas story is in a sense about something
yet to fully happen. We are living toward Christmas.
But there is also a sense in
which it happened once. Not as a vague theological abstraction, but as real as
a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, God joined us in this life and -- by
joining us in it -- made it different, infused it with hope when there had been
only violence and despair. We believe in our hearts the words of our sacred scripture.
It happened. So, we do remember Christmas at the same time we anticipate it.
But there is another
encounter with Christmas, in some ways the most important one. Jesus told us to
pray “thy Kingdom come” because it is still a-coming. But he also said “the Kingdom
is (present tense) among you.” He told his followers to heal people and perform
acts of mercy and wherever there were acts of mercy to tell people “the Kingdom
has come near to you.” And whenever any kind of evil is vanquished, as it so
often is, it is because “the Kingdom has come upon you.” The Kingdom breaks in
whenever godliness happens, when love flowers, when peace breaks out, when we
dare to let our God-given compassion set us free from the constraints of our
fear-based self-preservation spasms. And that is Christmas. Christmas happens –
not just for a 12-day season but not all year round either – it happens at the strangest
times in the strangest places, like an unkempt stable.
I wish you all Christmas. No
need to qualify it. Christmas to whatever extent it is Christmas is already the
most pyrotechnic of joy.
Grace to you and
peace from God the Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ.
As I commence my 10th
year with you, I am convinced to a moral certainty that the time has come to
restore Trinity Church’s status as our Cathedral. Further, I hope and intend,
in due course, to designate a Pro-Cathedral[i]
in the southern region of our Diocese. I have sought the advice of many along
the way, but this decision is mine to make and I take responsibility for it. I
will address the pros and cons of my decision, but first I want to tell you two
stories – one recent and one old.
The Recent Story. Three years ago,
our youth went to the Episcopal Youth Event (EYE) in Philadelphia. They met
kids from Dioceses all over these United States, and those kids asked our
youth, “Where is your Cathedral?” The young Nevadans had to admit that we don’t
have one. The other kids were confused. They had been to diocesan youth events
at their Cathedrals. A Diocese has a Cathedral as surely as it has a Bishop,
Our kids came back thinking we were somehow “not doing it right.” We were
“missing something.” They are too kind to put it this way, but I felt they were
This summer a
delegation of our youth will travel to Oklahoma for EYE. When others ask them
“where is your Cathedral?” I want our kids to have an answer, a clean simple
answer, without hem-hawing and making excuses. I want them to be able to hold
their heads up.
The Old Story. Despite our land having
originally been part of the Territory of Utah, as a Church we were born
separately. The Rt. Rev. Daniel Tuttle spread the gospel in Utah. But the Rt.
Rev. Ozzie Whittaker was the founding father of Episcopal Christianity in Nevada.
All of us were missionary Dioceses dependent on the largesse of the Eastern
Church, however, so the Eastern Church organized us as they saw fit. Although
our state was already independent, the folks back East merged our Church into the
Diocese of Utah. Nevadans still had a
Bishop, but he was downgraded to a Suffragen (assisting) Bishop to the Bishop
At one point, a
Bishop of Nevada, designated Trinity as our Cathedral in Nevada. To this day, the
cornerstone at Trinity says “Trinity Cathedral.” But the Bishop of Utah said that our lowly Suffragen
could not designate a Cathedral. He said that Nevada is not a real Diocese and
only a real Diocese can have a Cathedral. He said that Nevada’s Cathedral was
in Salt Lake City.
And so, things
remained until we became a free-standing Diocese in 1971. Due to conflicts not
helpful to recall, the Diocese did not designate a Cathedral then, and we have had
various bobbing-and-weaving reasons for not doing so for 46 years. The lack of a
Cathedral to this day represents a certain subservience and perhaps a feeling
of immaturity. It is as if we still feel we have not yet become “a real Diocese.”
But I believe that we
are a real Diocese and that the time has come to claim our status. States have
capitals and Dioceses have cathedrals. If we are going to be a Diocese, let’s
act like one. 46 years is long enough to wait. I grant the choice to establish
a Cathedral raises questions including possible objections. I will discuss them
Size and Organizational Maturity of the Diocese. A couple
of small former missionary Dioceses have not yet matured to the point of having
a Cathedral. In the 1970s and 80s, that may have been true of us. But today,
our Diocese has come of age. We stand out as one of the few growing Dioceses in
the Episcopal Church. We are widely respected as leaders in Latino Ministries,
effective social justice advocacy, broad-based community organizing, and cyber-evangelism.
We are developing contemplative spirituality. In every respect, we look like a Diocese,
we walk like a Diocese, and we quack like a Diocese. In the Year of Our Lord 2016,
Nevada is a Diocese.
Low Church Theology. A couple of historic Dioceses do not have a
Cathedral. Their resistance to a Cathedral is a Low Church Anti-Catholic
objection to anything that smacks of the Pre-Reformation Christian Tradition.
That has never been our theology in the Diocese of Nevada. We have never had a
Bishop or a significant number of clergy of that stripe. That simply is not an
expression of who we are. We value and live into the Episcopal tradition and
its ancient roots.
Geographic Barriers. True enough, our Diocese
is geographically vast with urban centers at opposite ends of the state. But in
this we are not unique. Other Dioceses have faced that challenge and resolved
it in this way: Put a Cathedral in one urban center and a Pro-Cathedral in the
other. That way you have two centers for Diocesan events. John and Antoinette
Lilly wrote a delightful pop psych book in the 70’s called Dyadic Cyclone. A dyadic cyclone is meteorological metaphor,
referring to a cyclone with two eyes.[iii] The book was about the synergy in a
marriage of two creative people. It can be the same in a Diocese with two
centers acting collaboratively. They do not compete. Instead they partner for
the common mission. While we need to set up our Cathedral first before establishing
the Pro-Cathedral, that dyadic cyclone is what we are working toward.
Envy. If we make one church our
Cathedral, will other churches be jealous? This concern assumes that our
congregations are proud, jealous, competitive, and somewhat hostile to each
other. It assumes that what is true of congregations in general is especially
true between the North and the South, which are natural enemies.
I flatly reject that
dark view of our Church. I don’t care how long we’ve been saying it or how
commonly held that assumption is. It just isn’t true today. There was some jealousy
and competiveness nine years ago, but that’s over and done with. I can think of
only a couple of people who have expressed such sentiments in the past six or
seven years. Nevada Episcopalians today care for and support one another. They
positively like one another. They are focused on God’s mission in Nevada, not on
parish pride or regional status.
The reasons for
political competition between North and South are diminishing in secular life,
and they have never, ever had anything to do with the Church. To the extent we
have in bygone years bought into those divisions, we have been “conformed to
letting secular – frankly sinful – attitudes shape us instead of being agents
of transformation, healing, and reconciliation. We Nevadans have our quirks,
but this assumption that we are petulant and childish is an insult to our
characters. We are better than that. Envy is one of the seven deadly sins. We
cannot allow our progress as a diocese to be constrained by a deadly sin.
Moreover, the idea
that being a Cathedral is an honor that one church lords over another is a
fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to be a Cathedral. I will explain
below more about what a Cathedral actually is and does, but the point here is
that being our Cathedral does not signal
most-favored parish status. Instead, it is taking on a mission of service to
other congregations. It is a humble ministry, not an accolade. It does not give
that church more power. On the contrary, it entails surrendering some of its own
autonomy in exchange for the privilege of serving the rest of us. A Cathedral
is a gathering place, a unifying presence. A Cathedral is for us --- not over us.
Cathedrals Are a Thorn in The Bishop’s Side. Several
fellow bishops have cautioned me against taking on the aggravation of a
Cathedral because they say that Deans are apt to play Brutus to the Bishop’s
Caesar. I hear that and know there may be troubles in the future. But as Zorba
the Greek said, “Trouble? Life is trouble. Only in death is there no trouble.”
We can handle it.
First, we don’t need
Bishops who play Caesar, and without a Caesar, there is little point to playing
Brutus. I have served with two rectors of Trinity and am happy to call both my
Moreover, in my
research, I have found that some Dioceses have structured their relationship
with their Cathedrals in haphazard ways that invite conflict. I am not saying that
my lawyer background means I can insure no future conflict, but I may be a bit
less naïve in setting up the structure. That will help. But the main thing is the
advice given by the Cathedral Dean in Northern California: You have to choose
Bishops and Deans who play well with others. I have faith in Nevada. We can do
What Is a Cathedral? A Cathedral is not
administrative. It is not necessarily the Bishop’s office. We will keep our
offices in Las Vegas. It is instead a center of common worship, formation, and
fellowship, where a Diocese gathers for a common purpose. My sister Bishop,
Audrey Scanlan, refers to her Cathedral as “the mother-ship.”
A Cathedral has a parish mission. A Cathedral is also a
parish and has the same sort of ministry as any parish --the Dean functioning
like a rector and the Vestry oversee that ministry.[v]
But a Cathedral covenants to take on additional missions:
A Cathedral has a special mission to its city and region. Cathedrals
are cultural, civic, and spiritual centers where all sorts of people of various
faiths and no faith gather. They gather for enrichment events including art,
music, poetry, drama, and presentations by visiting teachers. Designating
Trinity as our Cathedral will help them take on this role. That is a good thing
in itself. It is a ministry in itself. But by performing this role, we show a
broader minded, more enlightened form of Christianity to Nevada than Nevada
commonly assumes. This is not a “you come join us” kind of evangelism. It isn’t
proselytizing. But it is an evangelism that shows a more appealing version of
the gospel to our largely unchurched populace. It is bound to open their minds
Cathedral invites people of widely different viewpoints to gather, perhaps to
discuss and understand each other’s ways, but more importantly to form personal
relationships that transcend ideological differences. Thanks to the leadership
of the Rev. Jim Jeffery, Trinity has been a leader in interfaith dialogue for
decades. To become this kind of safe place for difference is an extension of a
long-standing mission there. Now, when our nation is more intensely divided
than it has been in recent memory, this distinctive ministry of a Cathedral is
Third, a Cathedral
has a special mission to the Diocese.
Cathedrals are resource congregations who can help smaller congregations in any
number of ways. Already, when the foundation at the old St. Stephen’s property
cracks, I call an engineer from Trinity to check it out. When we need fund
raising expertise for the Western Missionary Museum where St. Paul’s, Virginia
City worships, fundraisers from Trinity do the work. All our churches have
resources we can share with one another. A Cathedral has particular resources
it shares, setting an example to all congregations. The 2014 Connecticut Task
Force On Cathedral Ministry states, “Cathedrals do not exist for
themselves. They exist for the benefit of the entire church within a diocesan .
. . as it seeks to follow Christ Jesus.”
Every member of the Diocese
is a member of the Cathedral insofar as it is the common ground of the Diocese.
Each of us has a piece of this new pie.
One of the resources a
Cathedral shares is space. It must be a space that can accommodate major
diocesan events – choir festivals, acolyte festivals, congregational
development conferences, etc. It is a place where diocesan worship services can
be held. There is a distinctive liturgical style called “Cathedral Worship.” It
is not the gold standard that other churches should imitate. It is not better.
Each congregation has and should have its own worship style. But Cathedral
worship is distinctive. A Cathedral makes this kind of worship available to all
the other congregations so they can experience it from time to time. The
liturgical style of a Cathedral is designed to express its distinctive
To off-set the
jealousy factor, one Diocese designated a Cathedral that was not one of its
largest, oldest, or strongest. That Cathedral ran out of money and had to be
closed. The Diocese now sorely misses having a Cathedral. It is not an easy
task to be Cathedral, and it is a task a church takes on for the good of other
Cathedrals help us connect with the wider Church. One way
the Diocese is knitted into the network of Dioceses that constitute The
Episcopal Church is that the Bishops meet. Another way is that our Cathedral
Deans meet. Those meetings are happening each year – without Nevada. Designating a Cathedral will enable us to show up. The
Dean in turn has a pastoral connection to all our congregations, an obligation
to learn who they are so the Cathedral can serve them well. That makes the Dean
another line of connection from the parishes to the wider Church.[vi]
I have offered the
briefest summary of Cathedral ministry. The Diocese of Connecticut listed
multiple purposes to that distinctive ministry including the following:
Embody and enhance our common identity as Anglicans
within a particular geographic region
Preserve a house of prayer and devotion open to all
Maintain excellence in the quality of worship
Assist the bishops in their role as the public face
and voice of the Episcopal Church
Provide sanctuary and serve as a meeting ground
Engage with other faiths, religions, and wisdom
Embody and extend the bishops’ apostolic call to
make Christ Jesus known and manifest in the world
Collaborate as a center for theological learning
and spiritual growth
will be new to us. It may take us awhile to grow into it. Since we’ve never had
it, we haven’t missed it, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t needed it or that we
will not be richly blessed by it.
The Vestry and
members of the congregation will continue to have the day-to-day responsibility
for its parish life, but our Cathedral’s Diocesan mission will be overseen by The Chapter, a governing body that will
include the Bishop, the Dean, and representatives from several congregations.
Thus, Trinity is sacrificing some of its autonomy in order to take on a mission
of service to the rest of us. The challenge and the opportunity will be to
build collaborative relationships between Vestry and Chapter as well as between
Bishop and Dean. I know we can do that.
First, Trinity is our
historic Cathedral. The decision of the Bishop of another Diocese to downgrade
our Cathedral is an insult that we should no longer endure. I want to set that
Second, Trinity has
established a healthy constructive relationship with our Diocesan Office in the
past decade. Through their transition processes and our work together on
diocesan projects, we have developed a trusting collaborative relationship.
Third, the fact that
the diocesan offices are and will remain in the South creates a certain balance
if we have a diocesan center in the North.
Fourth, Trinity is already
engaged in Cathedral-like service to the broader community and Diocese. Designating
Trinity as our Cathedral will help us expand those ministries, and that
expansion will help congregations throughout Nevada.
Fifth, Trinity is
functioning very well and flourishing these days, modeling excellent
stewardship, formation, and other programs, so it makes for a healthy energetic
center for a healthy energetic Diocese.
Sixth, Trinity is
close to Camp Galilee, which makes for easier collaboration between those two
very important and very different diocesan ministries.
Again, I have every
hope and intention that we can move in due course to establish a Pro-Cathedral
in the South. But getting a Cathedral up and running is a big job. We need to take
this one step at a time.
I have made two
drives specifically to work on this project of designating a cathedral – one
from Las Vegas to Reno, the other from Reno to Sacramento. I don’t know what
this means, but for whatever God might be saying, there were bold double
rainbows in the sky both times. If that means anything, it means something
good. And Trinity is located, after all, on Rainbow Street.
I expect some of you
will want to share your thoughts on this development. I will be happy to hear
them. But I want you to know that no one at Trinity approached me about
becoming the Cathedral. It is my idea. It is my idea because I have gotten to
know the Diocese of Nevada pretty well in the past 9 years, and I am convinced of
two things: 1. We have grown up and are ready to do this. 2. We need to take
this step to further our growth into a coherent, missional, world-changing
force in Nevada. Because we are doing this now, we will grow faster, deeper,
and stronger into a coherent, missional, world-changing force for the gospel in
a place that is spiritually dying of thirst for Christ. There can be no greater
mission for us all to share. For the sake of that mission, it is with warm
affection, we give the Diocese of Nevada a Cathedral for Christmas, 2016.
[i] A Pro-Cathedral serves the same function as a
Cathedral but is in another part of the Diocese in order to make diocesan
events more available in all areas.
[ii] There are rare exceptions we will discuss later,
but the common assumption the youth had was that a Diocese has a Cathedral.
[iii] I am reliably informed by an Episcopal Nevada
meteorologist that this is called the Fujiwara Effect. It happens when two
separate cyclones come together and swirl around each other. That is what we
have in mind here – a coming together, not geographically but missionally.
[iv] A conformity Paul warns us
against. Romans 12: 2
[v] Actually, some Cathedrals
historically have not had congregations at all. But these days most do.
[vi] “Just as cathedrals exist
for the benefit of the whole Diocese, cathedral deans serve the entire Diocese.
If a cathedral maintains and supports a worshiping congregation, the Dean of
the Cathedral also functions as the congregation’s de facto rector. While these roles are compatible, they
sometimes exist in tension with one another. For example, a cathedral
congregation’s preferences regarding the use of space may not mesh perfectly
with the cathedral’s overall needs. Likewise, a congregation’s preferences
regarding the liturgy may not admit of the variety that is appropriate for a
cathedral. When such tensions arise, the Dean of the Cathedral must prayerfully
navigate them, seeking win/win solutions whenever possible, and fostering
within the congregation an appreciation for the unique opportunities afforded
it to nurture the cathedral ideal.” – 2014 Connecticut Task Force Report on