Monday, June 15, 2015

The Sunday Sermon: Where All May Find a Home

"O mortal, propound a riddle, and speak an allegory to the house of Israel." So Ezekiel begins the section of his prophecy that culminates in the parable of the tree, a tree set in a high place, a tree grown from the sprig of a proud cedar, a tree that will shelter everyone and stand as a sign and symbol of God's life-giving power and love. The prophet was writing in a particular time and context, when God's people had been dispossessed and driven into exile. The people were in a state of anxiety and instability. They needed a word of hope and reassurance. They needed a vision to carry them through the uncertain times. That's the purpose of prophetic speech: to lift up a vision of an alternative reality, God's reality, to people who have faith that there is something beyond the difficulties of today.

In our own, current context at the Cathedral, we are suffering from some anxiety too. This community has been through a lot of change over the past three years: a complete turnover of clergy, the departure of senior lay staff including soon Canon Chris Harris, and a style of leadership that is evidently quite different from what you have previously experienced. We have been going through a bit of a culture change, both in the staff and in the congregation, as we turn our focus more to the outside community and learn more about what it means to be a Cathedral in the post-christendom context, here in this city, at this time.

And in the midst of all this change and transition, something that was planted like a seed many years ago has sprouted and grown, we know not how, and it is now a sturdy plant demanding our attention. The seed was the cathedral campus redevelopment plan or master plan, a seed harvested from the young tree of the cathedral's original design. A seed that was tended and nourished at the turn of the millennium to renovate and restore this building, a seed that was resown some 12 years ago when the Chapter and the diocesan Standing Committee formed and commissioned a small group of faithful people, to pursue the vision of maximizing our land assets, for the mission of the church and the future stability of the Cathedral. Seeds have a way of doing their own thing, of being quiet in the earth, as the dynamic power within them generates roots and gathers itself for the great bursting forth into the open air, and of suddenly making its presence felt, welcome or unwelcome.

I have a habit of living in houses built on hillsides. My house in Virginia had a deck off the living room that had a two-story drop to the lawn below. Each spring there was a plant that would appear out of the ground without me noticing. All of a sudden there would be this young tree, with leaves the size of umbrellas, peeking over the edge of the deck 10 feet up. The birds would shelter under the leaves and enjoy the bugs that congregated around it. I think it was called an elephant ear plant. Guests would always comment on it.

This past month I have felt a bit like I used to feel around that plant. The cathedral campus redevelopment plan has suddenly sprouted from an unnoticed seedling to this giant tree, demanding our attention and dominating conversation, as the campus redevelopment plan shifts gears and accelerates its pace.

Many of you attended last Sunday's forum, and I apologize for any redundancy now, but even with a packed Guild Room, the forum audience was about one fifth of the worshiping congregation, and this is an opprtunity to share with all of you the latest in the continuing story of our home, the sheltering tree in which we perch and where we welcome others who seek refuge.

A dozen years ago the seed of the cathedral campus redvelopment plan was sown as the Nutmeg and Olive LLC began its work. The LLC has been diligent in exploring options. They have prayerfully considered non-profit partnerships, self-development, commercial development, no development, the longstanding relationship with St Paul's Senior Services, the uniqueness of our location, the constraints of the neighborhood context, the flavor of city government, the real estate market patterns. There have been false starts and one giant disappointment. There has been a satisfying sale of part of our property - the Nutmeg and Fifth Avenue parcel currently under construction.

Meanwhile Chapters, congregants, and Deans have come and gone, but the LLC, deliberately created to be stable and independent of all those changes, has continued its work. All the while, the seed was being carefully tended and the ground prepared for action when the right time, God's time, would arrive.

The right time arrived this spring. The industry experts have told us that the market is booming, people want land in Banker's Hill, we have a good chance of maximizing this precious asset, the northern portion of this city block, with the aims of building new program space for expanded ministries, adding parking spaces, contributing to the city's stock of affordable housing, and putting money in the bank to fund new initiatives and increase our capacity to change lives in San Diego and beyond.

Jesus said, "The Kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come." My friends, the harvest has come. We have had many conversations in the past month about the way this moment seems to have suddenly come upon us. We have many more conversations in store. Chapter has twice discussed the current opportunity and twice delayed blessing the LLC's move to list the property, because we want to take all the time we need as a congregation to get comfortable with what we see coming.

The Vision for Mission plan is emerging, and it includes a whole lot of wonderful, visionary objectives and strategic actions, most of which will cost significant amounts of money. Moving foward with the campus redevelopment plan will generate resources to allow us to do new and expanded ministries, to care more effectively for our needy neighbors, to provide a strong Christian formation program for our children and adults, to offer beautiful worship and performing arts programs, to expand our ministry with our Latino neighbors, to support smaller parishes or even start a new congregation across the city. By any measure we will be better positioned to be agents of God's good news and facilitators of the Kingdom. This is an intoxicating vision, and Chapter is supportive of it.

But Chapter recognizes that all we do, we do as the body of Christ. We move forward together or not at all. This cathedral is a tree that shelters all of us, not just a few. So let's have the conversations. Let's make sure everyone understands the options and has enough accurate information to have complete confidence in the LLC, in Chapter, and in me. Some of us need time to process, to absorb, even to grieve the changes ahead. To that end, after each Sunday morning service for the next four weeks you will find a table in the courtyard staffed by several Chapter and LLc members, who want to hear your questions and concerns. There will be a sheet of answers to Frequently Asked Questions on that table; please take a copy. The cathedral web site will have a page devoted to the campus redevelopment plan, where you can find the FAQs and links to last Sunday's forum and other materials. I hope you will not hesitate to call or email me or any Chapter member with your questions.

There are many uncertainties ahead. We don't know exactly what shape the redevelopment will take, although we can count on it being a high rise construction. We don't know exactly how cathedral life will feel during construction, although we can expect a certain amount of inconvenience and a sense of pulling together through a challenging time. We don't know what kind of deal we will negotiate - whether we will ultimately partner with a market developer or an affordable housing organization, or exactly how that deal will add to the city's affordable housing stock, although we can count on that contribution being significant and providing nesting places for more families than we can support with our current resources. We do know that this plant, that started out as a little seed all those years ago, now has the possibility of maturing and generating the tremendous harvest that has lain dormant within it all along. And that seems to me to reflect, in a small and local way, both Ezekiel's vision of the mighty tree, and Jesus' portrayal of the Kingdom of God. The question remaining before us now is, are we ready to step boldly forward into our future and reap the harvest?

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
June 14 2015

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