In both our Old Testament and Gospel lessons for today, someone receives a clear and unmistakable summons from God. Samuel is called in the middle of the night by the literal voice of God, and Philip and Nathanael are told directly by Jesus to follow him. I imagine a lot of us think that this whole faith thing would be a whole lot easier if God worked that way more often. Wouldn’t it be nice if God would just give us a clear sign of us presence, or just directly tell us what we’re supposed to do in a given dilemma we face?
While it sounds nice, what usually happens in the Bible after God calls someone reminds us to be careful what we wish for. It’s usually followed by a hard, risky, uncomfortable assignment. God doesn’t ask a single person in the Bible to stay where or how they are. God’s call always puts people on the move, pulls people beyond themselves and their comfort zones.
Over the past several years, the faithful of Trinity Cathedral have been reminded of the fact that with God, the only real constant is change. In just three years, you’ve had one dean retire, with an interim dean you developed a renewed vision for a cathedral that is reaching beyond its walls, opening its doors to the city and diocese we serve, and then the seating of a new dean. Throughout, this cathedral has responded to a fresh call from God with courageous faith and enthusiasm.
This past September, we launched a plan to make that renewed vision a reality, which we have called “Casting Into Deep Waters.” We identified four major areas that we want to focus our energies in the coming years, so I want to report on each of those today.
We said we would focus on nurturing children and youth and supporting their families. Right now, most of the children of this parish are under the age of six. On some Sunday mornings our nursery nearly exceeds capacity. We have been served for many years by Christine Misek, who is paid on a very part time basis, but gives sacrificially of her time out of the love she has for this cathedral and our children. She has done incredible work.
If we are going to continue to build the kind of excellence in children’s ministry that our kids deserve, then we will need to increase the staff time we have committed to it. I am excited to let you know that Bishop Barker hopes to appoint a curate to serve at Trinity Cathedral sometime this summer. The curate will have as part of their focus expanding our programs for children and their families. There’s no guarantee we will find someone, but Bishop Barker, Canon Easton, and I will be working in the coming months to recruit a top flight candidate from one of our seminaries for this position. A curate is funded by the diocese, and is an enormously generous gift. It also says a lot about the trust our bishop and canon have in this congregation to nurture and mentor a new priest in their first position.
We said we would focus on serving those in need. One of the promises I made to both our bishop and all of you during the dean’s search was to begin to open the doors of this cathedral to serve the poor, the outcast, and the needy in our city. The poor were a focus of Jesus’ ministry, and serving them is what Jesus always calls his followers to do. In 2014, in partnership with other Episcopal churches, we began offering a free lunch one Wednesday a month. We have served an average of about 90 people per month at our lunches, and in 2015, we have begun to offer these every week. DEO, or “Downtown Episcopal Outreach” is coordinated by cathedral member Michael Duffy, and is overseen by a steering committee made up of clergy and lay leaders from several different area churches.
With the leadership of cathedral member Teresa Houser, we also launched what we’re calling the “Suitcase Project”, which is a program to provide emergency clothing and other supplies to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. You all have been extraordinarily generous with your contributions of supplies, money, and volunteer time to help get this newest initiative off the ground. We are currently discerning some big plans to expand this ministry in 2015.
Since 2012, a group of cathedral members have offered critical support and assistance to the Yates Community Center, which serves refugees and their families. Members of our cathedral have spent hundreds of hours in 2014 teaching classes, organizing clothing, offering friendship and support to the refugees and the staff. We are well on our way to serving the poor and needy in our community, as Jesus would have us do.
We said we would focus on building excellence in our worship, and continue to be a center for music and the arts in Omaha. Everything we do at Trinity flows from the God we meet week by week in worship in this beautiful place. Our liturgy, which keeps us rooted in the ancient traditions of the Church, is a cornerstone of our identity, and a key piece of how we are formed in faith. In 2015, I hope that one of the ways we can continue to make children front and center here is to start a children’s choir. In order to do that as well as we possibly can, we will also need to expand our staff capacity in this area. Marty Wheeler Burnett is currently our part-time Director of Music, and the faithful service she provides for the cathedral far outpaces what is stipulated in her contract. Our 2015 budget calls for creating a full-time Canon Precentor, who will oversee the musical and liturgical life of the cathedral. One of the Canon Precentor’s first jobs will be to develop a children’s choir, as well as to continue to build partnerships in the community with other groups who are doing important work in the arts and music. Adding the curate and the Canon Precentor will really transform what we have the capacity to achieve.
We said we would focus on making disciples, teaching people how to follow Jesus in their daily life, and helping us all make the connections between the God we worship on Sunday, and the life we have to face on Monday. In 2014, I launched the Trinity Cathedral Basics series, a sequence of four, four-week courses that help to make our traditions and our faith relevant in our daily lives. More than thirty people have participated in the first two courses, and I hope many more of you will commit to one or more of the final two courses. With the additional staff capacity we are striving for this year, I believe I will have more time to focus on this area, and to develop some of the other initiatives we have outlined in our strategic plan.
I would be seriously remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that Deacon Ellen Ross continues to do extraordinary work of helping people know the love of God and the concern of God’s Church in the midst of the challenges and struggles of their daily lives. She’s an invaluable gift to all of us. I would be equally remiss if I didn’t express deep gratitude for the work of Stacy Gustin, who does truly heroic work overseeing our property, finances, coordinating events, and doing about a million other things. Maurice Thompson continues to be a blessing to this community, caring for our facilities and helping to keep things running smoothly. Our current staff is operating well beyond our capacity, and one of the reasons now is the time to increase our paid staff is that we can’t keep doing more with less.
Following the call of God never comes without challenge, and our call is no different. For many years now, we have operated with some deficit in our budget. The 2015 deficit is the lowest we’ve had in several years. That’s due to an increase in our annual giving, as well as some good work by the finance committee, our outgoing treasurer Neal Haskell, and our new treasurer, Jeff Chapman. Still, I am committed to bringing us back to a place where our budget is balanced, and our financial projections are more sustainable over the long term. In order for us to live into the vision we believe God has called us to, we will need every single member of this cathedral to make some financial commitment in the coming years.
Many of you have remarked that there is a hopeful spirit and a palpable new energy in our life together. I really think that’s true. From where I sit, the spirit of this cathedral remains as strong as ever.
When God calls us to step out in faith, it cuts against almost everything in our nature. When faced with challenge, our first thought is often to simply hold on for dear life to what we have. The God we worship, and the gospel we proclaim, calls us to just the opposite. God never asks us to stay how we are or where we are. The people who heard God’s call in the Bible were asked to step out of what was comfortable, the people who founded this city and this cathedral left a comfortable life in the east for the uncertainty and constant challenge of life on the prairie, in a strange and beautiful place called Nebraska. Over and over again, God’s people have found that when we give our lives to God, when we risk what we have for what God is calling us to be, God is faithful, God provides, God’s abundance drives out our fear of scarcity, God’s light scatters darkness, God’s life overcomes death. I’m so blessed and grateful to be walking the way of God’s faithfulness with each of you.