Episcopal Cathedrals Adapt to Pandemic

Te Rev. Dana Corsello leads worship in Washington National Cathedral’s St. Joseph Chapel. | Danielle Tomas, Washington National Cathedral

“My first Sunday during shut down was a Facebook live service from my kitchen table.”

By Neva Rae Fox

Recently, TLC asked cathedral deans around the country: what is one major change that has been implemented as a result of the pandemic in the cathedral’s operations — worship, visitors, outreach, ministries or other area – that is not going to be rescinded in the near future, or has become a permanent change?

The Reach of Online Worship

Most agreed online worship is not only staying, but expanding!

The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, dean of Christ Church Cathedral in Hartford, Connecticut, summed up the feelings of many of the deans. “A permanent change is definitely the option of offering virtual worship services even when we return to in-person worship.  This has been a profound eye-opening experience about the need to serve God’s people using the technology available to us.”

The Very Rev. Kristina Maulden, dean of the Cathedral of St. John in Albuquerque, New Mexico, agreed.  “I think the most significant permanent change is our move to online worship services both for Sundays and every day during the week. I heard today from a parishioner that she has never been to church so much!  It’s increased our reach in a substantial way.”

In the Diocese of Western Kanas, the Very Rev. David Hodges of Christ Cathedral in Salina said online has offered new ways to reach out to the community. “We have significantly enhanced our technology and made equipment purchases that have given us the ability to offer quality online worship. In addition to what we do on Sunday, we have also begun broadcasting Noonday Prayer each weekday through our YouTube channel. When we are able to safely resume in-person worship, we plan to continue to make our Sunday and weekday services available online.”

“We immediately began to live-stream our services, which was new to us,” said the Very Rev. Dr. Andrew C. Keyse, who started as dean of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral in Kansas City, Missouri on December 1, 2019. “My first Sunday during shutdown was a Facebook live service from my kitchen table. After that, my staff mobilized quickly, and we have been able to live-stream from the cathedral ever since on both Facebook and YouTube. I felt it was important to live-stream from the cathedral so people would see the sacred space they miss so much. I felt it would add a bit of comfort during this uncertain time.”

The Very Rev. Randolph Hollerith of Washington National Cathedral noted, “A longstanding goal of the cathedral was to provide more spiritual content beyond Sundays and fairly limited attendance at noon Eucharist. Within days of the COVID closures, the Cathedral launched twice-daily prayer services to help people find their bearing in this strange new land, via video. After Easter, that shifted to a daily video service of morning prayer, and the Cathedral will keep doing that for the foreseeable future.”

Hollerith added, “We also launched a weekly online memorial service (on Saturdays), where we pray over the names of people who have died in the pandemic, via cathedral.org/covidmemorial. We post the names on the walls of St. Joseph of Arimathea, and we will continue the services for as long as people keep sending us names.”

Physical Changes

Cathedrals are also undergoing physical changes.

“Another change that we are contemplating, and that many cathedral communities are contemplating, is taking advantage of this time to replace pews with more flexible seating,” the Very Rev. Penny Bridges of the Cathedral of St. Paul in San Diego said. “I’ve been working with the congregation on this idea for years… I don’t know a clergy person who wouldn’t switch from pews to chairs in an instant, given the opportunity.”

The Very Rev. Kate Moorehead, dean of St. John’s Cathedral in Jacksonville, Florida spoke about the flurry of prayer flags, a borrowing from Tibetan religious tradition, at the Cathedral. “Prayer is simply communication with God. Prayer can and should take many forms, embracing all the senses and offering many avenues to approach our maker. We pray through music, silence, the reading of scripture, icons and many more avenues. Prayer flags are a brilliant artistic and visual way of drawing nearer to God with our pain, our joy, and our desires. We paint or write our requests and then hang these flags, so they blow in the breeze creating a kind of continual supplication of beauty and love,” she said.

Affecting the ministries

“The area most affected for us is our engagement with the arts,” Howell said. “Our Cathedral has strong roots within the city of Hartford as a place for art engagement. We transitioned our concerts to virtual experiences, supporting our local and international artists and partners. Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, co-founded the first street choir in the Northeast. … We are in the process of rethinking how we can safely host our street choir members in the Fall.”

Howell also addressed feeding programs: “We continue to serve our brothers and sisters in the margins through our Church Street Eats Program. Meals are distributed outside of our Cathedral House building. Pre-COVID, our feeding program provided community and other services such as clothing and health screening. Unfortunately, we are not able to provide extended services until it is safe to do so. This is one of the most challenging realities of COVID-19 for us as we understand our discipleship and apostleship beyond outreach. Nurturing relationship with our house and food insecure guests is at the core of our calling.”

The Very Rev. Steven L. Thomason of Seattle explained, “Of course, the buildings and campus of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Seattle have been closed for nearly five months now, but the community is very much alive, thriving and open for business…We are supporting a family in sanctuary on our campus, and some 60 souls experiencing homelessness in Tent City, and we are the richer for it. While we refrain from physical contact or exchanging the peace or receiving communion in traditional ways, this wonderful community has found creative ways to remain connected, and many more have found their way into this virtual community during this time.”

Howell concluded with an upbeat observation. “A positive to all this?  We have become even more creative in how we serve God and God’s people in the midst of this global health crisis.”


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