Perhaps a New Way of Thinking about Organized Religion
While I’m not much of a religious fellow, one of my favorite things is just to go and sit in churches. I don’t know why, and there’s no sense in trying to “dig too deeply” (perhaps it’s all that church music I sang in choirs over the years!).
In any case, I’m often attracted to handsome church builings and I love to go inside when I can. I liked this one very much. It’s Christ Church Cathedral, a cathedral of the Anglican Church of Canada. It is conveniently located just across the street from our hotel, and with its interesting history, in terms of its connection with Vancouver, we enjoyed our visits and our conversations with the kind people – the volunteer “greeters” – we met who were more than willing to speak with us about the Cathedral.
As for that connection with history, we were amused by one of the stories. In earlier times, this building was “only” a church, with the cathedral located farther out from what was becoming the heart of the city. With the appointment of a new bishop (and probably because of changing demographics in Vancouver), the cathedral was deemed to be too far away. So the new bishop – I gather with some scientific measures to support what he wanted to do – determined that the true “center” of Vancouver was just across Georgia Street, just inside the main entrance to Hotel Vancouver, and directly in front of what was then Christ Church. So the church became the cathedral, and this is what it looks like today.
Today, Christ Church Cathedral is a house of worship which the congregation envisions (that’s their word) as “radically inclusive, restlessly inquisitive, intentional, and inspired.” That’s pretty heavy-going for a church, at least based on the experiences some of us have had in our lives. As for its role in the city, the congregation shapes its mission “in ways as diverse and varied as the individuals who call this place their spiritual home,” and the Cathedral’s purpose is clearly one relating to and encouraging diversity and inclusion. Indeed, in their mission statement, the church’s members include these “core aspects” of the Cathedral’s mission:
- Making our heritage building a place where beauty, reverence, and creativity can flourish, in our worship and through music and the arts
- Developing lay and ordained leadership
- Growing through welcoming new people into the life of the Cathedral
- Embracing LGBTQIA/2S people, their families, and their friends in a positive, safe environment
- Welcoming the uncomfortable and the unknown
- Accepting the duty and responsibility of being the “City’s Church”
However we feel about the role of established religion in society, isn’t there something positive and encouraging about this kind of “mission”?
Yet despite the fine emphasis on diversity and inclusion, one of the greeters who spoke with us noted that that wasn’t always the case. He pointed to a lovely stained-glass window, installed beautifully on one of the building’s side walls. Along with many memorial stained glass alongside it (most of which had been installed in the 1940s and early 1950s, honoring the community’s dead soldiers in World War II), there is nearby this grand depiction of the Crucifixion. “That was originally to be found above the altar,” he said, “but it was deemed to be too ‘high church,’ so it was moved here to a less prominent location.” The current stained-glass window above the altar is also beautiful, but far less dramatic. Sometimes, seeking a way to accommodate both “high church” and “low church” points of view can be a form of diversity, I suppose.