Tuesday, September 19, 2006

A Cathedral model of Church

Our District Minister, the Rev. Dr. Lon Oliver, extended an invitation to me to sit on a panel discussion entitled, "Looking out Your Back Door: Seeing the Mission opportunities Close to Your Church and Home." The focus of the workshop is rather apparent in its title. Three congregations were represented, a small congregation, ours (representing a mid-size congregation) and a large congregation. I was invited to speak first. The model of ministry I used for our outreach was one of a "Cathedral Church."

As a Pastor in a denomination which emphasizes the autonomy of the local congregation, the very term "cathedral" may seem strange and out of place. So let me give you a little background. The word "cathedral" is derived from the Greek noun καθέδρα (cathedra) which translates as "seat" and refers to the presence of the bishop's chair. As the church grew, it was often clergy who were part of communities or "religious orders" who were called to serve as bishops. For many bishops, the church were they served became a monastery or a community of priests and brothers who lived under particular vows. In 8th century Germany, these churches were called "minsters." As German culture influenced the rest of Europe, the term "minster" became a common designation for the churches of bishops and so we see the advent of places like "Westminster" the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the figure-head of the
Anglican Communion.

Over the years in the United States, cathedrals not only continued to serve as the visible seat of ministry of churches with an episcopal (or bishops) system, but they serve as the center of a community's life. Present day cathedrals will often have shelters, food pantries or community kitchens to serve the needs of the poor and homeless. They will sponsor programs that enrich a community's appreciation for music, drama and visual arts. Educational programs both in classical disciplines of history, Bible, spirituality and pragmatic disciplines, such as health and fitness, home economics and finance will be a regular part of "cathedral" life. The cathedral understands its missional call to not only help the beaten and bruised along the side of the road, but the members of a cathedral will take the name of Jesus into the political backrooms and corporate boardrooms. These present day Holy of Holies will be shaped and encouraged by chief priests who have been reminded that their power and wealth brings with it, responsibility. The cathedral we call First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) of Ashland, stands in the midst of this community with a Christ imposed mandate to support the political, financial, business and educational infrastructures of Ashland. This cathedral will support and encourage our fellow Christians who hold positions of influence to call our culture to remember the commandment of Christ, that we love the Lord with all our heart, mind and soul and love our neighbor as ourselves.

My philosophy of outreach ministry, rooted in the love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, is that the best method to combat poverty, hunger, substandard housing and underemployment is to support the institutions which create a thriving economy and consequently, provide hope for our citizenry. Recalling the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), First Christian Church believes that we are called to invest the gifts God has given us for the advancement of our congregations, community, nation and world.

Finally, we can not, as the great Baptist minister, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King reminded us, be "concerned with the souls of men and not concerned with slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them." First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is concerned for the souls as well as the minds, bodies and lives of all God's people, our brothers and sisters, creation itself.

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