Delaware Cathedral closes, reality bites, Virtue gnaws.

It was a long time in the coming. The Cathedral Church of St. John, in Wilmington is closing. The Wilmington News Journal's Gary Soulsman has written a good obit, HERE. For some years I joined regularly with a group called the Pilot Congregation that met there once a month on Saturday mornings for worship and discussion. And, of course, I was there for many events, great and small - ordinations, renewal of vows services, community meetings, and for an electing convention where I was not elected bishop (for which I occasionally give great thanks).  There is no joy in Mudville in all this.

But there is a sense that we did good in having this presence, and hard as it was to do, we did good in facing into the realities. And, as they say, reality bites.

David Virtue however does not bite. He gnaws. He reports on the matter on VirtueonLine.  After more or less reporting the facts he ends up in three short paragraphs linking the end of the Cathedral's life to The Falls Church in Virginia (takes some doing), to Bishop Wright's supposed blessing of a priest in a same sex relationship, and finally to those Cathedrals that have ended up in ACNA.  David is gnawing at the bone, but there is no meat on any of this. 

The people of the Cathedral strove mightily and well and pressed on. There has been long term support for their work by the Diocese. The closing is as it is reported in the Journal. There is no doubt a long series of actions and inactions that contributed to the end of the Cathedral. Almost all of those have nothing to do with the current "troubles", but rather with mission opportunities taken and missed both, and with the burden of a large plant and building that could not be supported.


  1. sad news. I was baptized at St. John's, my parents were married there, my grandfather was a choirboy there.
    But maybe this is a wake-up call: no congregation is too big or too important to fail, and those that are unable to re-invent themselves as the demographics of their neighborhood change, or keep themselves relevant to their community, have a limited lifespan. It seems like the membership thought that the diocese would always be there to bail them out.

  2. Very sad. One thing the on going discussions of reorganization needs to consider is the utility of our State oriented structures. Maybe some diocese need to span multiple political jurisdictions.

    I do wonder if you are the most tolerant progressive Christian on the planet? You continue to read Dr. Virtue and his band of merry haters. Some time you should tell us why.


  3. It seems odd to me how the diocese could not see fit to help keep their cathedral open. If the cathedral has no debt, then there's no good reason why a congregation reported to have about 150 members couldn't keep it going (with minimal diocesan support).

    The use of retired "supply clergy" and strong lay leadership is keeping plenty of small parishes up and running, and there is no reason that a cathedral could not be run in the same manner. Of course, a congregation used to having full-time clergy and staff would likely find it a habit hard to break.

    Of course, I'm sitting here offering opinions about a congregation whose situation I know nothing about. Still, it just seems to me that if the congregation is willing, there could be changes made to allow the ministry there to continue.

  4. Dear David and John,

    With a membership of 120 (not 150) the average attendance would likely be 40-50 on a given Sunday. It's awfully difficult to maintain a building with such a small number of people and their attendant incomes.

    No bishop in the church wants to see a church close, let alone a cathedral. I suspect Bishop Wright and his counselors did all they could under the circumstances.

    I think Mark struck the right note in lamenting the loss of this cathedral and the various actions and inactions at various times along the way.

    Yes, this is a sad day indeed. All of our hearts should grieve.

  5. himmelfahrt4/10/11 8:41 AM

    On the theme of shutting things down:

    Is +Warner's inhibition via PB Title IV powers a warm-up pitch for seeking to shut down +Lawrence?


  6. My husband and I grieve this death. He was a chorister from an early age through adulthood; we met in the choir; we were married at the Cathedral. I was ordained priest there and served the first two years of ordained ministry there. The Cathedral was doing the right thing - turning itself to being a church of the working poor among whom the Cathedral is located. The long time parishioners who remained through those years of change were heroic. God bless them, and the children of the Cathedral and Brandywine Village whom I served, many of whom are now college age. ( ! )

    My commentary on this is: If churches are to reflect the people among whom they are located, many of whom are not middle or upper class and don't have the kind of money that built those churches, then there has to be found a way to support financially those congregations that are at work with God on God's mission of reconciliation, restoration and transformation. The Cathedral Church of Saint John has been one such place. They have over the last 20 years developed some organisms which will relocate and continue the work they have been doing.

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  8. The conservative numbers game is one of the most bizarre in an already bizarre arsenal of "arguments." Somehow, according to Allen's logic, 40-50 ASA isn't viable but if we boot all teh gayz and cut that in, say, half we'd be booming? Whatever one thinks of full inclusion, it would by definition be hard to argue that it's more limiting than exclusion. After all, the whole point implied by the conservative mantra of a "faithful remnant" is "pure" and "small".

    Sure. Mainline churches are losing members because our membership standards let in too many. And we've always been at war with Eurasia.

  9. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  10. Allen...constant dump-ons lead to dump off.

  11. To Himmelfahrt:

    More later.

  12. David and John: The Diocese has been underwriting the Cathedral for some time now, the dean has been a retired person for some years, and the very valuable ministries of the parish did not find a way to meet changing circumstances. It is indeed a complex situation.

    Canon Neal: Your gracious note was right on target. Thanks.

  13. Jim: You write:

    "I do wonder if you are the most tolerant progressive Christian on the planet? You continue to read Dr. Virtue and his band of merry haters. Some time you should tell us why."

    I sometime read David Virtue's rants out of the same sense of watchfulness as advised by my grand father concerning rattlesnakes in the path. He advised to "make sure you know where you are stepping, sometimes they come out onto the path for the warmth and if you are not watching you get bit." So I read occasionally in order to avoid being bit.

    And, to be fair, Virtue sometimes has information that is useful.

    I don't appreciate some who comment there and in particular did not like this one:

    Someone in Delaware commented on the Delaware cathedral article, "As an Anglican (though not an Episcopalian) and a longtime resident of Delaware, I had to comment. There are some important facts to consider in the case of The Cathedral of St. John, Wilmington.

    One is that the Diocese of Delaware is about as theologically leftist as they come. It is a well-known fact that this diocese often transfers clergy to and from the Dio of Newark and other sympathetic climes. Dio of DE has a well-deserved rep as being one of the most bat guano crazy in the US (right up there with RI and Vermont) with sycophants such as Mark Harris providing their talking points."

    Whoever this is considers me a kiss-ass providing other left-wingers their talking points.


    It's then that I think - if I ever have to read Virtue again it will be too soon.

    Tolerant? Not so much. Acquiring a thick skin, maybe.

  14. Himmelfahrt4/10/11 2:49 PM

    I suspect there will be an inhibition of +SC.

    I also suspect the Diocese of SC will ignore it.

    But we don't have long to wait to find out.


  15. Fr Harris

    I never assumed you were tolerant of David Virtue. You coupled a tragic closing of a Cathedral with a clear rebuttal of his view as 'gnawing.' Like most, I assume you read DV because you want to know what's going on more broadly, not because you tolerate his views. You loathe his views. He gnaws.

    Robert in Ohio

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  17. Allen's comment about cultural accommodation reminded me of a comment that Bp Doug Theuner made at a General Convention hearing. Responding to the cultural accommodation charge about same sex unions, he said that the person making the accusation didn't know New Hampshire at all or its most widely read paper the Union Leader. I am not so optimistic as to think that marriage equality and other rights issue for LGBT Americans are so widely accepted as to be seen as part of the dominant culture. Although I think such accusations are not at all helpful, one might well make a charge of cultural accommodation against those who oppose marriage equality.

  18. My question, Fr Weir, is, What if it is true that Gay lifestyle is culturally accommodated in the West, indeed is a dominant in-culturalisation?

    "Ellen Degeneres for President. Everyone loves Ellen." High ratings. Public approval.

    Is your point that the Gospel is a genuine force when it is culturally vis-a-vis, and so worry if the Gay movement is now au fait, the Church's acceptance of it--as you hold is proper--is just accommodation to culture?

    I see very little evidence in the West for anti-Gay rights. There is very little in the way of active, legally approved, discrimination of Same-Sex. Look at repeal of DADT. Indeed, almost none. One can be Gay and have Gay sex and be legally protected.

    This is fully mainstream.

    In my view the 'over-against-culture' stance of the Gospel could never be 'pro-Gay.' The culture is already there.

    Or are you saying all this is meaningless until we have something called marriage equality? That sounds odd. A total, legal dismantling of anti-sodomy laws; full TV-culture acceptance of and celebration of Gay life; in short, cultural acceptance.

    But the church -- TEC -- is still a bastion of homophobia and must defeat cultural taboos? What taboos?

  19. Priscilla Cardinale4/10/11 5:16 PM

    What Allen and his compatriots never point out is that although there has been a rightwing, ultra-orthodox alternative available for several years now the massive numbers of Episcopalians leaving TEC for the more conservative alternative has never come to fruition. Why? There is a wide network of the Nigerian Anglican church available. Where are the droves and droves of people you claimed would follow you? And why are the most conservative, rightwing, ultra-orthodox denominations spiraling downward as well?

    The Southern Baptists Convention is in deep damage control and worrying about declining numbers despite their institutionalized hatred and bigotry and being in bed with the Tea Party and the Republican party. The feel-good mega churches are the only ones with impressive numbers. But the numbers game only seems to apply to shoving the shiv deeper into the hated “liberals” but never applies to the “orthodox”. Hmm. That’s just like Republican politics, isn’t it? Fact is that only about 1/3 of Americans identify with your brand no matter how many times you tell the lie that you are the vast silent majority of Nixon fame.

  20. I believe the dioceses of SC, CFL, Dallas and TN are actually doing pretty well.

    Measure them against other dioceses in TEC. Measure them against other denominations.

    Not sure what your point is.

    We don't have across-the-board decline.

    Allow for some distinctions.

  21. A couple of responses to Robert's comment.

    I see s great deal of anti-gay activity in the US, some of it in politics and some in other arenas. The almost total silence from the candidates when the audience booed a gay service member at recent GOP debate is a good example of anti-gay activity in the US.

    The relative prosperity of southern TEC dioceses may be, at least in some measure, the result of population booms in the South and Southwest. It also may be due to accommodation to an anti-gay culture.

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  23. Weir--have you been to DFW or Austin? FW is one of the most liberal school districts in the country. Recently in the national news for that.

    Orlando (in CFL) -- big Gay population. Big popular Gay city.

    You must not keep up with demographics. Southern urban centers are no less 'liberal' than dying economic counterparts in placing like where you live. Liberals aren't stupid. They go where jobs are. Atlanta, Austin, Fort Worth, Charlotte, Columbia SC, Orlando.

    Big Gay populations in every one of these places. Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte at the top of lists.

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  26. Priscilla Cardinale4/10/11 7:47 PM

    Robert, that’s rich and so typical of conservative/ultra-orthodox victim claiming. It’s OK for you guys to come to Mark’s blog and gloat and pontificate about the cathedral closing because of TEC’s supposed heresy but question the sainted ACNA’s numbers? Condemnation and indignity.

    That you have so little compassion for the obvious pain Mark and others here feel over the loss of their cathedral speaks volumes about the condition of your own souls. But you’ll brook no questioning of your own churches. Hypocrisy I say.

    That a cathedral that started in a prosperous area of a city is now closing because it is now an area of poverty and decline has no connection to TEC’s “innovations” as Mark explained. But you’ll have none of that truth or factual stuff get in the way of your Christian taunting, will you?

    Despite your wishful thinking and imprecatory prayers TEC has not died nor is it in its death throes. It is merely experiencing change and growth, that anathema of all conservatives who wish to freeze in time their own prejudices, misunderstandings, and hatreds and call them orthodoxy.

    You flock here like vultures with no crumb of Christian charity, kindness, or love and expect to be met with what? The fantasy of us crazed liberals bowing down our heads in shameful acknowledgement of your superior position will never happen this side of heaven.

    God forgive you. I can’t.

    And may God bless the people of Delaware as they embark on a new journey with God and may they find comfort in their happy memories.

  27. Priscilla

    I hear you on the difficulty of forgiveness. I share that.

    Our Lord said to Peter, 70 times seven.

    I forgive you. I pray that the Lord himself will reconcile all in his Gospel.

    I do not begrudge you your unforgiveness nor your intransigent conviction that you alone are right.

    That is where we are.

    We have a major impasse in the world of Christian witness. The Lord himself will have to take a strong hand.

    Come quickly Lord Jesus.

  28. Thank you for the truth, Priscilla.

  29. Mark+ and Neal+: Please do not misunderstand me. It is indeed a sad thing for a church to close. I would say that I am one of the few commenting here that has actually been through such an action, so as one who has first-hand experience I have to say it is above and beyond sad, it is tragic. And for the benefit of the conservatives lurking here who laugh and celebrate an Episcopal congregation's closure, it was not a TEC parish closing that I was part of.

    Unless we are willing to explore new ways of operating inner city churches (saddled with aging, over-sized physical plants), then St. John's Cathedral is just the tip of the closure iceberg. It is most certainly "awfully difficult" to operate a building such as St. Johns with a congregation of their size, but it is not impossible. Indeed, it is happening successfully even as we speak.

    I look at it this way: If the closure of this cathedral can offer us a teaching moment, and we can learn lessons from the events leading up to the St. Johns closure (such as what could have been done differently over the years and what mistakes were made in recent years), then this church did not die in vain. Unless we can learn from this, we are doomed to repeat it with increasing frequency.

    In the end, I have to say that my heart goes out to the members and friends of St. John's Cathedral as they face the dark days ahead. While most of them will find another parish to continue their ministry in, the loss of this church will always linger. It is indeed a tragedy.

  30. I find it amazing how "may be due" in my post becomes "must be due" in responses. And how my first possible cause, population growth, is ignored.

    BTW, I am convinced that the anti-gay agenda of many in America's religious communities (including TEC?) is not the Good News of Jesus the Christ. We are not arguing about whether TEC should follow Jesus or a secular agenda but about what it means to follow Jesus in this place and time.

  31. Allen is off the air. If he wants to direct us to his own blog, fine, but this one is not his for the taking. He has from the beginning had nothing good to say AT ALL about anything having to do with The Episcopal Church. That's fine, but he is a past expert at taking the line of comments away for whatever the topic is and turning the commentary into his rant against TEC and pushing everyone's buttons making the whole line of comments a travesty.

    I don't screen comments before they are written and so if Allen wants he can get something on, under Allen or any other name he wishes, but when I do check in I intend to bounce him off. Which is too bsd because sometimes he actually has something useful to say. it is just that most of the time he is trolling for easy catch.

  32. Robert's sanctimonious character is surely some sort of parody?!

    If not, he must not realize that demographics of population is not the same as demographics of attitude. Perhaps he's a Holocaust denier - after all, there were so many Jews in Germany, and the Weimar Republic had been so tolerant, it is obvious that there was no anti-semitic feeling, right?

  33. Himmelfahrt5/10/11 8:05 AM

    Yes, here comes the +SC inhibition effort.

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  35. Allan

    Just read Exodus 5--15 and see what is meant by hardened hearts.

    You'll get nowhere in here. I know you know that. It is an echo chamber.

    Now see the great work coming down in SC.


  36. Brunson. Get a life. Your comments are truly insipid. Holocaust denying? And how, pray tell, is this not against the blog comment policy?


  37. I should point out to our regular angry squeakers who diss us all with such relish that Father Harris is giving you a free ride here.

    We would certainly not receive the same welcome over at the right wing sites like Virtue Online and TitusOneNine where only registered members may comment.

    So stop being surprised when some of us turn around and pick it up and throw it right back at you. And your whining about being victimized and singled out rings really hollow (I'm old enough to remember when right wing pundits complained about a "culture of victimization" instead of carrying on about feeling victimized).

  38. Himmelfahrt5/10/11 3:10 PM

    What are you taking about?

    Comment away at T19. You don't have to do much of anything to reply. Lots of progressives do it.

    I'd be curious of your defense of Title IV actions against +SC.

    What a mess! Let's say a ecclesiastical removal of clergy takes place. Then what? The Diocese is not going anywhere. What is the point of this action?

    Foolishness. Costly foolishness. A scandal to the Gospel.


  39. Ascension in German,

    Take a look at this:


    Did you have to do any registering to comment on this site? All I had to do was copy some nonsense word into a verification.

    Talking to you guys is like talking to politicians. Whatever question gets asked never gets anything like a direct answer, only more talking points.

    In the words of one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies:

    "Beneath that pose, there's just more pose."

  40. Himmelfahrt5/10/11 3:50 PM

    Pharisaical nonsense and hairsplittig.

    Just put down any fake name you want and blast away. What does it take, 3 seconds to sign in?

    Harris exercises his own firm hand in deleting comments, just as does T19.

    Grasping at straws.

  41. "Pharisaical nonsense and hairsplittig.

    Just put down any fake name you want and blast away. What does it take, 3 seconds to sign in?

    Harris exercises his own firm hand in deleting comments, just as does T19.

    Grasping at straws."

    Quod Est Demonstratum

  42. And you are the full demonstration yourself, Mr 'counter to the light'.

    Full confirmation.


  43. To Himmelfahrt:

    More later.


    More later when?

    Today says: +SC under exactly this scenario.

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  45. Robert

    I think we are seeing one of our multiple-personality posters, here. A rather neurotic individual who takes the contrary view because arguing gives them a sense of power, and, when losing the argument, invents several other personalities to chime in in agreement. Best to ignore it, lest you feed it, and that would be un-Christian.

  46. Thank God Fr Harris allows the use of simple first names.

    When you have Title IV powers that can be used in such an extreme way ('disturbing the good order of the church') clergy would be very wise to avoid making comments and give indication of their names.

    Here the +Mark Lawrence case is public, fair warning.



OK... Comments, gripes, etc welcomed, but with some cautions and one rule:
Cautions: Calling people fools, idiots, etc, will be reason to bounce your comment. Keeping in mind that in the struggles it is difficult enough to try to respect opponents, we should at least try.