Sunday, February 27, 2005


I visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco this weekend. I had mixed feelings. On the one hand, it's an exceptionally beautiful church. On the other hand, the whole thing being made of concrete has a rather disconcerting effect. On the third hand, during worship on Sunday I developed a new-found appreciation for cruciform worship spaces, especially of such grand scale.

One thing that I had to work through is Grace's pride in being "a house of prayer for all people". I love inclusiveness in Christian worship, but the "interfaith" chapel with symbols from non-Christian religions and the references to welcoming people of other faiths everywhere from the instructions on using the prayer labyrinth to the text of the liturgy was something I needed to think about. (From the eucharistic liturgy: "We break this bread for those who journey the way of the Hindus, for those who follow the path of the Buddha, for our sisters and brothers of Islam, for the Jewish people from whom we come, and for all those who walk the way of faith.")

I've visited Hindu and Buddhist worship spaces, and I don't recall ever seeing any signs welcoming Christians. But after some reflection, I think maybe wherever Hinduism or Buddhism or Islam or whatever are the dominant religion in a pluralistic society, they should make a point of welcoming people of other faiths. They should go above and beyond to release their grasp on God. And so perhaps it is meet for Christians in America to take this step of faith.

Grace Cathedral makes no pretensions of being anything other than Christian. But being followers of Christ, they do not count God as something to be controlled.

In this week's reading from Exodus, the Israelites ask, "Is the Lord among us or not?" How would we know?


Badger539 said...

I'm a liberal episcopalian, and I can't quite wonder based only on your comments, if they aren't overdoing it a little bit.

Did you walk the labyrinth?

mindflame said...

I would find it very disconcerting to find pagan symbols sin a Christian Church. The Lord God is totally unwilling to compromise or share his position; other religions must have no place in Christian Churches. While worshipers may associate with and love people of other faiths we can not let our selves be persuaded by their error. Even though I believe this church likely meant well, statements like you quoted are courting idolatry.

Badger539 said...

Grace Cathedral is concrete? I would have thought it was stone, probably indiana limestone.

I do not think it is necessary for liberal churches to extend gestures towards other religions (such as modifications in the liturgy) in order to show "inclusiveness". to offer the eucharist not only in our name (we who believe) but others (those who might not subscribe to our creed) strikes me as, well, presumptuous.

Andy said...

I will admit that they may be going a bit farther than they need to, but I think perhaps it's better to err on the side of charity. The "interfaith chapel" is at the back of the cathedral and clearly delineated from the rest of the church. I don't know if I mentioned this, but it's a chapel dedicated to prayer for HIV/AIDS victims -- certainly a place where sensitivity and inclusiveness are called for.

The line in the liturgy made me a little more unconfortable, but in the Gospel of John, Christ says that he gives his flesh for the life of the world, not just for the life of the Church. I think it's a question of what we think is proclaimed by the eucharist -- is it a meal celebrating the salvation of elect insiders or is it the feast of God's universal victory in the world?

And, yes, the building is definitely concrete.

FAY...GAY...and ON-THE-WAY said...

In searching for some liturgical resources in Spanish for World AIDS Day--I can speak it if someone else writes it for me), I ran across your blog about Grace Cathedral. (I used to be an Episco from the Diocese of CA and I lived in San Francisco; Grace was home for a while, too.)

My understanding from a Jungian therapist is that Grace, albeit concrete (remember SF is earthquake country so all sorts of stuff has to be considered when a building is constructed), is the last cathedral built in the US by sacred architecture. No one at Grace has ever told me this but it certainly FEELS good.

Actually I'd forgotten that Grace bids ALL welcome at the Table. I guess I've been doing it for so long myself and Grace was hardly first to do this in the Diocese of California. And I'm glad they are, particularly in this day and time when Christianity is getting really really scary.

So many churches in Europe are covered in "pagan" symbols. As are many here. And everywhere. All these piously tedious so-called Christians praying for the Graces of the world to go to hell need to remember just where all these so-called "new" Christian symbols originated. It's all syncretism, folks. One culture and one faith borrows and builds on top of others and over and over. It's really scary, though, to read that an Episco raises an eyebrow at such. I am explicit and intentional to say at all gatherings, all teachings, all anything that we are saying this stuff using Christian language. We do not say that "Jesus" or "Christ" (not Jesus' last name, by the way) is THE one and only true way to the Divine; as Christians we say that. We are not speaking for all of humankind.

I know, I'm totally intolerant of intolerance and that smug stuff of "Mah pursunul Lord an Saviur." My intolerance is not my best point I admit. But the older I get the more weary I grow of this horseshit.

The artwork/altarpiece in that AIDS chapel is by Keith Haring. Do the panels of the AIDS quilt still hang there?

Peace and thank you for this memory

The Rev'd. oonagh Ryan-King
The Inclusive Celtic Episcopal Church
Our Lady of the Rainbow, Panama
St. Brigid, US
Brigid's Mantle, US