The Cathedral Steps Up
By The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III
Dear friends and colleagues,
The past weeks have been a whirlwind of dismaying uncertainty, as across this great city our ingrained patterns of daily life were upended and summarily curtailed. Many of us are confused by the changes, and many of us are scared. My prayers are continually with the people of New York in this deeply trying period. But my thoughts are also lifted by the knowledge that our institutions and our communities are stronger than this pandemic. There has been another whirlwind of activity taking place: the rush of individuals and organizations stepping up to help their neighbors, to uplift the spirits of those who are most grievously impacted by the coronavirus. To all those who are struggling and to all those who are fearful of what the future will bring, I pray that the strong legacy of this city and this Church will help provide some comfort and guidance.
The history of the Cathedral is interwoven with the need for emerging institutions to step up and serve the people of this city. In 1754, Kings College was established at Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan, then a Church of England parish. Trinity Church is now a parish of The Episcopal Church. The Church stepped up to meet the need for an educated leadership for a growing Colony, soon to be a nation. Alexander Hamilton, a key figure in the formation of the United States, among other national leaders, studied there. Kings College grew into what is today Columbia University. The Church stepped up to meet educational needs. Today, the Cathedral of St. John Divine continues that tradition through The Cathedral School and Advancing the Community of Tomorrow (ACT). The Episcopal Church stepped up.
In 1855, in order to meet the growing need for health care in an expanding city, the Episcopal Diocese of New York stepped up and established St. Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights. Today, we know that hospital as Mount Sinai Morningside. Now, amid the coronavirus pandemic and an overwhelmed health care system, the Cathedral has offered the use of its grounds and the Cathedral building itself to help serve our neighbors’ most pressing needs. The Church stepped up to meet health care needs in the City of New York in the past, and we pledge to continue to step up in the present crisis.
In 1872, the Rt. Rev. Horatio Potter, Bishop of New York, called the Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of New York to establish a Cathedral for the Diocese in order to meet the spiritual needs of all people. From that vision arose the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine. The Church stepped up to meet the spiritual needs of the citizens of Manhattan and beyond. The specific needs may have changed with this passage of time, but today, the Cathedral continues to step up to serve the people of New York through worship, pastoral care, education, and the arts.
The Cathedral was one of the first American churches to recognize and minister to those suffering from HIV and AIDS. We stood by our community as we weathered the AIDS crisis, a toll that took so many of our beloved friends and family members. During this current coronavirus pandemic, at a time when we see so many people suffering dire financial crises due to lack of a paycheck, the Cathedral and the Congregation of St. Saviour are striving to find the most effective ways to continue to meet the spiritual and material needs of a frightened and anxious population. Addressing your needs is our first priority. In this crisis, the primary mission of the Cathedral and its clergy, staff, and lay leadership must be mobilized to directly serve in new, bold, and uncharted ways in order to alleviate the suffering of the citizens of New York, epicenter of this unique pandemic. The Church stepped up in past crises. Now it is our turn in our own time to step up to the unique and encompassing challenges that we’re facing in every facet of our life.
And the Church will continue to step up. One day, this crisis will pass, as all crises do. Even during these fragmented days, work continues on new initiatives and plans for the people we are called to serve. Our focus now is on fulfilling the most pressing needs of our community, be that feeding the hungry, caring for and educating the young, and caring for the elderly and sick. We look forward to sharing with you the resumption of daily worship services, the joy of glorious music programs and concerts, the wonder of forthcoming art installations, and many more initiatives in the coming months ahead.
We are now in the penitential season of Lent, a season which often calls to mind the people of Israel’s 40 years in the desert and Jesus’ 40 days alone in the wilderness. Yet even in the midst of our modern desert of this pandemic, we must not forget to appreciate the abundance of God’s never-failing and oceanic depths of love for this suffering creation and for our fellow creatures and ourselves. Surely when this Lenten season of the coronavirus is past, the joy of Easter and new life will emerge. Easter is always present when we serve others and minister to the needs of the city and world. In the Easter season ahead, the Church will continue to step up in service to and care for others. Forgetting self, and bathed in the divine love of the risen Christ, we will continue to step up.
This Cathedral and Diocese have stepped up in the past. We will continue to step up in this current crisis. And we will continue to step up in the times ahead. It is time for us now to step up in the present, with all its demands, complexities, difficulties and risks, and to serve God through service and love of our neighbors.
The Right Reverend Clifton Daniel III
Dean, Cathedral of St. John the Divine
Your generous support will help the Cathedral as we step up to meet our present crisis.