Cathedral, symbol and significance

The gospel reading appointed for this Sunday comes from the twenty-first chapter of John. In that remarkable story the disciples meet the risen Lord Jesus and have breakfast with him on the beach at the Sea of Tiberius. Jesus has a conversation with Peter, three times asking Peter if he loves him. Each time Peter affirms his love for Jesus and receives a three-fold commission to feed Jesus' lambs and his sheep.

That commission is given to all pastors, and especially to Bishops, as Peter himself would in turn commission his successors: "Feed the flock of Christ that is among you" (1 Peter 5:2). That is why, over the course of the church's history, central churches emerged in cities where the Bishop would have a special place, and where his or her chair or cathedra resides -- the symbol of the Bishop's authority to teach and to feed the flock of Christ by word and sacrament. These churches are known as cathedrals.

St. John's has been given the privilege and the responsibility to be such a place. Just this week we sent a letter to all of you describing our ongoing conversations with our Bishop and our diocesan leadership about our development project at St. John's that noted the Bishop's commitment to this place as the cathedral. The clergy of the Diocese received word this week that the diocesan offices in Echo Park will be re-branded and called "St. Paul's Commons," a nod to the name of our old cathedral, but indicating the distinct ministry of the diocesan offices in Echo Park, and the cathedral ministry of St. John's. As a result, the official chairs of the Bishop and the Bishop Suffragan will be moved from the diocesan center to St. John's so that the role of St. John's will be clearly articulated as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Los Angeles.

The ministry of cathedrals in most places is manifold, but two elements stand out. First, to be a place week in and week out where the congregation of a parish church meets to be the people of God as a stable worshiping community in that place. Second, but equally important, to be the place where the people of the diocese come together, the focal place for the worship of all the people of God served in many parishes and missions, and where the Bishop has a special place to feed all of us, and a public pulpit to speak to our city and larger community.

Being a cathedral is relatively new for us, especially in this renewed sense in which our Bishop envisions it. We are still learning what it means to be both a parish church and a cathedral. We will continue to learn through our experience and through the experiences of other dioceses. It is a holy vocation, and one requiring thoughtfulness and discernment. In so doing we know we are living into our Lord's commission to those first apostles that we as your pastors, in union with our Bishop, will seek to live more fully into our vocation to feed you the flock of Christ at St. John's, and all the people of God in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

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