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Jun 15, 2011 | Pat McCaughan

"Mission-Shaped Cathedrals" Seek Out New Communities of Believers

[Episcopal News Service] What if cathedrals across North America, the long-held treasured symbols of tradition, were "re-imagined" into incubators and hubs for fresh and creative new ministries, "places where young adults can be drawn to explore Christian faith and spirituality within dioceses?"


The Rev. Karen Ward hopes to inspire both the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada to sign onto a three-year Mission Shaped Cathedrals Project (MSCP) to do just that.


Ward, founder of the Seattle-based Episcopal Village, a grassroots emergent church initiative that supports congregations and dioceses in creative outreach, said she was inspired in part by the Church of England's Fresh Expressions movement.


"It [the MSC project] is driven by passion for mission with the Episcopal Church. The idea is to expand the 'mission-shaped'/Fresh Expressions conversation as it is known in the United Kingdom, and apply such principles to the work of cathedrals" in North America, she said via a recent e-mail.


She cited Gloucester Cathedral, among others that employ pioneer missioners like the Rev. Steve Clarke, whose role it is to develop new communities among spiritual seekers not connected to church. In a video posted on the MSCP website, Clarke said he has used the cathedral "as a kind of holy playground" to draw young people, with a variety of events ranging from a monthly feast and a DJ to more structured programs.


In the Diocese of Massachusetts, the Cathedral Church of St. Paul is one of 10 that has already joined the MSC project, and hopes to build on established outreach and emergent church programs.


At least two of the cathedral's "five-and-one-half communities" -- Ecclesia and The Crossing -- are considered fresh expressions, reaching out to the homeless and to young adults, respectively, said the Very Rev. John P. Streit, cathedral dean.


Ecclesia was recently featured in a five-part video series, produced by the Episcopal Church's Office of Communication and Office of Congregational Vitality, which highlighted thriving congregations throughout the country.


Founded in 1996, and also known as the "Common Cathedral," Ecclesia gathers anywhere from 20 to 120 of "the housed and unhoused" on Boston Common, across the street from the cathedral, at 1 p.m. on Sundays for worship, according to the Rev. Kathy McAdams, rector, in the video.


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