On Saturday, Sept. 29, the diocesan community will celebrate the new ministry and installation of the Very Rev. Amy E. McCreath as the ninth dean of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston. Bishop Alan M. Gates will preach at the special 10:30 a.m. service and co-preside with Bishop Barbara C. Harris. All are invited, in person and in prayer.
McCreath was appointed in February and began her new ministry as cathedral dean in April. She is the first woman to serve as cathedral dean in the Diocese of Massachusetts.
She served for eight years as the rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Watertown and, for nine years prior to that, was co-chaplain of the Lutheran Episcopal Ministry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge.
Here McCreath shares her thoughts on the ministry of the Cathedral Church of St. Paul and its potential to be the "spiritual, social and theological 'downtown'" of the diocese.
You’ve been on the job about five months now. Has there been a discovery or best moment so far?
I've been in this diocese for 17 years, and have been to the cathedral countless times, but I never really understood how deeply faithful and life-giving the ministries offered here are. It has been a great gift to participate in them and hear the stories of those whose lives have been affected--not infrequently, saved--by them.
Say a bit about the new Ministry of the Steps effort that got underway over the summer.
The history of the cathedral is filled with stories of efforts to extend the ministry of the cathedral out onto the porch and the steps, from brass bands on veterans days to placing an enormous model of a milk bottle out front to collect donations for milk for families in need. Several years ago, [canon missioner] Tina Rathbone started envisioning what we're calling the "Ministry of the Steps" as it is now. The idea is to extend outward the values and joy of the cathedral, build relationships with people in the community and claim the steps for positive activities. We've been outside two days a week this summer, offering everything from noonday chess and checkers to art for peace, from chanting to information drives on ballot questions. It has been really fun, has cost very little and has raised awareness of the cathedral in the downtown community.
What’s the routine of a typical week in the life of the cathedral?
Each week, 14 gatherings for prayer or meditation are offered here. All of these are open to the public and are part of our living into our calling to be a "House of Prayer for All People." Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays are our busiest days for the cathedral community, as that is when MANNA [the ministry with those who are homeless] offers all of its many programs. Thursdays and Fridays can also be pretty busy behind the scenes, as we are finalizing bulletins and plans for Sunday morning and often preparing the space and materials for large diocesan events like Confirmations.
Every day, we open the sanctuary to visitors from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., and sometimes our staff or our volunteer greeters will be asked to pray with someone, offer a word of hope or answer their questions about the Episcopal Church. This ministry extends into the lobby of our office building, where the receptionist Bob Greiner fields countless questions each week for those who call or come into the space.
What's "typical" about each week is that it's not typical! Given where we are located and our role as a cathedral, we are always responding to the unexpected. Our staff are super-adept at shifting priorities at a moment's notice when that's what we need to do to be faithful.
How do you envision your role as dean?
One thing I learned from community organizing training (thank you, Episcopal City Mission!) is that leaders help groups achieve their shared purpose. In the cathedral's case, our shared purpose is to embody and amplify the mission of the diocese. More than anything, my role is to keep us centered on mission--through prayer, through my preaching, through the deliberations of the Cathedral Chapter, through our existing programs and our discernment of what's next, through building partnerships in the community.
What is the promise and challenge for the cathedral church in this particular time in its life?
Cathedrals historically have functioned as the spiritual, social and theological "downtown" of their dioceses. In our diocese, in part because of its low-church leanings and in part because of geography, coming together at the cathedral has not been a deeply embedded value and practice. I believe our cathedral has unrealized potential to connect us, not just by serving as a place to gather, but also by sharing what we are doing and learning from the ministries here.
We are also in a neighborhood that has been changing rapidly, where the ultra-wealthy are moving into luxury condos but walk along the sidewalks with college students, tourists, unhoused people, state legislators and the business community. Where can this rich diversity of people come together to form community? Where might they go in times of crisis or civic unrest? I want the cathedral to deepen its connections and creatively explore its potential to be a "downtown" within the Downtown Crossing neighborhood.
What would you most like people out in the wider diocesan community to know about their cathedral?
For the last several years, conversation about the cathedral around the diocese has focused on the building: the renovation process and the nautilus design in the pediment. It's time for us to shift our conversation away from aesthetics and opinions about the chairs to focus on the ministry we offer here and the possibilities for the cathedral to be a resource to the whole diocese.
Where and how have you seen Jesus here?
When he consecrated St. Paul's as a cathedral in 1912, Bishop William Lawrence had a clear vision of this being a place where those on the margins find a home. I see Jesus here every day as we live into that calling. Every week, this building is a spiritual home for hundreds of people: unhoused people; LBGTQA people; people in recovery; immigrants from China and many other nations; Muslims who work in the neighborhood; poets and writers; those who have been hurt by experiences in other churches; tourists; students; and people in distress who just need a place to pray.
What is your hope for the celebration of your new ministry and installation on Sept. 29?
My hope, at a time when the world feels shaky, is that as a gathered community we will experience something of the peace of Christ and leave with more trust.