Cathedral of All Saints, Episcopal Church USA
Pastor:The person preaching referred to himself as Dean. This appears to be his title, his full name being David Collum.
Style of worship:formal and structured with informal bits for the kids and during announcements
Overall Impression:Seems good
As with the other cathedral in Albany, the building steals the show a bit. In fact it looks much bigger once you are inside it. I think it’s probably an optical illusion due to the other relatively tall buildings around. I think I like the Cathedral of All Saints better than Immaculate Conception actually. It has almost a more ancient flavor, like Disney animated Notre Dame. It appears to be all stone (minus chairs and wall hangings) inside, in lots of arches with carved flourishes at the ceiling. There are also a couple of large metal gates separating parts of the cathedral. The altar is behind such a gate, but really nothing was done at that altar. The gospel was actually read at the center of the church. And there were some touches that made it feel like an older style service; formalities like genuflecting, swinging incense, and even some chanting. One of the few negatives was the Lord’s Prayer as a chant- it’s difficult for a first timer to follow along.
I liked the sermon. It felt very well-thought out and balanced. Dean started off by saying, “Today I will preach on sin.” Then he said that sin was not a favorite topic of his because it can easily sound like “me judging you”. The readings we got were: 1) King David and
the Ducky Bathsheba 2) The sinning woman who washes Jesus’ feet. In both we have a story within a story illustrating a point. Since I’ve talked before about David, I’ll review the second story.
Jesus is at the house of a Pharisee eating. A woman who is a sinner hears about the dinner date and shows up to see Jesus. She walks right in and proceeds to wash His feet with her tears and then rubs them with expensive oil. The Pharisee must have been giving her a weird look- maybe because of her ‘sinning’ background, maybe because she waltzed right in without saying anything. Jesus answers his look with a story. Jesus describes several men with debts. One has a very large debt and one has a very little debt. Their loan shark decides to wipe the slate clean and forgive both debts. Which man will be happier? Clearly the man who had the biggest debt. The Pharisee thinks so too. Jesus goes on to say that the woman washing and anointing his feet does so out of love for him. Then he forgives her sins. The idea here is, if she has sinned so much, clearly she has the most to be grateful for and the Pharisee should cut her a little slack. Especially since he himself was remiss as a host in not washing Jesus’ feet.
The culmination of the sermon was an entreaty to us that we reflect on our own sin. We were cautioned not to simply decide for ourselves what sin is, but to consult God, the bible, and the Holy Spirit. I like how this adds an element of accountability, while still being self directed. I don’t think most people decide in a vacuum what is right or wrong. We do take advice and read scripture thoughtfully. And we listen to our hearts, where God is, as well as the experiences of others who guide us. One of the reasons I come to church is to be reminded of the things I need to work on. My anger, my negativity, and hurtful word choices are all things I can explain away as a bad mood or a cranky day. But that’s partly a cop-out. God wants me to do better and I have to keep remembering this. Another important bit from the sermon was the speed of forgiveness. Forgiveness is immediate. You ask and God forgives. He expects you to do better in the future, but leave past sins in the past. In other words, we don’t have to make ourselves suffer to be holy again. It is enough to seek forgiveness. There isn’t a need for drawn out suffering. That message is a good one I think.
After the service there were snacks at one end of the church. The kids had balloons because of the final day of Sunday school and a few of those balloons wound up in the rafters, but nobody cried about it. I was greeted by a couple members and the Dean, but he moved quickly to a new family that was visiting. I can’t really judge this one harshly, because it was probably simply a matter of order: I was first, he greeted me and moved on so as not to miss them. I chatted briefly with one of the helpers at the service- a deacon I think. We didn’t talk long; I suppose it’s possible she didn’t know what to say to me. I dressed in a tee shirt and shorts again. I probably looked like a kid.
Perhaps there’s another aspect going on here too. The church website describes a very laid back attitude towards newcomers. The tag line is “come and see”. It seems like a low-key approach is highly encouraged, perhaps even to the point of advising greeters to let visitors just absorb what they see. This can be a really great approach, especially if a church congregation is reserved. Reading the church website statement makes this even more clear. Folks wanting to visit are encouraged to do so, and (if they like) stay a few Sundays as they determine if it’s a place they can belong. The entire statement is written in a positive, realistic manner. Many churches do claim to be the ‘right’ one, but that’s something that should be up to the church goer.
Vocab examination: I’ve been pondering how I feel about the term ‘visitor’. I think there’s some subtle problems with the word when used for newcomers to a church. ‘Visitor’ implies someone who is leaving after a time. It carries a sense of otherness with it. One cannot belong if one is simply a visitor. I suggest instead using the term ‘guest’. A guest is someone special. A guest gets clean sheets and fresh flowers and the flatware sings and dances for them. (I really have Disney on the brain today.) A guest is just a couple afternoons away from becoming a friend. A visitor is someone who is always getting ready to leave. Is this distinction a major deal breaker? No. Is terminology something a church should be thinking about? Yes, absolutely. Every piece of information a newcomer gets contributes to his or her first impression of a place. What a church calls its first-time non-members should at least be part of the thought process.