The History of St. Paul's Becoming a Cathedral

10.04.18 | About St. Paul's | by Troy Beecham

The History of St. Paul's Becoming a Cathedral

    The history of St. Paul's becoming the Diocesan Cathedral is quite a story. Let me recount to you passages from the Journey dating back to May and June of 1992.

    This appeared in the May 1992 Journey:

    "Since its founding in 1854, St. Paul's Church has been an agent in word and deed for the Good News of Jesus Christ...We have...been a leader in our we have tried to be faithful to our understanding of the Word of God as it was revealed to the Apostles as it has been passed down through the ages.

    We are now being called by our Bishop into a new kind of ministry, one that is a great honor to this parish and on that, I believe, will challenge and inspire us as we look toward our future ministry. For out Bishop has asked that St. Paul's designated as the Cathedral of the Diocese of Iowa.

    It is a singular honor for any parish to be asked to be the Cathedral of the Diocese. It is an honor, but like all honors in the Christian Church it is also a call to ministry. St. Paul's great tradition of service to our Church and to our community stands us well as we face this new [ministry] with joy and excitement, but also with the humility that all honors in the Christian family deserve."

    This appeared in the June 1992 Journey:

    "Elaborating on his announcement at Easter services that the Rt. Rev. Christopher Epting has propose that St. Paul's Church be the Cathedral of the Diocese of Iowa, the Rev. Michael L. Barlowe explained the history and concepts of cathedral as well as ramifications of such a designation...


    A cathedral doesn't have a particular form of architecture. The distinguishing feature is the seat, the "throne" (cathedra) of the bishop. Many Episcopal churches have special seats for the bishop when he visits. When he's not there, the celebrant often uses the seat.

    The earliest English bishops, including St. Augustine, were monks and abbots who evangelized the southern part of England where Christianity flourished. They built cathedrals, which were teaching centers, a purpose unique to the English tradition.

    Especially in the U.S., cathedrals have been seen as centers of mission...Before 1850 there were no cathedrals as such in the United States. There were bishops, but people thought that if you had too much power in one place and in one person, you had problems; such a concept seemed too British...The first "purpose-built" U.S. cathedral was built in Faribault, MN, in the mid-Nineteenth Century. It was a mission station for the proclamation of the Gospel. Up until that time, large churches in dioceses were designated as cathedrals.

    In the U.S., the Episcopal church is the only denomination to build a national cathedral. Finally completed in recent years, Ss. Peter and Paul, the Nation Cathedral is in Washington, DC.


    Iowa was originally part of the Diocese of Wisconsin. St. Paul's Church and the Diocese of Iowa were both founded in 854 with The Rt. Rev. Henry Washington Lee as the first bishop.

    Iowa's early bishops were evangelicals as we all Anglo-Catholics. The "Bishop's Church" was built in Davenport and named Grace Cathedral after Grace Church, Broadway, New York City, which raised a great deal of the money for the building. The diocese had had difficulty raising funds within the diocese. For instance, the church schools of St. Paul's, Des Moines, and the cathedral were the only organizations to respond to a plea for funds for stained glass windows. Grace Cathedral hadn't done well. In 1909, it merged with Trinity Parish and became Trinity Cathedral. The diocesan office moved to Des Moines after World War II and was here when St. Paul's rector, The Rev. Gordon Smith, became bishop.


    As it is now, Trinity Cathedral, as are many other cathedrals, is also considered a parish and has a right to choose its own dean...That concept would carry over to St. Paul's--Fr. Barlowe would become the dean of St. Paul's Cathedral in a cathedral are called canons

    As for Trinity Cathedral it would retain its name and will probably be a mission center in the eastern part of Iowa. A bishop’s seat will probably be maintained there as well as at St. Paul's, at least for the time being.

    St. Paul's would be the liturgical center and main base as well as the chief mission church in the diocese."

    As you can see, St. Paul's has a long and storied place in the life, history, and ministry of the Diocese of Iowa. It is interesting to read some of the hopes and desires for St. Paul's as it took up its new mission and ministry as the Diocesan Cathedral.

    As we are celebrating our 25th anniversary of being the Diocesan Cathedral, now is the time for us to look back at what were the plans and hopes for our becoming the Cathedral of the Diocese, and for us to discern together now who we are, who we would like to be, and most importantly, who is it that the Lord Jesus is asking us to become. Confident in the grace of God, I look forward to the many conversations that we will be having as we prayerfully discern our identity, mission, and ministry as the Cathedral Church of St. Paul for the coming years.

    Ever yours,
    In Christ Jesus,

    Fr. Troy+