What is a Cathedral?

11.15.18 | Recent Events | by Nancy Morton

What is a Cathedral?

    By Nancy Morton
    In November 2018 The Cathedral Church of St. Paul celebrated 25 years as a Cathedral. As the anniversary approached, questions surfaced. What is a Cathedral? What does it mean for St. Paul’s?

    Fifty members met on Nov. 3-4 at St. Paul’s to discover the purpose of a Cathedral. The Rev. Canon Gary Hall, former dean of the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. was invited to share his experiences and observations while pointing out challenges and opportunities. A panel consisting of a deacon, two cathedral deans, a bishop, a parish priest and a senior warden reflected on topics at intervals during the presentation.

    “A Cathedral,” Canon Hall said, “is a movement not an institution.” Everything he recommended called for actively going out, speaking out, listening, dialoging, praying together, inviting in, loving and serving.

    By definition a Cathedral is the Bishop’s Church and supports the Bishop’s ministry in unique ways. Hall used “apostolic, prophetic, justice, theological, prayerful, pastoral, and empowering as adjectives to describe Cathedral ministry.

    Apostolic provides a link to the apostles who were “sent out into the community with a Prophetic voice. Thus today’s Cathedral becomes a “public church, an intersection of faith and civic life.”

    Hall suggested members attend city councils, school boards and chambers of commerce to recognize emerging issues before points of view become political. A Cathedral offers space for bringing diverse people together for conversation. The prospect of expanded visibility for Justice issues generated lively how-to questions from participants.


    The Cathedral Church of St. Paul, Liturgical Center of the diocese, is well acquainted with formal worship and hosting ordinations and church events. Theological implications of faith, unity and gospel values in a public-church context add richness to congregational life. Wider participation in downtown activities leads to exploring Prayerful new forms of praying together. Events built around music and the arts attract people with and without faith.

    The speaker noted that the type of Pastoral care at a Cathedral adjusts with its location and circumstances. Cathedrals may not need to duplicate programs and services of parish churches.

    Empowering by supporting all the baptized in their gifts and ministries is a hallmark of Bishop Alan Scarfe’s ministry throughout the Episcopal Diocese of Iowa.