Sunday, 3 January 2010

A cathedral with a history spanning a century

Saint Luke’s Cathedral, Orlando ... a collage from the cathedral website

Patrick Comerford

When I was preparing for this week’s holiday in Orlando, I was dismissive of the notion that this might be an area of historical interest and had no idea that I was visiting a cathedral city, where Anglicanism has a history going back almost a century and a half and the cathedral is over 100 years old.

And so, on Sunday morning [January 3], I was surprised to hear so much of this when I visited Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral in downtown Orlando for the Cathedral Eucharist.

The story of Anglicanism in Orlando begins in 1869 when Francis W. Eppes (1801-1881), a grandson of Thomas Jefferson, moved his family here from Tallahassee, and built a log cabin in what was still a sparsely-settled area. A Lay Reader, he organised the scattered Episcopalians in the area and conducted the first Episcopal services in Orlando in his own home for his neighbours. This small group of people formed the foundation for what would become Saint Luke’s Episcopal Cathedral.

The story of Eppes and his contribution to the establishment of the Episcopal Church in Orlando is recalled in a stained glass window at the south stairs in the narthex of the cathedral.

In October 1892, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church designated South Florida as a Missionary Jurisdiction. William Crane Gray, who became the first missionary bishop of the area, made his home in Orlando. Ten years later, Saint Luke’s was named the Cathedral Church of South Florida in March 1902, and the Very Revd Lucien A. Spencer became the first Dean of Saint Luke’s Cathedral.

When Bishop Gray retired in 1910, he presented a processional cross to the cathedral as a thank offering, and the cross was still in use on Sunday morning. The carved oak pulpit in the cathedral from which the Revd Christine Maddux preached is a memorial to Bishop Gray.

Bishop Gray was succeeded by Bishop Cameron Mann of North Dakota. In 1922, the General Convention of the Episcopal Church recognised the Missionary Jurisdiction of South Florida as a Diocese and the first diocesan convention or synod was held in Saint Luke’s Cathedral in January 1923.

Saint Luke’s Cathedral, Orlando ... a history spanning more than a century

A new cathedral was designed by the firm of Frohman Robb and Little of Boston, the architects of the National Cathedral in Washington, and the cornerstone was laid by Bishop Mann on 13 April 1925. Building work progressed slowly because of the depression, but the first service was held in the new cathedral on Easter Eve, 3 April 1926, when a large confirmation class was presented to Bishop Mann.

Bishop John Durham Wing succeeded Bishop Mann in 1932. he was a contemporary of Dean Melville F. Johnson, who was Dean of Saint Luke’s from 1931 to 1952. Dean Johnson was responsible for building the L-shaped educational unit behind the present Chapter House, and it was dedicated as a memorial to members of the Cathedral who died in World War II. The chapter house was built by his successor, Dean Osborne R. Littleford (1952- 1959).

In the 1950s, several suburban churches were built in Orlando, with many cathedral families moving to them to encourage the growth of the new parishes. In 1959, the Very Revd Francis Campbell Gray became the eighth dean and guided the cathedral family for 12 years, with the number of communicants reaching a new high.

When the Diocese of South Florida was divided in 1970 to form three new dioceses, Saint Luke’s continued as the cathedral of the Diocese of Central Florida. With the Very Revd Charles T. Gaskell as dean (1971-1973), the nave of Saint Luke’s Cathedral was renovated, the choir gallery was built over the narthex and the 88-rank pipe organ was installed.

While Dean O’Kelley Whitaker was at Saint Luke’s (1973-1980), the cathedral grew as a downtown parish and became the centre for diocesan functions and an example of excellence in worship, liturgical arts and music. He was proud of his Irish legacy, and a stained-glass window in the priests’ sacristy from his time includes a discreet shamrock in recognition of this.

While the Very Revd Harry B. Sherman was Dean (1981-1993), work on the cathedral was finally brought to a completion. A temporary wall built in 1926 to block off unfinished work was removed and between 1986 and 1987 the cathedral building was completed according along the original plans, with the addition of the apse, ambulatory, priests’ and working sacristies, a bell tower and Saint Mary’s Chapel.

The present dean, the Very Revd Anthony P. Clark, has been at Saint Luke’s since December 2006, and celebrated tthe Catherdral Eucharist on Sunday morning, the Second Sunday after Christmas.

The Diocese of Central Florida has a reputation of being one of the most conservative dioceses in the Episcopal Church (TEC), with strong links with evangelicals who oppose much of what is happening in TEC at the moment. But no-one could have doubted that on Sunday morning this was Anglican and Episcopalian cathedral liturgy at its best, both in the style of celebration and in the quality of preaching.

For Christine Maddux and her family, this was their final Sunday in the Cathedral as she moves on to a new appointment in North Carolina. She preached a very relevant and fine expository sermon on the Gospel reading,Matthew 2: 13-15, 19-23, speaking about the silent Joseph of the Nativity story as the ideal dreamer and doer.

Dean Clark was warmly welcoming beforehand, but the cathedral congregation also exercised a real ministry of hospitality, inviting me to coffee in the cathedral hall beforehand, and providing me with a detailed, guided and friendly tour of the cathedral afterwards.

The liturgy lasted for almost two hours, but no-one appeared concerned about length or time. If every Anglican cathedral could do liturgy and hospitality like this, we would be a very exciting communion and community.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.