Article | May 27, 2022
Congregation Update: A Cathedral Worthy of Its Name
Blog|The Rev. Jude Harmon
In lieu of our #MoreGoodNews this week, we share with you Dean Young’s sermon from the Rev. Canon David Forbes’ funeral.
Yesterday, our cathedral was at its best. Yesterday, Grace was more than a name. We honored the memory of a beloved leader, the Rev. Canon David Forbes, whom our dean remembered so movingly as a good shepherd to us all. Later that day, The Vine hosted our special “Stand Together” service to honor the Asian American and Pacific Islander community here in the Bay and beyond. And I couldn’t help but imagine that David was smiling on us throughout both, cheering us on toward our goal of embodying the very best of our Anglican tradition while pressing toward a fuller, more expansive vision of whom we are called to become by God’s grace.
At our AAPI service, the Rev. Dr. Peter Choi, Director of the Faith + Justice Network, opened our time together, reflecting on the long colonial shadow cast over European and American Christianity. He cited Taiwanese theologian Shoki Coe, widely regarded as the pioneer of Contextual Theology. Dr. Choi reminded us that Coe contrasted “a cathedral mentality,” which strives for imperial permanency by monumentalizing conquest, enslavement, and conversion with the question “What shall we build?” with “a frontier-crossing spirituality… an orientation to faith that embraces the uncertainties and fluidity of life… [which] challenges injustice and seeks human flourishing…” For Coe, the latter asks, “Whom shall we love?”
Later in the evening, our featured musician, Tim Be Told, shared the story of how his home church was forced to shutter by conservative denominational leadership after he came out. That experience inspired the song Temple of Stone:
“Brick by brick with stilts and sticks, you build your empire walls.
So raise up, your kingdoms and thrones, turn the broken and the weak away.
Cause God is not in your temple of stone.
He’s the outcast of these walls you’ve made.”
It was so powerful to hear these lyrics in this space on the same day we entrusted one of the Episcopal Church’s most outspoken advocates for gay rights and racial equality into God’s everlasting care, committing David’s mortal remains to this most treasured temple of stone. As Malcolm reminded us, “David devoted his life to the liberation of all people.” We heard heartbreaking stories of the struggle for liberation from our friends in the AAPI community. I couldn’t help but wonder how David might have mobilized us in light of that moving testimony.
Malcolm gave us homework at David’s funeral. He called upon us to reflect on the words of the final hymn we sang together, “All Our Hope on God Is Founded.” The second stanza of that hymn proclaims:
“Mortal pride and earthly glory,
sword and crown betray our trust;
though with care and toil we build them,
tower and temple fall to dust.
But God’s power, hour by hour,
is my temple and my tower.”
I agree with Malcolm that David left us a puzzle. The man who founded a mission to educate souls — souls that will long outlast the temple and tower he helped to shape — was telling us something vital about who we are.
There are many definitions of grace. For me, grace isn’t just unmerited favor. It’s not about bemoaning how unworthy we think we are, wallowing in pity over our sins. I believe that God would not have given His own life had He not deemed us worthy of that life. We are worthy of God. We are worthy of God’s gift. God has made it so, and who are we to say otherwise? No, instead, grace is acknowledging that we are not the only ones who are worthy. Grace believes in our hearts and living with our lives as this radical witness to love. Grace is making space for everyone. It is a cathedral striving to live beyond Coe’s “cathedral mentality.” A beautiful paradox. It’s why I love this community and this temple of stone. The final lyric in Tim’s song captures the spirit of Grace Cathedral:”There is a kingdom and throne where the weak are never turned away. Cause God is not in a temple of stone, he’s with the people who cry out his name.” Amen.
In grace, love, and power,
The Rev. Jude Aaron Harmon
Canon for Innovative Ministries & Founding Pastor of The Vine