Genesis 28: 10–17 and Matthew 21: 12–17

Sermon given at the Evensong service celebrating the
10th Anniversary of the Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage

In 1992, Carole Crumley, then the Canon Educator of the Cathedral,
wrote a proposal to the Senior Staff stating these words:

That we establish a Spiritual Retreat Center in the rooms located off
the Resurrection Chapel, that its purpose be to assist people in their
life of prayer; that a ministry of hospitality, retreats, spiritual
direction, and of presence be established as well as resources for the
devotional life be provided. The following needs were identified:

  • To deepen spirituality
  • To learn a rhythm of prayer
  • To pray with others and be prayed for
  • For a place that is intentional in prayer and the ordering of life
  • For an oasis of retreat
  • For a place of teaching and resources for the devotional life
  • For a place that is in the city, for spiritual renewal
  • For a place for bringing about unity for our diverse cultural and ethnic church
  • For a place of hospitality, retreats, spiritual direction, mission and ministry of being.

Three years later on October 1, 1995 the Cathedral Center for Prayer
and Pilgrimage opens its doors.

“Opening Doors” is an apt description of what the Center has been
doing now for ten years, helping thousands of visitors and pilgrims
there to enlarge the space in their lives for the Spirit to be welcomed
into their lives. Doors can be used to hide, shut out and lock away, or
doors can define a narrow way, a path, from one space to another, that
beckons people to cross over to the other side. There’s something about a
door that slowly opens, invites peeks within, with promises of welcome
and hospitality to the warmth within. Spiritual doors are not barriers
to the divine presence, but gateways that invite you to open that door
and discover a whole new world.

I hold in my hand an artistic introduction to the spirituality of the
Center, created by Billie Abraham as part of her studies at Wesley
Theological Seminary.

What will you see once you step foot in those doors? Depending on
the day of week or the season, you will see:

  • a volunteer smiling and welcoming you visit a while in that sacred space
  • someone using the prayer tool of the wooden labyrinth on the table to
    make his or her own spiritual pilgrimage
  • someone reading from one of the spiritual classics on the shelves of the small library
    there.
  • Someone kneeling before a candle in St. Dunstan’s
    Chapel
  • Someone sitting silently before the icon of the Holy
    Trinity, contemplating the divine hospitality extended to them through
    the figures of the icon
  • A group of people gathered on a Tuesday
    evening, Wednesday morning or Saturday morning for centering prayer or
    another form of contemplation
  • High schoolers from Ohio on
    pilgrimage to the Cathedral in fulfillment of their journey to adulthood
    catechetical process
  • A class from the National Cathedral
    School learning contemplative silence as a doorway to experience
    God.
  • Or you just may find no one there at all, and find
    yourself drawn to the simple elegance of darkened Stillpoint of the
    Center, and once you close those glass & wood doors at the bottom of
    those stairs you may feel that you are now in what may be the quietest
    space in the city in the midst of the hustle and bustle outside.

In the first reading from Genesis, Jacob finds himself taking a rest
on his journey. In that sleeping—or was it a deep contemplative
silence?—he is caught up in a vision of a ladder from earth to heaven,
with angels descending and ascending that gateway to heaven.

Over the years, God has given us angels to assist the Center for
Prayer and Pilgrimage with their contributions of time as a volunteer,
or with their resources in helping to keep the Center open and its
ministries funded. (Please stand) I hope that you will meet some of
them at our reception downstairs following this service. Come and hear
their stories of what God has been saying to them all of these years.

And, over the years, we have sent angels back up that ladder, seeing
God face to face whereas before they like us only enjoyed glimpses of
God in places like the Center. Those angels who walked with us for a
time but are now in heaven are: Elizabeth Denis, Ray Dungan, Wes
Hardiman, Aileen Lowry, and Fannie Jeffrey.

There is no extravagant story here about the Center for Prayer and
Pilgrimage and what it has “accomplished” in the last ten years; it is
not that kind of ministry. In my five years here we have seen an
increase in the scope of its ministries, and in the number of pilgrims
who spend the better part of a day or evening in that space and
throughout the Cathedral, led by one of our staff and volunteer pilgrimage
leaders.

The Center’s is a simple, humble ministry of presence and
hospitality, of welcome to strangers and pilgrims far and near, and of
finding ways to help the Cathedral in its programmatic life to become
more and more what it is: a house of prayer for all people.

 

A Prayer for the Cathedral
The Rev. Canon Eugene Taylor Sutton
October 2003

Eternal God, make the doors of this cathedral wide enough to receive
all who need human love and friendship, and narrow enough to shut out
anger, envy, pride and, hatred.

Make its floors smooth enough to be no obstacle to children, the
elderly or the disabled, but rugged and firm enough to turn back any
prejudice and injustice.

Make its stone and wood strong enough to show forth your power and
majesty to all the world, yet soft enough to reveal the subtle movements
of your Spirit in human hearts.

O God, make this a house of prayer for all who enter herein, and a
gateway to your eternal kingdom. Amen.

(Based on an inscription at a parish church in London)