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CathedraliaHallo again to all.

Our Anglican minds have focused much on cathedrals in the last year.

The famous Igloo Cathedral of the Diocese of the Arctic is rising again from its ashes in Iqaluit, Nunavut. Having been burned in an act of arson in 2005, this cathedral will again be a spiritual home to thousands of Anglicans across the Canadian North during a time of remarkable economic and cultural transition. Its place will be all the more important as a symbol of continuity following the recent death of Bishop Jack Sperry, an Arctic Anglican leader for more than a half century.

In the Episcopal Church in the United States, the roles of cathedrals in diocesan life seem more than ever in flux. One cathedral—an important example of Brutalist architecture (if you like that sort of thing) in Kalamazoo, Michigan—closed in 2011. Two others, in Rhode Island and Delaware, are slated to close in 2012. In New York, the Cathedral of St John the Divine is planning a residential development to support its mission. People in the cities in which these cathedrals have been long-unquestioned centres of community life are deeply concerned about signs that their cathedrals will be either closed or somehow significantly changed.

Following extensive damage in the 2011 Christchurch earthquake, it appears likely that Kiwi Anglicans will need to bid farewell to their iconic 1881 Christchurch Cathedral. Intense interest in the fate of this building has come from urban planners, politicians, and churchfolk, some of whom point out that the spire has in fact fallen three times because of seismic events. (The earlier disasters were in 1888 and 1901.)

St Paul's Cathedral in London has been the centre of Occupy London protests, and the cathedral's response to the mostly peaceful encampment there formed a lightning-rod for discussion of economic inequality and religion. Last week, police evicted the protestors who had camped here since 15 October 2011. For our part, we wondered if St Paul's was here being used as a symbol of the Establishment via the Established Church, or whether the Occupy movement really had a strong interest in calling on the religious significance of the cathedral. Yet if only for the power and purposes of synecdoche, many Britons still look to a cathedral as a symbol of a place where they can be safe and be heard.

All of this is to say that cathedrals are very much on the rise in parts of Anglicanism, and very much on the decline in other parts.

Do we need cathedrals to be Anglicans? To use theological terms, are they of the esse of Anglicanism, or just the bene esse of it? To be sure, cathedral closes have given a fruitful canvas to novelists from Trollope (Anthony) to Trollope (Joanna). We can think of few more heavenly experiences than Evensong in a cathedral, with a skilled choir guiding our song and solid stone walls enveloping us 'where prayer has been valid'. Yet we know full well that a cathedral is just any church where a bishop has a formal seat, and we know, too, that cathedrals are a fairly recent development in the life of the Episcopal Church USA.* By one accounting, some 20 dioceses of the Episcopal Church USA do not have cathedrals to begin with.

If you find cathedrals a matter indifferent, we'd love to know. Likewise, if you can't imagine Anglican life without them, we'd love to know that, too.

See you next week.

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4 March 2012

* 2012 is the 150th anniversary of the first cathedral, the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault, Minnesota.

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