[Episcopal News Service] In the Episcopal Church in Minnesota two new deans have been installed in its two historic cathedrals within nine days of each other. Both are charged with bringing about change. Both face challenges. Both are young and determined.
The Very Rev. Justin P. Chapman, 35, was installed as the 19th dean of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour in Faribault on Nov. 13, and the Very Rev. Paul J. Lebens-Englund, 40, was installed as the seventh dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Minneapolis on Nov. 2.
At St. Marks, deep hunger
Lebens-Englund previously served in several roles in the Diocese of Spokane, including canon to the ordinary. Most recently he was priest-in-charge of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Spokane. He is a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley, California.
The installation of Lebens-Englund marked the conclusion of two years of interim leadership at St. Mark’s. During this time both membership and financial support dropped significantly. A survey conducted during this period, the results of which were published on the cathedral’s website, indicated that major changes are necessary to regain vitality and health. Lebens-Englund said that he was attracted by the challenges ahead and the lay leadership that had developed during the transition period.
He said it was “a perfect constellation of factors: fun and creative members, gifted leadership, beautiful worship, synergistic location, intriguing challenges, expansive vision, deep faith, real hope, and concrete expressions of love and compassion.”
“Despite my best efforts to avoid the very real heartache and headache of moving a family across the country, it simply became clear to me, to my wife Erica and to our sons, Isaac and Owen, that God was doing the calling; that my particular gifts and unique experiences in the church make me the right person for the position right now. In a very real sense, I’m rediscovering my ‘deep gladness’ as it intersects with St. Mark’s ‘deep hunger,’” said Lebens-Englund.
Describing leadership transitions that even under the best of circumstances are “a mix of joy and sadness, hope and despair,” Lebens-Englund said that his starting point “is simply meeting the faith community where it’s at: grieving or celebrating, looking backward or forward as needed and ensuring there is room for every emotional response to our present reality.”
“At the same time, because leadership transitions can be so emotionally disorienting, we don’t always bring our ‘best selves’ to these times of change,” he said. “Casting a clear commitment to healthy behavior and mutual accountability within the faith community occurred the very first Sunday at the microphone and a covenant for healthy communication patterns has since been posted around the cathedral and on the website.”
St. Mark’s new dean also said that another essential contribution he can add over the next several months is to frame every ‘output’ in terms of sustainability. “Is it essential? Is it life-giving? Is it an individual initiative or an initiative of the whole faith community? Is there someone else better-positioned or equipped to do it? Which programs should persist and which should be laid to rest?”
“Our desire to be all things to all people and to address every care and concern around us, while well-meaning, has often spread us all to thin – to the point, in fact, that our core competencies as faith communities often fall out of balance and ‘outputs outpace inputs.’ The body gets tired, sometimes resentful, until at last the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ of our church lives become completely disconnected from the ‘why,’” said Lebens-Englund.
“What we’re looking for is a healthy balance – a congregation through which individuals and families can put their faith into action in a meaningful, concrete and life-giving way. We want folks’ experience of God, self and life to be enhanced for having connected with us, not diminished, and that takes clarity, hard work and discipline.”
In Faribault, a hopeful spirit
Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour’s Chapman previously served as priest associate at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Rochester. He is also a graduate of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific.
Chapman’s installation’s marks the end of a relatively brief and smooth transition. Yet, the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour faces a number of challenges – some similar to those faced by countless other small congregations in small towns. Faribault, located 50 south of Minneapolis, has a population of approximately 24,000. There has been no growth in membership or worship attendance for the past decade.
“We are fortunate to have a hopeful spirit,” said Chapman. “Yet, the challenge we face is that our transformation is going to take time and that it isn’t going to look like we think it will.”
Chapman noted that one of the big challenges is a “near-total” absence of families with children.
“It’s sort of a catch-22: A good children’s program is critical to attracting children, but a critical mass of children is required for a good children’s program. Yet, this apparent vacuum is exciting because it gives us the opportunity to build something entirely new, something that connects people to God and to each other; something that begins to form disciples in a way that’s tailored to our community and culture.”
Chapman said a passionate community is ready to take on the challenges.
“I was initially attracted to the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour because of the community – the people, their hospitality, their participation in mission and even their ability to passionately disagree with each other but then truly come together for worship and communion. It gave me the sense (and still does) that this community has the gifts it needs to thrive. We’re in love with community, but we’re not afraid to tell it like it is.”
“My sense is that I’m called to help the cathedral community identify, bring forth and develop what it already possesses: a passion for mission and connection,” said Chapman.
Connecting with the neighborhoods
The calling of the two deans comes at a time when the Episcopal Church in Minnesota (no longer referred to as “the Diocese”) is well into a paradigm shift about how it thinks about mission – changes made under the leadership of Bishop Brian Prior, now in the fifth year of his episcopate.
Prior has described that shift as coming from a greater understanding of God’s mission in the world (“Missio Dei”) and a change of focus from a particular faith community’s internal life to the life of God in the world. He has challenged the faith communities in Minnesota to discover what God is up to in their neighborhoods and examine the unique context in which they are called to mission and ministry.
Minnesota’s new cathedral deans are discovering their new neighborhoods.
“We are fortunate to have a huge campus with beautiful buildings in the heart of downtown Faribault,” Chapman said. “I want us to ask three important questions: What is at the core of our belief and community? How do we best form people for mission? hat are the needs around us that God is calling us to engage? Then I want us to leverage our location and spaces to help others.”
In Minneapolis, Lebens-Englund has a vision for neighborhood connections based both on St. Mark’s role as a congregation located in a major metropolitan area and as the lead cathedral for the Episcopal Church in Minnesota.
“The most obvious neighbors with whom we need to be in conversation as a ‘congregation’ are, in my early estimation, the Walker Art Center, Metropolitan Community Technical College, the Loring Park Neighborhood Association, the Episcopal faith communities in the Central Mission Area and the downtown Minneapolis interfaith community,” said Lebens-Englund.
“The most obvious neighbors with whom we need to be in conversation as a ‘cathedral’ are, in my early estimation, the faith communities of the entire Episcopal Church in Minnesota, the mayor’s office, the state Capitol, the other cathedrals in the Episcopal Church and those cathedrals with whom we share a more global partnership.”
“Radical hospitality – despite its having become a cliché over the last decade – is still what I’m all about, trusting that disruption is often a sign of the Spirit’s presence, though we generally aspire to ‘deep peace,’ ” said Lebens-Englund.
No fear of failure
Both young Minnesota deans are focused on success as they begin their new ministries with a healthy understanding of their roles.
“I think I can succeed because I don’t think I’m the center of the mission and I’m not afraid to fail,” said Chapman. “I see my calling as helping the community to tap into God’s dream for us and to begin to take steps to live that out. Our success does not depend on me, it depends on God. My job – our job – is to do our best to discern God’s call to us and to live it out. That means trying a bunch of new ideas, knowing that some are bound to fail, but being confident that success will come.”
“Failure is hard at first because we are used to the idea that it’s bad – that we are doing the wrong thing – but that’s not the case at all. Failure is a sign that we are trying and that we are zeroing in on the mission God has for us. Once you get used to the fact that failure is just one of the steps to success, it actually becomes kind of fun. It’s not necessary to do things perfectly, it’s just enough to begin. God will take care of the rest.”
The Minneapolis dean has a similar understanding.
“The good news here is that it’s not all about me in the end, but is about connecting the faith community to the heart of God,” said Lebens-Englund.
“When it comes to God, I’m an eternal optimist, trusting, as they say, that the arc of history does, indeed, bend toward justice. But, as a pastor, when it comes to real people working out their salvation in the context of an intentional, experimental community, I’m a realist. The glimpses of the Kingdom are sometimes few and far between, but they are there, for sure, and my task is simply to name them, to celebrate them, and see if we can’t enable the next breakthrough sooner than later.”
“I don’t know fully what God has in store for us,” said Chapman. “But I do now that it’s going to be incredible.”
How did the Episcopal Church in Minnesota come to have two cathedrals?
The history surrounding both is rich with the hope and promise that settled the northern state.
The congregation of St. Mark’s Free Mission was established in 1858 in north Minneapolis, an outreach mission of Gethsemane Episcopal Church in downtown Minneapolis, which started 29 congregations throughout the diocese. St. Mark’s relocated to the heart of downtown Minneapolis in the late 1860s and moved into its new, cathedral-like building on southwest edge of downtown Minneapolis in 1910.
St. Mark’s was consecrated a cathedral in 1941 by then Bishop Stephen Keeler. It was Keeler who was instrumental in attracting the 1954 World Anglican Congress to Minneapolis and St. Mark’s. For 10 days in August of that year nearly 700 bishops, priests and lay people from the then 15 provinces of the Anglican Communion met for the first such gathering to be held outside Great Britain. It was for this congress that the now internationally-recognized emblem of the Communion – the Anglican Compass Rose – was designed and first used. Thus, St. Mark’s is also known as the birthplace of the Anglican Compass Rose.
The Faribault cathedral abides because of its unique history. The Right Rev. Henry Benjamin Whipple, consecrated the first bishop of the Diocese of Minnesota in 1858, laid the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour on July 16,1862. It was the first church built as a cathedral in the Episcopal Church. Because of lack of funds in the young, missionary diocese, the cathedral would not be completed for seven years. It was consecrated in 1869.
Bishop Whipple visited the work of the church in Minnesota for a year, considering potential locations for the seat of the new diocese. The primary educational institutions of the young diocese (some established by the legendary Episcopal missionary, the Rev. James Lloyd Breck): Shattuck School for Boys, St. Mary’s School for Girls and Seabury Divinity School would be clustered there. He finally chose Faribault. Because it was at the crossroads of the Ojibwa, Dakota and European settlements; at the meeting point of the woodlands and prairie; and at the confluence of two rivers, it was anticipated to grow into a major center of commerce. It was not to be. The town, 50 miles south of the capital, has a population of only 24,000.
Like St. Mark’s, the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour has hosted historic Anglican gatherings. The delegates to the 1895 General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held in Minneapolis, took a day off from business and traveled to Faribault on train cars provided by Whipple’s friend James J. Hill. In Faribault they were met by 400 horse-drawn carriages providing transportation for a tour of what Harper’s Magazine that same year called “Episcopal Faribault.” The delegates to the 1954 World Anglican Congress also visited Faribault and the Cathedral – described to Bishop Keeler through many letters as a highlight of the gathering.
– Joe Bjordal is a writer, designer, photographer, and event planner based in Minneapolis.