Tallahassee Faith Communities In The Wake Of The Pandemic: Part 1, St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral
Several faith communities in the Tallahassee area are now welcoming new leaders, some, at least in part, because of the stresses imposed by COVID on those congregations. This is the first in a series of conversations with a sample of those spiritual pacesetters.
St. Peter's Anglican Cathedral is among the city's largest congregations. It has also been one of the area's most challenged. It was founded in protest of what some parishoners believed was the overly liberal direction of St. John's Episcopal Church. That exodus was led by Father Eric Dudley, who was later banished under allegations of improper behavior. In early 2019, prominent Anglican Archbishop Robert Duncan came out of retirement to be interim rector and dean. And in late June, Father Marcus Kaiser took over on a permanent basis.
"For this congregation it was a major turning point. We've been through a lot in the last 3 years and thank God for Archbishop Duncan who came and took the helm. But that was always an interim," he observed while sitting at the desk of his rather modest office beneath the cathedral's soaring sanctuary.
Father Kaiser had come on board St. Peter's clerical staff in November of last year. He said his ascension to the post of rector and dean was a matter of proper timing.
"And it was nice that it lined up with the light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel with COVID. Because it was not only a celebration of being able to transition this long journey to a new dean, but also a lot of folks came back to church for the first time in 18 months."
That was for his formal installation as rector and dean on June 20th. Now, Father Kaiser said his real job is forging a common bond among his congregants; especially during a time of increasing conflict and tribalism in almost every facet of society.
"It's natural for us to do that into political camps, or socio-economic camps or racial camps. And the message of scripture to us is, for those of us in Christ, that's our tribe and identity. That's who we are, no matter your income, no matter your socio-economic or racial background, no matter where you come from. Our identity is rooted in our faith and Jesus Christ. I certainly couldn't keep this congregation together if it were on me. It's on him, luckily, it's not on me!"
At the same time, Father Kaiser insisted his congregation can feel more of a kinship to beliefs and practices that may differ from traditional Anglican theology and liturgy.
"It's not that we think we have a special line to God that other congregations don't. This is our expression and we rejoice in other expressions and we're glad that other people can reach folks that we can't. But there are people who respond to soaring cathedral music. And so long as it's all transporting us vertically, that's why we do it."
At essence, said Kaiser, is the precept that salvation is the ultimate destination on a lifelong trip.
"You know, I was recently quoted as saying 'none of us are ever truly healed.' But unfortunately, that was only part of a quote. What I really said was, 'none of us are ever truly healed this side of eternity.' The journey of this life, for those of us who are in Jesus Christ, is continually being sanctified and made more like him."
And now, emerging from the many changes wrought by the pandemic, Father Marcus Kaiser is pleased how St. Peters Cathedral has weathered one element of the storm.
"I've pastored 2 churches in the middle of COVID. As the revenue dried up for both of them, our expenses also went down. So that was okay for a year. The question is, how quickly can we recover from that in terms of income and ministry opportunities? St. Peters is in good shape fiscally."
A situation he attributed in large part to so many of the more affluent members of the congregation stepping into the financial breach. But there is another facet for which Father Kaiser has some regrets. In an abundance of caution during the pandemic, his church took its entire ministry virtual. And he fears that essentially cut off a significant number of parishoners from the church entirely.
"That's a sadness and I think it's going to take time to heal. I think it's going to take time to realize that we did some things poorly and figure out what we did well. I hope to leave the next generation a better road map for our mistakes than we were left for the last pandemic."
Some thoughts from Father Marcus Kaiser, the newly-instituted rector and dean of St. Peters Anglican Cathedral. In the weeks and months to come, we'll explore how some other faith communities in the area are responding to the post-pandemic era.