The Sunday Forum with Dean Penny: Six Months On

It’s been six months since I began my tenure at St. Paul’s. I’ve learned a lot and I have a lot still to learn. The greatest learning curves for me are those of scale – this congregation is four times the size of my previous parish; identity – what does it mean to be a cathedral as well as a parish church; and personnel management – we have a complicated tapestry of paid staff (both full and part time), volunteer staff, retired clergy, lay leaders, canons, and people in residence. Let me say right away that my overwhelming impression of St. Paul’s confirms what I was told during the search process: this is a healthy church community, with an abundance of resources, in a great location, doing significant ministry with a diverse congregation that is truly welcoming to all. That’s not something you can say about many Episcopal churches, let alone cathedrals.

So, let me share some thoughts about various aspects of our life. I’m going to address the following topics, and I will pause for questions before shifting topics: Worship and music; the physical facility, including the chancel, chapel, Master Plan for development, and the office and program space; youth and family ministry; outreach; pastoral care; and finally strategic planning.


Worship first: it’s what we do, that makes us different from a social club or a philanthropic organization. St. Paul’s knows how to do good liturgy. “The work of the people” is carried out with beauty and care.

The Sunday worship at St. Paul’s is very orthodox. Our services come straight out of the Book of Common Prayer and our music is solidly in the Anglican tradition. This is one of the things that draws people to the Cathedral, and it’s a great strength. I have introduced one innovation to the Eucharist services, and that is the Iona invitation: “This is the table, not of the church but of Jesus Christ…”

St. Paul’s is blessed by the ministry of Martin Green. He does an incredible job of running a large music program all by himself. I wish we could find the resources to provide an assistant choir director or organist; the organ scholar program is a wonderful outreach, but we don’t always have a suitable candidate, and it’s a lot for Martin to do alone. Even a very part-time administrative assistant would be a help. Those choirs of girls and boys are a treasure, and I wish we could figure out a way for the larger congregation to experience them more often. The fact that many of the kids who sing in our choirs sing in their own parish churches on Sunday mornings means that we are offering a valuable outreach to the diocese in a process of spiritual formation that for over 1000 years has nurtured children and formed them for future leadership in the church. The Choral Evensong service is our uniquely Anglican offering and it’s something that visitors expect to find at a cathedral; the traditional language is entirely appropriate.

Our deacon, Brooks Mason, does sterling work on the schedule for preaching and presiding. It’s complicated with so many clergy, each of whom has their own preferences and challenges. I have chosen to be scheduled to preach two Sundays a month. I preside at each of the main services at least once a month; that includes the Spanish Misa. I am very, very grateful to all the priests who help out with the weekday services. The three of us on staff couldn’t easily do all those noon Eucharists. However, with Colin and Laurel still being pretty new to the priesthood, I have asked Brooks to schedule them more frequently for the principal services so that they can gain experience. It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the staff clergy team we now have is not a person-for-person swap for the team you had two years ago. The way responsibilities were divided among Scott, Mary, and Allisyn bears very little resemblance to the division of duties among myself, Brooks, Colin, and Laurel. We are still working on how to maximize everyone’s time and gifts.


When I came for the interview last November I made a list of issues that various people mentioned and that I might look at addressing if I were called here. One thing I heard loud and clear was about the Sunday morning choir being in the south transept and how they felt marginalized. That led to the experiments this summer with rearranging the chancel to accommodate the choir. We are just starting to experience the fullness of this change as the choir was smaller over the summer. Bringing in enough pews for the choir affected the positioning of the altar and the clergy seating. We discovered that we need a lot of space behind the altar and by the credence table where the Eucharistic ministers deposit patens and chalices. We discovered that the main altar was too long for the rearranged space, so we switched with the chapel altar. Ultimately we will need to obtain an altar that is deeper or an additional narrow credence table to allow for all the additional vessels we need for big services.

In the old arrangement, the presider, deacon and preacher sat behind the altar, facing the congregation. I found this configuration awkward. I felt very, very distant from the congregation, and I has a sense that the visual effect was of three disembodied heads – like John the Baptist’s head on a platter. While the sideways arrangement that we have now isn’t ideal, I find it preferable because we can have more connection with the congregation, including exchanging the Peace, and we can make a deliberate and visible shift from the liturgy of the Word, which ends at the Peace, to the liturgy of the Table, when we move to the altar after the offertory sentence.

We’ve also taken into consideration the seating of many of our honorary canons so that they may be part of the celebration in the chancel.

I really appreciate all the feedback I and other staff have received about the chancel rearrangement. I have learned a lot of history about the building from your comments, and as I’ve considered each comment I have done a little discernment about the nature of the feedback: is it based on a functional issue or is it more about reacting to the unfamiliar? It’s been an exercise in managing change.

Something I noticed right away was the number of steps and different floor levels in the chancel. It’s quite treacherous, especially if you use a cane or have multi-focal glasses. I have a medium-term goal of evening out those levels and somehow creating a ramp so that our less mobile colleagues can continue to have access to the altar. The overall challenge for us is the narrowness of the chancel; we are stuck with that but if we can standardize the floor level we can make the most of what we have.

Now that the south transept isn’t used for Sunday services, I am dreaming about how we might best use that space. Our identity as a Cathedral includes serving as a place for the arts, and we have a strong tradition of both visual and performing arts here. Right now we have Ric Todd’s art exhibit in the nave, and we are using some space in the south transept for some freestanding pieces. In a couple of years we will be celebrating our sesquicentennial as a parish. Our archivist, John Will and I have started talking about an exhibit of historical artefacts to mark that anniversary, and that led to me thinking about the transept as a space for semi-permanent exhibits. We would need to provide for seating for Christmas and Easter of course, but it could be moveable seating. Pews are great for the choir, especially when you have children involved and you can squeeze them in, but chairs provide more flexibility for multiple uses. Did you know that pews were introduced in the Middle Ages as a method of crowd control, to stop people dancing in the aisles during worship?

As you know, the chapel was partially renovated during the interim, but Rebecca graciously refrained from finishing it so that the new dean would have the fun of seeing it through to completion. There is certainly an unfinished feel to the space, with the plywood panel over the niches where the columbarium for the Society of St. Paul will be. That’s because the marble for the covers was ordered from Italy and it’s such a small order that we had to wait for someone else to make a much larger order before the manufacturer would import the stone. My information is that the niche covers are now being manufactured and we may have delivery in the next month. There are other decisions to make, including the replacement of the frosted glass panel which I find to be an unattractive distraction, and what kind of design to put on the east wall behind the chapel altar. I invited James Hubbell, a well-known local artist who has designed stained glass for several churches, to come and do some brainstorming with a group of us. I had this thought that it would be wonderful if the Cathedral were to become a “James Hubbell destination”. He made no promises about a commitment to do the work, but about a month ago he came and spent an afternoon with about a dozen of us while we threw out ideas and he offered his insights. I followed up with an email to him summarizing our collective ideas and attaching some pictures. The gist of the group’s reflections was to maintain the chapel as a holy space for quiet meditation, to allow flexibility for occasional dramatic presentations, and to keep any decoration simple. Unfortunately Mr Hubbell was scheduled for a knee replacement shortly after our meeting, so he is currently occupied with physical therapy and has not been able to get back to me with his reflections. So the chapel is in a state of “already but not yet”, and it will stay that way for a while yet. Ultimately, like the chancel, I would like to find a way to eliminate the stairs between the nave and the chapel and provide a ramp with a standard pitch.

Offices and program space

When I arrived I found that my clergy staff were scattered all over the campus – Colin in the chapel crypt, Laurel in the attic, Brooks over in the Great Hall. Meanwhile we had various part-time staff camping out in different spots. The choir rehearsal room, choir vesting room, and choir library were on three different floors. Wi-fi and phone service were inconsistent through the campus- Colin didn’t even have phone service in his subterranean office. I became quickly aware that most of the bathrooms are not exactly inviting, and that there is insufficient space for vestments and altar equipment. The Sunday School classes are spread all over, making it difficult for Christine D’Amico to easily oversee operations. Handicapped access is an issue in many parts of the facility.

Just after I arrived, the diocesan staff moved out. An opportunity presented itself: space! We also acquired some money from the sale in February of the Nutmeg and 5th lot. It was tempting to dive into a big, expensive construction project to renovate; create new bathrooms; put related program areas together; provide a more coherent flow for staff accommodation. I resisted the temptation and chose instead to ask the Chapter to authorize a strategic planning effort, to give us a period in which to pray, listen and dream about what our priorities should be in the years ahead, to determine a vision and set goals accordingly. At the end of this forum I will introduce to you the members of the new Vision for Mission committee, who will be dreaming with me over the next year. Meanwhile, the Chapter agreed that there were things we could do to improve communications and staff conditions with minimal expense. Over the last two weeks you may have noticed a certain amount of upheaval in the offices as we have implemented this lesser, interim plan. The accounting department has moved to the former diocesan offices in the First Floor Great Hall suite. The part-time and volunteer staff workstations have also moved down there. We have spruced up the break room downstairs and made it, along with the BIshop’s former office, available for small meetings. Colin has moved into the office where accounts used to be, close to my office, and Laurel is moving, along with Christine D’Amico, into the office opposite Brooks on the 2nd floor of the Great Hall. Both of those offices also have space for small gatherings, subject to the approval of their clergy occupants. The wi-fi and phone service will be expanded and improved. All of these changes will be helpful for the day-to-day operations. But the new bathrooms, the new handicapped access, the consolidation of choir facilities, the ramps in the chancel and chapel will have to wait a bit, so that whatever we do will be part of an overarching sense of mission and priority rather than a piecemeal fix.

Master Plan

Those of you fairly new to the Cathedral may not know about the Master Plan, which was developed to facilitate the development of all the land owned by the Cathedral at this spot, other than the land occupied by the Cathedral and the Great Hall. The plan reflects a long-standing goal to maximize this asset for the ministry and mission of the church, by working with a developer to build some kind of mixed-use construction that would give us more office, program, and parking space, along with a steady income. However, the shape of the plan has steadily evolved over the years since the Cathedral was built in the 50’s.

The Cathedral Chapter is the sole member of two LLC’s: Nutmeg and Olive, and Fifth & Laurel. N&O was set up to implement the master plan to develop the land immediately to the north and south of the Cathedral, the northern half of this block (this office building, Park Chateau and the parking lot), and the lot on the corner of Nutmeg and 5th. F&L was set up to manage condo properties gifted to the Cathedral. N&O is the sole member of F&L, and both LLCs have the same board of managers. Five managers with staggered terms: Ken Tranbarger, Kendall Squires, Jack Lentz, Christine Spalding, and Mark Lester. Mark was appointed in the interim period. The Dean has traditionally served as a manager. N&O has been overseeing the evolution of the master plan since it was formed in 2004, but the plan predates the LLC, going all the way back to the original construction. In fact there have been quite a few editions of the Master Plan, and the vision has continued to evolve.

The original goals of the master plan included the provision of affordable housing. In the course of the permitting process over the last few years, the cathedral’s neighbors objected to that provision and that goal became almost invisible. However, we do have Park Chateau which currently provides affordable housing, so you could say that we have kept that goal alive.

Here are some characteristics of current reality affecting the Master Plan:

  • The image the diocese is projecting through its ministry center in Ocean Beach, with the relinquishment of fancy diocesan digs in favor of a servant image and mission. This is a mission mentality that we would do well to imitate.
  • The change in our office space needs caused by the diocesan move and the demise of PACEM.
  • The necessary change to the plan caused by the sale of the Nutmeg parcel.
  • The ever-increasing need for affordable housing in this city and the migration of the millennial generation and retiring boomers back into cities in general.
  • The changing missional theology of the church at large, as we focus outwards on service and accessibility to a community that no longer knows who we are or can be relied upon to have enough interest to enter our buildings, let alone make a commitment to a specific parish or even denomination. You’ve heard me speak about the “Great Emergence”: this is the big picture of the church in the early 21st century.

We have some money in the bank. Not enough for a major construction project, but enough, along with our lack of debt, to give us some level of serenity regarding capital improvements as we contemplate the near future.

Our growing ministry with young families means we should give serious consideration to Sunday School space. We have no purpose-built classrooms, although we do have the former diocesan offices.

Youth ministry

I mentioned noticing that we have no Sunday school classroom block. This hasn’t been a major issue in recent decades as there hasn’t been a large population of young families. Now, however, I see a wonderful opportunity presenting itself. The cathedral has become known as a welcoming and inclusive community, and our LGBT population has blossomed, bringing many blessings to the congregation. Young families are noticing this. Young parents who want their children to grow up in a faith community where everyone is truly included are coming to St. Paul’s because they want to be part of us. Without any conscious marketing effort, we have become a destination church for millennials and their children. Our youth and family ministry is growing. Christine D’Amico has done an incredible job of wrangling volunteers and keeping our Sunday School program healthy, but she is here for only 15 hours a week, and we are at a point where the ministry needs more support. When I arrived I asked Laurel to oversee the youth and family ministry; I think this was more clergy oversight than there had been in the past, and it’s still not enough. We have a group of teens who love St. Paul’s and who love each other. We need to expand the staff support so that our kids have more opportunities to grow and learn together. Christine has her own business which is also thriving; she cannot add to her hours. So I am looking for the financial support to add a youth minister in 2015. This is an exciting challenge: God is sending us children to raise. We can’t let them down. How will we allow for the further growth of our ministry with families? It’s something the Vision for Mission committee will be tackling.


Thanks to Colin, we now have a solid outreach committee with Paula Peeling as a wise and strong chair. I see outreach as a core ministry of any church: if we don’t look outside of our own needs to the needs of the world, if we don’t stretch outside our comfort zones, the church will begin to die and we will lose opportunities to be transformed. There are lots of ways we can serve the community beyond our walls. Dorcas House is an important ministry, but we also have ministries to those who live in the Park and to refugees in our midst. On October 26 I will be preaching at St. Luke’s and I would love to have some representatives of St. Paul’s come with me. St. Luke’s is a small, struggling parish with a large number of refugees from Sudan and South Sudan. As you know, I have visited South Sudan, and I am interested in learning how we might all work together. Outreach to those across the globe reminds us that we are all the body of Christ and helps us get outside our bubble.

Speaking of getting outside the bubble, you may have noticed that I am an extravert. On Palm Sunday and St. George’s Day, we held our traditional parades around the neighborhood. I was asked if we should just do one block and keep it small. NO, I said. Let’s get out there. Let’s be loud and proud! Similarly, for the Pride Parade, we sprinkled the crowd with holy water to increase our profile and to let people know they are loved. I believe that we need to get outside the church more, to go to the community, to offer ourselves as servants in the city around us. So Chris Harris and I formed a Commission for the City, a committee that does work we might otherwise call evangelism, strengthening our awareness of events in the community and getting us organized so that when events like Earth Day or the Aids walk come along, we are ready to participate and have ways to make our presence felt. This may bring people into the congregation, but it’s really more about sharing the good news of God’s love without expectation: that’s true evangelism. That’s why I have breakfast at Harvey Milk’s each Friday and why I ask you to Tweet or post on Facebook about our sermons and programs. we have good news to share; we need to convince the community out there that we are the kind of Christians who love and accept, who don’t exclude and condemn. I have learned that there is little in the way of organized ecumenical fellowship in San Diego: there are organizations like the ICWJ that bring leaders from different faith communities together for a cause, but there doesn’t seem to be a ministerial association. So I am making my own connections, forming friendships with other ministers and hoping that something will grow out of that. We can do so much more together than we can do alone, and as a Cathedral we have a unique charism and call to provide leadership in the wider community.

Pastoral Care

In the pastoral care arena, I early on discovered that we had a cell phone for pastoral emergencies but it was held by one person who never got a break from that duty. So I asked my valued colleagues, the active and retired clergy, and we set up a rotation schedule so that about eight of us each take the phone for a month at a time. That system seems to be working pretty well. Stephen Ministry is a lay pastoral ministry, started by the Lutherans, which provides a way for lay people to receive training in pastoral care and assigns them to people who need someone to walk with them for a while. Often a Stephen Minister will be assigned when the crisis is over, the funeral or surgery past, or the diagnosis of a terminal illness has been given. A Stephen Minister will walk with you, meeting with you for an hour every week, for up to two years if necessary. It’s not a substitute for clergy care or for therapy; but it is a ministry that changes the lives of both giver and recipient. I am dreaming about sending two or three lay people to Stephen Leader training so that they can start the ministry here. It could greatly enrich what we already have in place.


You will soon hear about the upcoming pledge campaign, with its theme of Living Water. I hope that when you start to think and pray about your pledge, you will remember what I’ve said about youth ministry and pastoral care. I haven’t even talked about our ministry to the Latino community and the ways we might build on that, or the Saturday evening service and the many possibilities for that. And then there’s the $40,000 the diocese paid us in rent for the offices and which of course we will not have in 2015. That’s all I’m going to say about financial needs for now – there will be more later in the fall of course.


Just a few words about our identity. I am very interested, along with my fellow Deans, in exploring what it means to be a Cathedral in America in the 21st century. You’ve heard me mention that a few times this morning. I intend to be active in the North American Conference of Deans, which will meet in Jerusalem next April, and I have been invited to participate in a small group of Deans who will explore the question of cathedral identity over the course of the next year or two.

Vision for Mission

Finally, I want to introduce you to the Vision for Mission committee. As I said, Chapter authorized me to bring together a group of diverse parishioners to dream, play, and discern what our primary values and goals should be over the next five years. We will begin our work next Saturday and expect to produce something for Chapter to consider by the end of next summer. I know some people couldn’t be here because of choir practice or another commitment, but those members of the committee who are here, please come forward when I say your name, and stand up here beside me so everyone can see you. The co-chairs are Mark Lester and Kris Hatch. Committee members are Betty Coats, Max D’Amico, Susan Hulbert, Gladis Jimenez, Canon Richard Lief, Steve Mater, Marshall Moore, Mark Patzman, John Peeling, Bob Reed, Howard Smith, Kim Sorrell, and Robin Taylor. Helena Chan will serve as chaplain, and we will have two professional facilitators from within the diocese: Allan Dorsey, a member of St. Peter’s, Del Mar, and Donna Watson, a member of St. Bart’s.

Along with the Chapter, these are people who will be lending their wisdom and insight to the task of corporately dreaming up God’s plan for our future, at least for the next few years. Thank you all for your commitment to St. Paul’s.

-The Very Rev Penny Bridges

Forum  September 21 2014 

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