A Holy Spirit’s Work
200 Years at Christ Church
Congregations often find within their past a blueprint for their future. Here is a look at how the Holy Spirit has consistently been at work at Christ Church Cathedral for 200 years.
“ … deeply impressed with the truth and importance of the Christian Religion, and anxiously desirous to promote its influence in the hearts and lives of ourselves, our families, and our neighbors, do hereby associate ourselves together …”
So reads the founding document of Cincinnati’s Christ Church. Two hundred years later, the church consecrated a cathedral in 1993 continues to serve as a beacon to the downtown community of Cincinnati, the Diocese of Southern Ohio, and the world beyond.
Now, as in 1817, the worship, the music, the Christian formation, and the outreach service of Christ Church Cathedral are true to its traditions and faithful in response to the ongoing call of the Holy Spirit.
Worship Open to All
Worship in the Episcopal tradition of the worldwide Anglican Communion is at the heart of Christ Church Cathedral and is open to all. Pew rentals, a major source of income for many churches in earlier times, were eliminated at Christ Church by 1900. A sign hanging at the Sycamore Street entrance inviting all to “Come in, rest and pray” dates from that period. Today the cathedral doors are open daily to anyone.
Sunday services are meaningful celebrations with an auditioned choir singing at the ten o’clock liturgy in the large nave. Equally rich are the earlier morning Sunday services traditionally held in the intimate setting of Centennial Chapel, where they will resume once current renovations are complete. Services of Choral Evensong provide another dimension to the experience of worship. And a Tuesday service of Evening Prayer has its own vibrancy with a choir consisting of members who come to partake in the cathedral’s free weekly community meal.
Besides joyful celebrations at Christmas and Easter, special worship services include an annual animal blessing, a Native American celebration, a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a “Shrove Sunday” Jazz Mass, and other offerings.
Praising God through Music and the Arts
Music has played an integral role throughout the life of Christ Church. The excellence of its worship music dates back to the 19th century when the choir was first celebrated for its high quality vocals. This recognition continued through the 20th century, including while serving as choir-in-residence at various English cathedrals.
As the church continued to be known for its music in worship, it also became known for its concerts. The Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival became an annual tradition.
Today during worship services, the cathedral choirs offer a variety of superb literature from the Anglican cathedral tradition and beyond. Cincinnati area high school students sing with the choirs as apprentices as part of a choral scholar program, while the citywide Cathedral Choir of Children and Youth fosters music appreciation through the singing of sacred choral literature.
As an active participant in Cincinnati’s rich cultural life, the cathedral presents a range of concerts and other musical performances. Collegium Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus are ensembles-in-residence. The annual presentation of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols is a treasured yuletide experience.
The visual arts also play a key role in the life of the cathedral today. Opening in 2014, Gallery South has featured the work of more than 100 artists, some with national reputations, firmly establishing the cathedral as a valued and unique presence in the region’s fine arts scene.
Education That Enlightens
Opportunities for members to deepen and strengthen their Christian faith have always been an integral part of Christ Church. Multiple Sunday School classes served all ages from the early years of the church’s founding. By the 1860s, the church had built up an impressive library as well. Reference books, teacher curricula, religious works, and even secular books made up some the library’s 500 books. In addition, a Periodical Club provided the latest in published pamphlets and magazines, such was the value that Christ Church placed on having a well-read clergy and congregation.
Today education is known as Christian formation and is an intellectual pursuit, as well as a matter of the heart and spirit. At its core, it is a lifelong process of growing in relationship with God, with oneself, and with others. All cathedral offerings embrace the understanding that individuals find their true callings when they allow their growth as human beings to be directed by the hand of God and are thereby transformed.
For adults, these Christian formation opportunities include Sunday forums, Bible studies, Advent and Lenten programs, special presentations and workshops. The Taft lecture series with renowned speakers further enhances spiritual growth and intellectual development, while the new Cathedral Center for Spirituality serves the needs of the parish and the larger community alike.
The children’s program is the Montessori-based The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, while the older youth are encouraged to bring their curiosity and Big Questions to their Sunday discussions and their collective acts of service.
Birth of a Cathedral
May 18, 1817: The Episcopal Society of Christ Church is founded in Cincinnati, Ohio.
1830s-1840s: The needs of European immigrants are served.
1860-1865: Financial assistance is provided to other Episcopal churches during the Civil War.
1880s: Groups for the personal and social development of youth and young adults are organized.
1937: Shelter is provided for those forced to flee the 1937 flood.
1940-1945: Hospitality is extended to Japanese Americans forced to leave their homes during World War II.
1957: A commitment to urban ministry is made by building a new church on the same downtown site.
1960s: Hospitality is provided to participants in the Poor People’s March.
1993: Christ Church is consecrated a cathedral.
2017: A bicentennial celebration focuses on a vision of the third century.
The land where Cincinnati’s Washington Park now stands was deeded by Griffin Yeatman and William C. Anderson to Christ Church for a burial ground outside the city limits. When the city wanted to take over the land for a park, the bodies of early pioneers were removed to lots purchased in Spring Grove Cemetery by the church rector.
Membership of the Christ Church Men’s Club represented men of various Christian denominations, as well as men of the Jewish faith. Noting how easily the men mixed, a Cincinnati Post reporter wrote: “The idea (of the club) was not to make Episcopalians out of them, but to help them be better Jews, better Catholics, and better Protestants.”
Christ Church member and benefactor Mary Emery placed drinking fountains throughout the Parish House, which she had built. She also placed one outside the building. In the summer, the water was iced for the refreshment of bus drivers, delivery men, and thousands of pedestrians.
“Christmas Church” is the name a boy gave to Christ Church as he explained with excitement to a new friend all the wonderful activities the church planned for neighborhood children during the holiday season.
Christ Church was the primary force behind a tutor program for neighborhood children for ten years with as many as 60 adults working with students from Guilford, Morgan, and Mt. Adams schools.
Proceeds from the sale of Christ Church’s Felicity, Ohio, church camp to the YMCA provided an endowment for inner-city children to attend the YMCA’s Camp Ernst in Northern Kentucky.
Christ Church Cathedral awarded its single largest community grant to the Peaslee Neighborhood Center for the start-up costs of a new child care center.
Serving Others through Outreach
In the early years of Christ Church, the Ladies Benevolent Society and Helping Hand Society responded with care, food, and clothing to those caught in cholera epidemics, fires, and floods. They taught young girls and women sewing and cooking skills to clothe and feed their families. They sewed bedding and gathered medical supplies.
As the church continued to thrive through the 19th century, it continued to provide basic relief efforts for the European immigrants who settled in the overcrowded neighborhoods along the Ohio River. It also began to serve the world beyond the city limits as circumstances demanded and resources allowed.
The church’s focus on service continued into the 20th century with the construction of a Parish House that provided social, athletic, practical, and spiritual programs for members and non-members alike.
The cathedral’s long history of aiding the forgotten, including those who are suffering from the impacts of poverty, continues to shape its outreach efforts.
Today the cathedral counts among its most vibrant ministries the 5000 Club, which serves a free weekly meal to any who pass through its doors, and the Plumb Line ministry, which provides rental assistance to those at risk of eviction. Its partnership with other area churches through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of Greater Cincinnati provides housing to homeless families four times a year.
These efforts are supplemented with a strong commitment to outreach grants, which allows the cathedral to award funding to organizations that house, feed, and clothe the poor, as well as those groups that foster mentoring and educational programs to break the cycle of poverty.
For social justice issues, the cathedral strives to be a voice of truth, awarding funds to groups involved in initiatives addressing racial and gender equality and gun violence prevention.
These stories of missions and ministries tell the people of Christ Church Cathedral who they were, who they are, and who they can continue to be.