I love history. I have a degree in history and have taught U.S., world, and my share of church history. That being said, I have never been particularly fond of retrospectives. While it is valuable and even necessary to examine our past so we can learn from our mistakes and offer gratitude for our inherited legacy, exclusively looking to the past can make us sentimental and unprepared for the challenges and opportunities we face today. This is why I am grateful that we at Christ Church Cathedral have framed our bicentennial celebration and projects as our Third Century Vision. It suggests that while we certainly appreciate our 200-year history, we are not stuck in the past. We are asking ourselves, “What is the gift God is entrusting to us now and for the next 100 years?”

As one of the most enduring institutions of Cincinnati, Ohio, Christ Church Cathedral has demonstrated an extraordinary capacity to change and respond to the current realities of the city and the nation. In former years, Christ Church helped establish what is now known as Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and the United Way. It has supported hundreds of families who needed better housing, nourishing food, and safe recreational opportunities for their children. In a long history of advocacy, including being active in the Civil Rights Movement, Christ Church Cathedral has more recently been bringing attention to gun violence, mass incarceration, and the plight of immigrants. The parish history books may tell the story through the lens of budgets, rectors, and wardens, yet it is actually ordinary women and men who have cooked, prayed, marched, sheltered, comforted, and donated who make Christ Church the place so many of us love and whose legacy has given us an imagination for the future. In other words, Christ Church Cathedral’s third century arises from its beautiful and complex past.

When I arrived in 2013 to become the twentieth rector and third dean (and first woman!) to lead Christ Church Cathedral, the concept of a Third Century Vision was already circulating. There were disparate ideas for everything from a new organ for the nave to some kind of a transformative housing project. As the congregation explored these ideas, the leadership realized there were many things that needed attention, including a crumbling infrastructure in the cathedral’s Centennial Chapel. The congregation crafted its ideas into a single document under this mission statement: We will serve as a catalyst and resource for transformative and lasting change. Through our cathedral initiatives, we will become a resource for hope and transformation in the Anglican Communion, The Episcopal Church, the Diocese of Southern Ohio, Greater Cincinnati, and beyond. Whew! No small thinking here!

The details of living out this mission have been at work for more than three years now. In addition to projects such as reimagining its former Cathedral Shop, the cathedral is reaching out to the city through new partnerships such as the ensembles-in-residence programs with Collegium Cincinnati and the Cincinnati Men’s Chorus, through the creation of the Cathedral Center for Spirituality, and through increasing weekday outreach to downtown neighbors. Yet, a comprehensive review of one of the church’s greatest assets, the cathedral campus, needed further attention.

Often congregations think of facility improvements as “spending money on ourselves.” This thinking goes along the lines that “outreach” feeds and clothes the poor, while things such as organs and HVAC systems serve to make the insider group more comfortable. But I tend to believe this as a false dichotomy. God wants us to tend to both physical and spiritual needs of those given into our care. The Church is an incarnation of God’s abundant and redeeming love for the whole world. We exist to bring glory to God and to invite the whole world to know God. We are to steward every resource at our disposal, including our beautiful liturgy and music, as well as our gathering spaces that draw the curious and the lonely, the hungry and the lost. The Third Century Vision projects at Christ Church Cathedral encompass the breadth of its mission to the world.

  • A revitalized Centennial Chapel. For 100 years, this chapel has long served as a focus for prayer and worship. Now, with a new organ, an improved HVAC system, better acoustics, and increased and more flexible seating capacity, the cathedral will be better able to accommodate the smaller weddings, funerals, weekday services, classes, and community gatherings that are popular and in demand. The chapel will also have an integrated presence to the new Sycamore Commons.
  • The Sycamore Commons. What was formerly a utilitarian area between the diocesan office and Centennial Chapel will emerge from construction as a bright and inviting garden area that can be used for cathedral events and will offer downtown residents, workers, and visitors a place of respite and renewal. Art panels, a labyrinth, a water feature, and quiet spaces will help soothe the soul. Best of all, the Sycamore Commons is collaboration with Bishop Thomas Breidenthal’s office, reminding all of us that a cathedral has a mission of welcome and partnership throughout the whole Church.
  • Cincinnati Scholar House. Continuing a long legacy of addressing housing and economic inequities, the cathedral, in partnership with Model Group and Cincinnati Union Bethel, will build supportive housing and an early childhood education center for low-income parents and their children, lifting two generations out of the cycle of generational poverty.
  • The Nave Organ Project. Following a generous donation for the initial deposit, the cathedral vestry in 2013 decided to order a replacement organ for an aging Holtkamp instrument. In early 2019, the cathedral will dedicate a new Richards, Fowkes & Co. instrument. Renovations to the nave in preparation for the organ will include acoustical improvements for music and the spoken word, improving the experience of worship, while increasing the opportunity for cathedral members and visitors alike to more fully enjoy concerts, lectures, the annual Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival, and other community events. The arts are part of a cathedral legacy and are a gift to the city.

Each of these projects is missional –– a reflection of the cathedral’s call and capacity to invite, include, heal, advocate, restore, reconcile, and joyfully acknowledge the God of all Creation. As those of us who call Christ Church Cathedral our church home truly live into our third century, I pray that we will consider with gratitude the many ways God has and is calling us to be the hands and feet of our Creator in our world.



Gail Greenwell