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Diocese of Rhode Island closes cathedral

Diocese of Rhode Island closes cathedral

The Cathedral in Providence is to be closed, at least temporarily, April 22 due to rising costs and declining income, according to the Providence Journal. Members seemed surprised although according to the letter from the interim dean indicates it is an ongoing issue:

The Episcopal Cathedral of St. John — which began as King’s Church in 1722 and is the Diocese of Rhode Island’s fourth oldest church — is shutting down, with a final service set for April 22.

Parishioners of the cathedral church, the seat of Bishop Geralyn Wolf, learned the news on Sunday from the Right Rev. David Joslin, the cathedral’s interim dean, and Deacon Barbara May-Stock, during the parish’s annual meeting on North Main Street.

Letter from web site is here

Letter to the Cathedral membership below:

Dear People of the Cathedral of St. John:

On Sunday, February 19, 2012, the Annual Meeting was held at the Cathedral of Saint John. In this letter I want to report on the central focus of that meeting.

As you know, the Cathedral parish has experienced growing financial difficulty over a period of years. Now it has become more than a difficulty. Simply put, we are now out of money. Last year we had a deficit of about $250,000 which was covered by reserves. Now those reserves have been used up.

The Chapter has engaged in much prayer, anguish, and discussion. We have consulted with the Bishop and her staff and our former Wardens. As a result, the Chapter realized that we must suspend services and parish life at the Cathedral. Our last service will be on Sunday, 22 April 2012 at 9:30 AM, followed by a time to celebrate our past life together and to thank those who have faithfully served here.

As Acting Dean of the Cathedral of St. John, I announced this decision at the Annual Meeting. I can’t exaggerate the pain of this process. We dreaded the conclusion but having exhausted all alternatives we found it was the only thing to do.

Please note that while services and parish life are being suspended it does not mean that the Cathedral is being permanently closed. Suspending services now leaves open the possibility of new uses for the Cathedral in the future mission strategy of the Diocese.

Let me add a personal note. I have greatly enjoyed my association with the Cathedral and with you, its people. When Bishop Wolf asked me to be the Acting Dean following Dean Krauss’s retirement I was very pleased and looked forward to ministering with you. But I also knew of the financial difficulties we faced and the pain I would share with you if the Cathedral had to be closed.

I must tell you that the members of the Chapter -which is the governing body of a cathedral- aided by the advice of former Wardens have worked together magnificently with sorrow and yet with hope for God’s call into the future. As in the 23rd Psalm, we believe we are walking through a shadowy valley but led by the Good Shepherd who sees the new pasture we cannot yet see.

Indeed, the Rector of Grace Church on Westminster Street has already invited our people to come to Grace and we are assured of the hospitality of other Episcopal churches in the Providence area.

We are also working on ways to continue pastoral care for Cathedral members who are no longer able to participate in worship on Sundays. If you want to make sure that you are included in this ministry, or that a family member or friend is, please contact the Cathedral office at 401-331-4622.

Please know that you are constantly in our prayers, and that we are available for you, if you wish to be in touch with us about this. We hope you will keep up your attendance at the Cathedral and your participation in its life in the time ahead. Please help with your contributions so that we may lovingly and effectively preserve the Cathedral and its contents for the future. May God continue to bless you in all your days, and help us to find peace in this difficult decision.

And please remember to put the 22nd of April on your special calendar.

Faithfully yours,

The Rt. Rev. David B. Joslin, Acting Dean


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I don’t know about Providence, but I do think that, in general, there are too many Episcopal church buildings in the Northeast. It is painful to close buildings and to end communities. And, to be sure, an important part of doing that is attracting people to our communities of faith. That might be with very traditional music and preaching. It might be with something different (when I was in graduate school, the Episcopal church on the campus of LSU offered a very traditional service on Sunday mornings, a contemporary service on Sunday evenings, and a very simple daily Eucharist. These appealed to different people. Or to people in different moods.

I currently live in the diocese of Long Island, where there are often 2 or 3 parishes in walking distance of each other. How does that make sense in 2012? It did make sense a hundred years ago, as there were so many Anglican Christians here. But does it still?

Congregations must spend almost all of their resources maintaining buildings that are more than a century old. There’s little left for anything else. My own small parish does have a program (parish-funded) to provide a meal in a social setting once a month for older adults in our largely Jewish community. We have several rummage sales each year, specifically to provide low-cost clothing and other things (more than to make money). We have a little adult education program.

And that’s it. It seems to me that we’d be better off combining our resources with another parish.

All that said, my prayers are with all those affected by the closing of the Cathedral.

dale mcneill

Bill Dilworth

Jason, you might be right, although the three parishes are quite different. S. Stephen’s, my parish, is self-consciously Anglo-Catholic, for example, and attracts people from outside the Providence area as well as people who live here. I never got the idea that we were competing with St. John’s for the same public.

Susan Kleinwechter

Although Ms Katsarelis objected to Kraut1701’s comments, and dismissed them as irrelevant, I do not. This link is to a report on church growth illustrates that “different” music programs are indeed a factor to church growth. And if you want a TEC flavor in a similar report, same author, it is here:

After looking at what the cathedral’s website, I note they had more to say about the cathedral history than active cathedral programs. There was an active food ministry, but no youth or adult ministries, and vague information about Sunday school. The calendar was largely barren of interesting events for quite some time. Newsletters were old. There was no social media presence. Churches need to wake up and address their decline in worshipers and members, and perhaps start by identifying what might appeal to other people who live nearby, and younger people, not just our aging Episcopal membership (

I just googled “population providence ri”: 627,070. Then I searched “Episcopal Church” at google maps. There are three churches within one mile in central Providence: the Cathedral, Grace (mentioned in the letter above), and St. Stephen’s. Within what looks like 5 miles, there are 9 Episcopal churches.

I don’t know anything about these parishes: how they are run, staffed, do they lean catholic or broad, are they big or small. But looking at it from 30,000 feet, that seems like two many churches to be sustainable in such a concentrated area. If you tried to keep them all alive, you would inevitably have very inefficient redundancies in staffing.

This problem is not unique to Providence–it seems true of a lot of East coast cities. I have a friend who complains about the same situation in Poughkeepsie NY. Is there a way to bring sense into such a situation–a sustainable way forward–without being gloomy about it? I’d like to think its possible.

Jason Cox

Cynthia Katsarelis


Guitars would clear the pews of many of the churches I’ve attended. Simplistic suggestions like that are not helpful. It seems to me that a Cathedral ought to be thriving enough to have a variety of offerings. I note that the thriving Cathedrals where I’ve worshipped had robust Anglican choirs. Maybe a guitar mass on Saturday or Sunday night would be a nice offering for some, but to posit that as a solution to decline is really disconnected.

Yes, preach the Gospel. Get active in community and mission. For some, beautiful liturgy and music nurture and support that work. The only guitar I want to see in church is a world class player playing Bach, and fortunately, that can happen.

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