Reviving the Cross of Christ at Trinity Cathedral–sermon at Trinity Cathedral, Miami, June 19, 2011

Heavenly God, we pray that this morning we may receive a blessing and that you may be manifested in our midst, in the breaking of the bread, in the preaching of your word, as we worship you; be among us and let your Holy Spirit empower us to your service now and forever. Amen.

This Trinity Sunday I am inviting you to revive the cross that was marked here on the soil of this city over a century ago by Bishop William Crane Gray as he blessed the creation of our church in Miami.

One hundred fifteen years ago this Episcopal bishop, who had been assigned to the almost impossible task of planting our church in the State of Florida, came to this city of Miami at the invitation of an extraordinary woman named Julia Tuttle. As required by our liturgy for the dedication of a sacred space, he marked the cross of Christ on the ground, and by doing so he planted this congregation at the end of the 19th Century.

Julia Tuttle was not only a very shrewd businesswoman, but also a devout Christian and a good and committed Episcopalian. As she worked hard to develop Miami, she eventually managed to convince Henry Flagler to bring his railroad all the way down here to a place that many considered an forbiddingly hot, swampy and muddy town.

Julia Tuttle’s commitment with our Lord was also to bring the cross of Christ to Miami, to plant new church here–and she was going to make sure that it was an Episcopal Church.

I don’t know if Bishop Gray, who lived in Jacksonville, Florida and was supposed to be in charge of the entire Florida peninsula, really knew exactly what he was getting into. But the good bishop agreed, even before the city was organized, to come down and take a look before committing himself to give the OK for a new church in this swampy land

In order to travel to Miami you had to take a train that went from the northern part of the state  all the way down to the city Lake Worth, in Palm Beach County, which was the end of the line. From there you had to wait for the next ship heading to Miami. Of course in those days Carnival Cruises had not being invented, and instead you had to take a cargo ship that carried lumber and supplies that were needed to build this new city that was to be called Miami.

Julia Tuttle wanted to be sure to get her church, so not wanting to take any chances, she worked very hard to impress the Bishop of Florida.

We are told by her daughter that to achieve her goal she first erected a big tent for worship, and then procured a piano and piano player from one of the local honky-tonk clubs of the time. The next thing she needed was people to fill the tent, and for that she enlisted her foremen to recruit all her workers to show up at the tent. With a little practice for them in hymn singing, she knew that the bishop was bound to be impressed.

But at the last minute before the bishop’s arrival she realized that the tent was not full, so she ordered her foremen to go get the rest of her workers, the ones who had worked the previous night shift and were still asleep. Many of them were literally dragged from their beds and brought to church. She also ordered the pool halls closed and the players pressed to be at worship. The foremen also went out in the street and began to invite any passerby to go and meet the bishop.

Sure enough, the tent was finally full by the time that Bishop Gray arrived. Later he made the comment that he didn’t realize there were that many enthusiastic Episcopalians in Miami. Surely these devout people needed a church, and he gave his approval.

Thanks to Julia Tuttle, the bishop to marked the cross of Christ on the ground and planted this congregation of Trinity Church 115 years ago.  Now my question for you on this morning of Trinity Sunday, this church’s patronal feast, must be:

Are you willing to help to revive that cross that Bishop Gray marked when he planted this congregation of Trinity? Are you willing with your life, time treasure and talent and revive that cross that has been a beacon of faith for over a century in this city of Miami?

In reality Trinity’s congregation existed before Miami was finally organized; our first member was Julia Tuttle. More than a century has passed and Trinity has been housed in several different structures since that first tent, until finally this majestic and historic building was constructed.

There was a time that all the land around us belonged to Trinity.  The land from the Miami Women’s Club all the way to Biscayne Bay, including the sites where the Doubletree Grand, the Marriot and the Venetian condominium now stand, was owned by this church. However, several financial debacles from the past century reduced that extra space.

In 1969 when the Diocese of South Florida was divided into three different dioceses, Southeast Florida came to be, and our first Diocesan Convention, 41 years ago, named Trinity as the diocesan Cathedral.

Bishop James Duncan, who is buried in the columbarium of this cathedral, became our first bishop. He was the bishop who ordained me deacon in this cathedral, and six months later, priest, at Holy Cross Church on 36th Street, just a few blocks from here.

This church and cathedral has seen several rectors, deans and bishops, and now we are moving into a new era. We are not a dormant congregation anymore, as this area where we are located is becoming a very safe and heavily populated area. We are surrounded be the Arsht Center for Performing Arts, wonderful places to eat and to have fun, department stores, an arena for sports, a Starbucks, and lo and behold, even a new Pulix supermarket just one block from here–definitely a sign of progress1

So today we celebrate our existence by receiving new members through confirmation and reception. This time Julia Tuttle’s foremen didn’t have to go out and force anyone to come here. I believe that God is responsible for that.

I think that today is a good day to be reminded that we are depositories of a legacy of faith that needs to continue shining the truth of Christ into this city.

Yes, Trinity Cathedral can brag about our wonderful past, but let us remember that the past should become a springboard for action and not a hammock for resting, as some may think.

We are not called to depend on someone else’s accomplishments.

I believe and support Dean McCaleb’s call for us to get off our hammocks and to wake up and see the transformation of this area. It is even a radically different place from what it was 11 years ago when I became your bishop. We have before us an extraordinary opportunity to impact Miami again with Christ’s message, and reach those who have moved into our new surroundings.

I know it is not an easy task, but this opportunity we are given should not be wasted.

We also need God’s guidance–but that will be wasted if we are not willing to move our feet.

We need a sure faith, able to dare our soul to go farther that we can see. That was the faith of Julia Tuttle, because she was sure that if she convinced the bishop to build this church, those few Miamians of her time would come and built a strong congregation.

Yes we need God’s guidance and strong faith, but we also need you, each one of you, to carry on the Great Commission of becoming a beacon of light in this area and in this city.

I don’t know how many of you have invited your neighbors to accompany you to worship at Trinity? I am convinced that many of us are willing to do it but we prefer to use telepathy to invite others to church. It has been proven without any doubt that telepathy doesn’t work.

Let’s remember that when people without a church home begin to visit a church they are not necessarily looking for a friendly church; they are really looking for friends.

I like to share this story. When I first came to this diocese, on one of my first visits to a congregation my wife Diana was accompanying me and the priest forgot to announce her presence. No one talked to her, and after about 20 minutes in the parish hall the rector realized that he had forgotten to introduce the new bishop’s wife.

Afterward, when people realized who this stranger was, one of the matrons, a longtime member of the church, came to her and said in a recriminatory way: “Mrs. Frade, you should have introduced yourself. If we had known that you were the bishop’s wife we would have talked to you.”

Every time you welcome a stranger in this Cathedral, you revive the cross that Bishop Gray marked on the ground with his crosier. Every time you invite a friend to church you revive that cross. Every time that you are willing to give of your treasure, your time, your talent, then you are reviving that cross.

Our past needs to become a springboard to the future that will encourage us to move forward with the same determination of Julia Tuttle had. She was convinced that Trinity had a mission to accomplish in Miami, that Trinity was in itself a mission with a church and not simply a church with a mission.

Are you ready to revive that cross? I invite today you to be part of this mission that we call Trinity Cathedral.

In the name of God,  Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

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