St Andrew's began in 1833 as a mission church and was replaced by new buildings in 1850 and again in 1875. When Pope Leo XIII established the Diocese of Grand Rapids in 1882, St Andrew's became its cathedral. It was damaged when struck by lightning in 1901, but was restored and expanded. The present cathedral is a neo-Gothic structure seating about 750. Twentieth century renovations include the St Ambrose Chapel (1961-63), a new altar, and enlargement of the sanctuary. New scriptural Stations of the Cross, and a baptismal pool that allows for baptism by immersion, were part of extensive renovations that took place from 1997-2000. There are beautiful stained glass windows. For this service two chairs were placed in front of the altar, one for each of the bishops who co-presided (the cathedra was not used in this service). There was also a candelabra to the right of the altar holding five candles.
The cathedral is the seat of the Bishop of Grand Rapids; as a parish church they sponsor the typical educational and sacramental preparation activities. As an inner city church, there is a strong emphasis on social justice issues, including a clothing center and a jail ministry. There is a strong music program, with multiple choirs, as well as a diocesan choir. Grand Rapids has a large Hispanic community, and the cathedral has a strong outreach to that community. The Diocese of Grand Rapids includes eleven counties in western Michigan, and is comprised of 81 parishes and 30 schools. The offices of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod are located in Lansing, about an hour to the east of Grand Rapids; they have 117 parishes. The synod includes most of Michigan's lower peninsula (excepting the area around Detroit in the eastern part of the state).
Grand Rapids is located in southwestern Michigan on the Grand River, at the site of what used to be rapids (no longer there), approximately 25 miles east of Lake Michigan. It is the second largest city in Michigan after Detroit. Health care, beer, and furniture manufacturing are the most important features of the local economy. It is the city where former President Gerald Ford grew up; he and his wife Betty are buried on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum. A number of other Catholic institutions are near the cathedral, including the offices of the diocese, the Catholic Information Center, Catholic Central High School, and St Mary's hospital. The Catholic Information Center sponsored during the month of October a 500th Anniversary of the Reformation art show; artists from local colleges and high schools were invited to submit art that supported the theme Renewed in Word, Faith, and Grace. The cathedral is in the Heartside neighborhood, with a significant homeless population; several organizations that serve that population are nearby.
The Most Revd David Walkowiak, Roman Catholic Bishop of Grand Rapids, and the Rt Revd Craig Satterlee, Lutheran Bishop of the North/West Lower Michigan Synod, co-presided. The Revd Julie Schneider-Thomas, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church, Rockford, and Zion Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, read the gospel. The Revd Mr Dennis Rybicki, diocesan director of music, and Sidney Hoeksema, choir director at Trinity Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, shared conducting duties. Organists were Larry Biser, Trinity Lutheran's director of music; and Charles Nolen, the cathedral's director of music. David Harwood (Catholic) was cantor. Chione Koech (Lutheran) was soprano soloist in a beautiful setting of "Be Thou My Vision." There were some ten readers, who read passages from the ecumenical document From Conflict to Communion, jointly published by the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, or from one of the three readings in the Liturgy of the Word. All in all, there were some 35 individuals identified in the program as having a role in the service.
What was the name of the service?Ecumenical Prayer Service: From Conflict to Communion – Lutheran-Catholic Common Commemoration, 500th Anniversary of the Reformation
How full was the building?
Full to overflowing.
Did anyone welcome you personally?
An usher handed me a service leaflet.
Was your pew comfortable?
How would you describe the pre-service atmosphere?
A bit chatty.
What were the exact opening words of the service?
"Please rise and join in singing our opening hymn." After the opening hymn, "In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."
What books did the congregation use during the service?
Only the service leaflet.
What musical instruments were played?
Three organs were installed in 2002 by Letorneau Organs of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec: a 72-rank, four manual instrument in the gallery; a chancel organ of 22 ranks; and a 14 rank instrument that was installed in the 60-seat St Ambrose Chapel. Only the gallery instrument was used in this service. Also, a grand piano, brass quartet, and a handbell choir from one of the local Lutheran churches. The choir was made up of the diocesan choir and members of several local Lutheran choirs.
Did anything distract you?
The was a bit of confusion during the bilingual intercessions near the end of the service (petitions alternated between Spanish and English), and one of the petitions got lost. Sad, I thought, as it was a prayer that God would "bring us together at your eucharistic table."
Was the worship stiff-upper-lip, happy clappy, or what?
A fairly formal liturgy. Music was largely traditional. Incense was used at the entrance procession and retiring recessional, during the singing of "Veni Creator Spiritus" near the beginning of the liturgy (one verse in Latin, two in English), and at the gospel. The peace was exchanged after the reading from the Hebrew scriptures and psalm, and before the epistle and gospel. Near the end of the service, five teenage girls, in turn, read a "commitment" from the back of the church (for example: "Catholics and Lutherans should always begin from the perspective of unity"). After reading their commitment, each girl processed up the center aisle of the nave and placed a lit candle on the candelabra noted above.
Exactly how long was the sermon?
12 minutes (Bishop Satterlee); 8 minutes (Bishop Walkowiak).
On a scale of 1-10, how good was the preacher?
10 – For this occasion, I'll happily give them both a 10.
In a nutshell, what was the sermon about?
Bishop Satterlee began by talking about the Declaration on the Way, a document affirmed in 2015 by the ELCA Conference of Bishops, and by the Committee on Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. He noted that several numbers were being thrown about today: 500 years since the beginning of the Reformation, the 95 theses of Martin Luther, and the 50 years of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue. He noted that he wanted to mention another number: the 32 areas of agreement noted in the Declaration on the Way, which will pave a way forward as we continue to journey together. Our divisions have become a stumbling block to our mission in the world.
Bishop Walkowiak noted that, whatever the state of Lutheran-Catholic dialogue, he and Bishop Satterlee share another bond: they are united as graduates of Notre Dame University. He remarked upon the general unity among all who bear the name Christian and the specific unity between Lutherans and Catholics. We are pilgrims journeying alongside each other.
Which part of the service was like being in heaven?
Bishop Walkowiak censing the altar during the singing of "Veni Creator Spiritus," beautifully accompanied by Trinity Lutheran's handbell choir. The singing, both congregational and choral. And the beautiful ceremony of commitment near the end of the service.
And which part was like being in... er... the other place?
As I walked into church, I noticed protesters, some 15 of them, just across the street from St Andrew's. They carried signs: one read "Where Mary is Queen, Christ is King;" another "One Holy Catholic Church" with the word Catholic circled. Oh, well there were a lot more of us in the church praying for unity than there were of them.
What happened when you hung around after the service looking lost?
Well, nothing. This was a large gathering of folks from a large number of different congregations. I did share a brief word with a couple of Lutheran pastors I know.
How would you describe the after-service coffee?
There was none.
How would you feel about making another visit (where 10 = ecstatic, 0 = terminal)?
N/A – For this service, the multitude of clergy and lay people involved in the planning deserve a 10. But this sort of service really doesn't tell me much about what a Sunday morning mass at St Andrew's would be like.
Did the service make you feel glad to be a Christian?
What one thing will you remember about all this in seven days' time ?
Hearing the gospel proclaimed by a woman Lutheran pastor in a Catholic pulpit after she had censed the gospel book!