Tonight I'm receiving an award at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, right here in New York.
Truth be told, I welcome any reason to go to St. John the Divine. The cathedral is gorgeous, for starters. Even though it's not even finished, and is still under construction, as it has been for more than a century, it has that majestic, awe-inspiring feel that classic buildings often have. The design is eclectic—Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic.
St. John's charter intended for the cathedral to be "a house of prayer for all people and a unifying center of intellectual light and leadership." Of course, it's the spirit of the place, what it means to New Yorkers seeking spiritual solace, what it means to the community, that really counts. That's what I intend to focus on in my talk tonight. (As usual, I'll be writing and rewriting up to the last minute, although not between 6:30 and 7:00, rest assured.)
St. John's is Episcopalian, but it's really ecumenical. As an example of that, in 1930 Adolph Ochs, then the New York Times publisher, gave the Cathedral two 12-foot-high Menorahs to celebrate St. John's efforts to improve Christian-Jewish relations. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Baptist minister from the South, preached there. So did Cardinal Terence Cooke and Nobel prize-winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The Cold War, McCarthyism, race relations, civil rights, the Vietnam War – St. John's was there.
(Cathedral of St. John the Divine)
And day in, day out, it's really an alive place. There's a school for 250-plus kids – of all faiths, and about half receive financial aid. Its soup kitchen serves more than 23,000 meals a year, and there's a job readiness program and a men's shelter. Culturally, it's really rich too, there are free New York Philharmonic concerts and a New Year's Eve concert for peace. A poets' corner salutes American writers like Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allen Poe and Gertrude Stein.
And you know who's been the artist in residence? Philippe Petit. Remember him? The high-wire artist who was always somewhere he wasn't' supposed to be? He crossed between the twin towers of the World Trade Center early one morning? He later did the same thing (although not quite as high), crossing the avenue in front of St. John's.
I could go on, of course. But I have to work a little more on my talk...