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Christ Church Cathedral Celebrates 200 Years In St. Louis

Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis opens its doors on weekdays and during weekend services to provide a place for the homeless to escape the summer heat.
File Photo | Nicholas Telep | St. Louis Public Radio
Christ Church Cathedral celebrated its 200th anniversary on Friday.

Christ Church Cathedral has been around longer than Missouri has been a state. 

The church celebrated its 200th anniversary on Friday and is known as the first Episcopal church west of the Mississippi.

Christ Church Cathedral was founded Nov. 1, 1819, by several people including explorer William Clark; the state’s first governor, Alexander McNair; U.S. Sen. Thomas Hart Benton; and St. Louis’ first mayor, William Carr Lane.

The Very Rev. Kathie Adams-Shepherd has been the dean of the church. She said the church’s commitment to God’s people is one reason the church has remained a staple in the community.

“As important things were happening, [like] trying to build a building several times in our history and having the cholera epidemic, and the fires on the waterfront and the Civil War, etc.,” she said. “In the midst of all that, this kind of ministry went on through the clergy and the laity who led this parish downtown.”

Community outreach is how the church has remained an engaged congregation in St. Louis, Adams-Shepherd said. She said the church’s involvement in civil rights demonstrations and serving the homeless are just a couple of reasons why it’s lasted this long.

“There’s been times when our building was shelter and home to folks that found themselves unhoused for a time, whether they were immigrants and refugees or unhoused around us,” she said, “and that continues to this day.”

In its early days, the congregation held services at a dance hall before starting construction on its current location in 1860. A few years later, construction was stalled due to the Civil War. The building was completed in 1912.

Many well-known figures have given sermons at Christ Church Cathedral, including the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Rev. Desmond Tutu, the first black Anglican archbishop of Cape Town and Johannesburg, South Africa. 

“Because we are a place that sees ourselves as a space for social context and a safe place to talk about social context in our culture,” Adams-Shepherd said, “many voices have come and gone through there; those are two notable who are both Nobel Peace laureates.”

The church became a national historic landmark in 1994.

Christ Church Cathedral is hosting anniversary events this weekend, including a Festival Mass at 10 a.m. Sunday. The Rt. Rev. Jennifer Baskerville-Burrows will speak as a guest preacher. She was the first black woman elected as a diocesan bishop in the church.

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Marissanne is the afternoon newscaster at St. Louis Public Radio.