Trinity Renewed: Keller Links Health of Episcopal Church to Community

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014 12:00 am  

The Rev. Christoph Keller III, interim dean and rector of Trinity Cathedral in Little Rock. | (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

“Clergy would come in and say, ‘Bishop, I just don’t believe in administration. That’s not one of my gifts.’ And he’d say, ‘Well, you’re going to have to pay attention to it because while administration is not one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, it’s the delivery system for all of them.’ And so Episcopal churches tend to organize around the pastor. That works well in a small church, but it doesn’t work well in a big and complicated church like a cathedral.”

At the end of his tenure at Trinity, Keller said, he wants to be able to say that he instituted organizational structures and processes to handle issues like long-range planning.

Keller and Tucker visited recently with a reporter at the church, located at 310 W. 17th St. in the Governor’s Mansion Historic District. Finding two men with deeper roots in Arkansas wouldn’t be easy.

Christoph Keller Jr., Keller’s father, was the son and grandson of Episcopal priests. He married Caroline Murphy of the Murphy Oil family in 1940, served in the Marine Corps during World War II and went on to become Murphy Oil’s first executive vice president in 1951. He left the business world to study for the priesthood, eventually becoming bishop of the Diocese of Arkansas in 1970.

The Rev. Christoph Keller III, who has a Doctor of Theology, started St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church in 1991, conducting services in a bargain movie theater until the church building on Chenal Parkway was completed.

The Keller family donated $3.5 million toward what became the Polly Murphy & Christoph Keller Jr. Education Center on the campus of Heifer International.

Tucker is a principal in Moses Tucker Real Estate, responsible for much of downtown redevelopment, including the River Market District.

His father, Everett Tucker Jr., was industrial director of the Chamber of Commerce and a moderate leader in the Central High desegregation crisis.

And Rett Tucker is a fourth-generation member of the cathedral, has served three times on the vestry and served one year as senior warden. His grandchildren are now members.

“The mission of our company is to strengthen the urban core,” Tucker said of Moses Tucker. “Philosophically, we believe that downtown is the heart of the city. And if your heart’s not healthy, generally the rest of your body is not going to be very healthy. So our company has been about redeveloping, rebuilding downtown Little Rock, largely in the River Market District.”

The cathedral, Keller said, is “the heart of the diocese. And so it has to flourish. It has to be a resource for its city and for its diocese.”

Three years ago, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral went through a wrenching time when, after almost 55 years, it was forced to close its Cathedral School, which taught children from prekindergarten through the fifth grade. The opening in 2009 of a grade school at Episcopal Collegiate School had caused enrollment at the Cathedral School to plummet. Closing of the beloved school led to a drop in membership at the church. That has stabilized, however, and it now has about 1,000 members from all over central Arkansas.



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