He was a great adherent of the methodology, often attributed to theologian Karl Barth, that a good preacher always prepares a sermon with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, and so was largely responsible for helping Saint Mark become more inclusive and outward looking. He saw to it that the cathedral stepped up its support of the Neighborhood Involvement Program (NIP) which was an ecumenical and interfaith effort by several Christian and Jewish congregations in and near the downtown area to provide much needed social and health services for seniors, youth, and the unemployed and underemployed residents of the Whittier neighborhood and beyond. He also insisted that the substantial Wells endowment, based upon funds established when Saint Mark‘s closed the Wells Memorial Settlement House downtown in the 1930’s, become a grant-giving foundation, providing funds to organizations proposing projects for “fundamental societal change”. As a result, hundreds of thousands of dollars have been given to non-profits in the Twin Cities over the years since.
Fontaine had always been interested in the role that cathedrals have played historically in the development of the arts and so in 1973, under his leadership, Saint Mark‘s began to offer an annual Arts Festival for the larger Twin Cities community, generally a week to ten days of plays, concerts, dance performances, exhibitions, and a few events which simply defied description. The festivals also led to commissioning artists to do new works which became a permanent part of the cathedral – such commissions included the creation of new sculptures, vestments, weavings, poetry, carvings, glass work, banners, needle work, pottery, and music.
It was in his teaching, preaching, and leading that Fontaine had his greatest impact on the cathedral congregation itself. Saint Mark‘s was one of the first Episcopal cathedrals in the nation to have a woman priest on staff and among the first to send an openly gay man to seminary. He sought to make Saint Mark‘s a place where both questions of the faith and issues in broader society could be discussed with candor and differing perspectives.
Asked once for archival copies of his sermons, Fontaine replied, If I have preached any good sermons they are walking around in the world on two legs.
Listen to Canon Bill Donovan's Homily preached at Doug Fontaine's Memorial Service.