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Will historic National Cathedral be unloaded?

Posted By Les Kinsolving On 07/09/2012 @ 8:18 pm In Commentary,Opinion | No Comments

The interim dean of the Episcopal Church’s Washington National Cathedral has, quite suddenly, announced that he will leave his position this month. The Rev. Dr. Francis Wade took on this interim post Jan. 6, 2012, and was expected to remain until the arrival of a new dean. There was no explanation provided by the Cathedral office for this sudden departure.

Virtue Online’s Sarah Ives reports: “It had been expected that Wade would stay in place until the arrival of the new dean. No names of prospective interim or permanent deans have been announced following the announcement of Wade’s surprise departure.

“Meanwhile, the Washington National Cathedral continues its frantic search for money in its recent public appeals. On June 21, 2012, a Cathedral email referred to the month of June as a ‘critical time.’ The public communiqué pleaded: ‘A gap in annual funds remains and must be closed by the end of the Cathedral’s fiscal year, June 30, 2012.’

“While in this document and others the Cathedral continues to blame its financial difficulties on the Aug. 23, 2011, earthquake, this justification for their financial woes is disingenuous because the Cathedral has not even begun to repair the highly damaged towers. An unnamed staff member said that the Cathedral is more than $1 million behind in its expected revenues for this fiscal year. Because of the large shortfall, the daily noon-day worship services have been moved away from the high altar in the main section of the Cathedral so that more paying bus tours can be added to the daily schedule. Management decided that the cash that could be brought in by tours between noon and 12:30 p.m. is more important than the traditional Eucharist at the main altar.

“The most recent assessment of the earthquake damages at the Cathedral states that the repairs are estimated at $20 million and that the renovation once started will take five years. Most of the damages were sustained in the Central Tower that swayed and suffered a form of whiplash bouncing back and forth. The Cathedral had no earthquake insurance and so all of the money will need to be raised to repair the building. Because the Cathedral has not raised sufficient money to repair the damages, the work on the Cathedral has not even yet begun. Instead, dark netting has been hung between the ceiling and the floor in order to catch any falling mortar from the towers and other damaged areas.

“Now that the Cathedral frequently has non-stop tours with guides speaking into loud microphones, one staff member compared the hectic, noisy atmosphere to a busy train station. During the last few months, fees were added to view the Cathedral, and now every person entering is met with large signs announcing entrance fees along with a cashier ready to take money.



“These manifold signs of trouble at the Cathedral continue to raise questions about the plans for addressing these problems as even the Cathedral publications themselves predict a real crisis that will occur at the end of June.



”Now without Dean Wade, the situation should likely fall into the province of Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the chair of the board for the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation. In March 2012, Budde fired Lucy Chumbley, the respected editor of the Washington Window and then ended this diocesan newspaper without having any newspaper or independent reporting sheet to take its place.



”With these draconian measures, Budde appears to have attempted to stop any publicity from the now defunct Washington Window about the grave Cathedral financial crisis. Now these unexplained multiple crises at the Washington National Cathedral are erupting into plain view.”

National Episcopal Church membership has plummeted from 3.5 million in the last century, to barely 2 million today.

That and the $20 million cost of repairing the Cathedral (on which the denomination has never invested earthquake insurance) is renewing speculation that the Cathedral may be sold to another denomination rather than closed down, as have Episcopal cathedrals in Delaware and Rhode Island.

Meanwhile, the denomination’s General Convention, meeting July 4, 2012, in Indianapolis, has seen its House of Deputies (priests and laity) pass a resolution calling for the sale of the 12-story National Episcopal Church headquarters building at 815 Second Avenue in New York City (the other General Convention house is the House of Bishops, to which this resolution was sent).

The Very Rev. David Thurlow of South Carolina called for the denomination to stop concealing the legal costs it has incurred in its property battles with breakaway diocese and congregations:

“I ask for transparency and accountability when it comes to how much money has actually been spent on the legal costs that continue to escalate. … People are not happy that we have a building in New York that takes millions of dollars out of our missionary operations.”

On another Convention issue, the Rev. Susan Russell of Los Angeles declared:

“Giving the residents of the District of Columbia the right to elect U.S. senators is a matter of justice that should be confirmed by the Episcopal Church.”


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