The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde was ordained and consecrated as ninth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington on November 12, 2011, at Washington National Cathedral. The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, served as the chief consecrator, joined by nine other co-consecrating bishops including the eighth bishop of Washington, the Right Rev. John Bryson Chane; the Right Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, retired suffragan bishop of Washington; the Right Rev. Eugene T. Sutton, bishop of Maryland; and the Right Rev. Brian N. Prior, bishop of Minnesota. The consecration marked the first event to take place in the Cathedral since the August 23 earthquake.
The bilingual service of Holy Eucharist in English and Spanish was attended by more than 2,000 worshipers in the Cathedral nave, representing one of the most diverse Episcopal dioceses in the country. The Rev. Linda M. Kaufman of St. Stephen and the Incarnation in Washington offered the sermon. The liturgy was rich with music, featuring seven different music ensembles including musicians from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Minneapolis, Minn., where Bishop Budde served as rector for 18 years. A special introit was commissioned by the diocese in celebration of the event. The True Shepherd, written by Gary Davison, music director of St. Francis Episcopal Church in Potomac, Md., was sung by a combined diocesan choir.
Over the summer, just before the August 23 earthquake, Cathedral Age interviewed Bishop Budde to discuss her views of the Cathedral, her priorities as new bishop, and her plans for the Diocese of Washington.
Cathedral Age Could you describe your first memory of the National Cathedral?
I don’t think I knew about the Cathedral in any conscious way until I was a student at Virginia Theological Seminary in my twenties. I attended Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning’s consecration. It was just a massive group of people, and I don’t even remember how we managed to get in, but we got here super early while it was just pouring down rain. We sat behind a pillar! I basically sat looking at a pillar for the whole service, but I was happy to be there.
That was my first sense of really belonging to this church. Somewhere right around there (I think it was the early 1980s), the anti-apartheid movement was picking up steam here. People were getting arrested outside the [South African] embassy on a regular basis. Desmond Tutu was in town, and he preached from the Cathedral pulpit, and I was also there for that. And, again, I remember the significance of the place in light of what Tutu said. Among the things he said was, “Thank you. Thank you to the world. Thank you to all of you for praying so hard and working so hard to end the apartheid.”
At the time I was thinking, I haven’t been praying that hard—and I haven’t been working that hard, but he made me want to be part of the cause.
Cathedral Age Could you describe your first call to ministry?
For me the call happened over a four-to-five year process marked by significant moments. The first was acknowledging to myself how much my own faith meant to me: my faith in God, and in particular, my discipleship to Jesus as a teenager. I realized my love of the Episcopal Church in my mid-twenties by traveling around the world, dabbling in a lot of different traditions, and realizing how anchored I felt at this relatively young age. It was partly because of the liturgy, partly because of the breadth of thought and its comfort with so many dimensions of Christianity that in some other divisions you only get a slice of. The sacraments are so important—but they’re not the only thing: and sermons and the word are really important—but they’re not the only thing. You could think, but you could also have a heart, and those things mattered to me.
So I began thinking about ordination and wondering if that would even be possible. And I have to say, the call that I received as my first rector position when I was in my early thirties felt like a miracle to me. And I was there for 18 years. My call as bishop has that same sense. I think, how did this happen? You know how Jesus made disciples? It’s almost a miracle story. It’s like “here, I need a disciple—you’ll do, follow me!” I feel like that’s how he made me a priest and somehow a rector. I feel like I bring something to the ministry, but it also feels like an absolute miracle that I’m here.
It’s a big job. It’s our nation’s capital. However, the nation’s capital is populated by people, and it has congregations, and people come to the Cathedral. And they come with all that people bring to their prayers and to their sense of what spirituality is. We come before the altar and there’s not much of a difference if you’re a president, or a grandfather, or a coal miner. It doesn’t really matter to God. If you’ve been entrusted with the kind of treasures that this diocese has, of course your responsibilities are that much greater. But the faithfulness isn’t any different just because you’ve got so much more to work with, except that we must be courageous and wise and collaborative with what we’ve been given.
Cathedral Age Where do you see the Cathedral going in the future?
The Cathedral’s strategic plan felt like a living document to me, and it felt like it hit the resonant chords of both the history of the Cathedral and its evolving sense of its mission as it was being built. (Talk about an icon of ministry through the very process of building the Cathedral in such a location!) And then there is coming to terms with a new reality, and captured by the significant image of a ship weathering the storm. I would say I come as a part of the wave of people to help the Cathedral live into its future. To continue on that metaphor, you tack in the sea. You don’t go in a straight line. Your destination is clear, but how you get there is not always obvious. So that’s to be expected. I really look forward to being part of that mix. It’s not my whole job. There will be times when I’ll be very present and engaged, but there will be other times when I’m connected through others who are in that mix while I’m tending to other parts of the diocese. But I’m also looking forward to strengthening the ties between the Cathedral and the rest of the diocese. Because I’m new to everything, I’ll have a lot of people working with me.
Cathedral Age What will be your priorities as the new bishop?
I think the reason I was called with such a strong number of votes is that it’s a national moment in the Episcopal Church—where we realize that the foundations of our ministry, which are in the primary institutions of our diocese, are not thriving to the extent that they need to be to hold the ministry that God has given the Episcopal Church. In other words, we have a very significant place in the spectrum of Christianity but we too weak institutionally for what’s been given to us. So we have some real building and re-equipping of ourselves to do in the twenty-first century. That is what I spoke about prior to the election. It varied by congregation, but there was this real recognition that we were not reaching the people that we think we ought to be. Why aren’t our congregations growing the way they should? What’s getting in the way? What prevents communities from reaching their potential?
That’s where I will focus as much of my energy as I can, in two ways. One way will be with the leadership of those communities: the clergy and the lay leaders. The other way will be also trying to understand, as best I can, the whole of the diocese and how those pieces fit together, or don’t . . . how to begin drawing upon the natural strengths that are here in a way that can build us up. There’s no shortage of giftedness or vision. There may not be enough money, but there’s never enough money. So what else do you have? What else has God given us? If it all depended on money then we might as well just go home, because that’s not the Gospel. If you think of yourself as poor all the time you’re losing a huge part of the riches that God has entrusted you. I would love to say a year from now that I had made great strides in no only in being elected as bishop but being accepted, and that I have a real evolving knowledge of the diocese. Through our collective effort, we’ve made strides in building up a sense of enthusiasm. It seems to me that there’s a natural mission feel for the Episcopal Church for the young adults of this area. It’s striking to me how much potential there is. I know that there are seeds planted in many different areas, and I want to do whatever I can to cultivate them.
Cathedral Age What do you most look forward to in your first few months?
I look forward to entering a new system as a newcomer and observing and seeing how the pieces fit. I love watching how people and organizations and entities interact with each other. I love that part of it. I’m looking forward to that and to getting to know people and how all this works. In the next few months, I’d love to take care of a few first things, not the huge things, so people can feel like I’m actually showing up to work and listening to them and paying attention. It’s a community-organizing role.