The year was 1898. President William McKinley stood on the grassy hilltop of Mount St. Alban, where more than 30,000 were gathered around a tall cross of carved Indiana limestone draped in fabric of red, white, and blue. Along with inscriptions of thanksgiving for the end of the Spanish-American War, it bore the symbols of the three-year-old Episcopal Diocese of Washington. McKinley’s extemporized remarks were so brief that I can quote them in full in this space:
“I appreciate the very great privilege given to me to participate with this ancient church here, by its Bishops and its laymen, in this new sowing for the Master and for man. Every undertaking like this, for the promotion of religion and morality and education, is a positive gain to citizenship, to country—and to civilization. And in this single word I speak, I wish for this sacred enterprise the highest influence and the widest usefulness.”
Meanwhile, the Peace Cross was unveiled. Within a year, the National Cathedral Association (NCA) was founded. Less than a decade later, President Theodore Roosevelt would gather Americans by the thousands for the laying of the Cathedral’s foundation stone under what would become its Bethlehem Chapel of the Holy Nativity. In addition to its name, the beautiful windows of this first chapel recall the whole Christmas season, from the Annunciation to Epiphany.
The cross on Calvary and the nativity in Bethlehem stand as bookends for the life of Christ, which the Peace Cross inscription calls “the true cornerstone” for our Cathedral. Christians think of them as heralds of Easter and Christmas respectively, but these triumphant symbols are also bold announcements of hope. They represent a message for difficult times just as bright as that great star over the manger or the rays of morning sun into the empty tomb, and they have encouraged this Cathedral during more than a century of faithful hope.
In this new season at the start of 2012, we would do well to take the “change-everything” optimism represented by the Peace Cross and Bethlehem Chapel for our own. Wars have not all peacefully ended; neither has human vice—and our Cathedral building has been shaken by the effects of an earthquake. Nevertheless, we greet this new year ready to begin again in what Sam Lloyd’s final sermon as dean here calls “the great quest called ‘Cathedral.’”
This issue chronicles myriad ways in which our Cathedral quest has continued even in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake. A major series of commemorations to mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks went ahead nearly as planned. The Diocese of Washington would celebrate its newest bishop. New clergy arrived at the Cathedral with extraordinary abilities required for carrying out the work of this hallowed place.
All work has always required vision to sustain it, and so I am pleased to see that Cathedral Age shares a wealth of inspiring reflections in these pages: pastor Rick Warren guides us toward a new inner life, Bishop Mariann Budde shares what personally motivates her as a leader in the Episcopal Church, and we can appreciate both Sam Lloyd’s resolve and the vision he has articulated in his last year as dean. All these words are inspiring; McKinley might have called them “a positive gain for civilization.” As we read them, may we work toward fulfilling a divine vision for the Cathedral and our lives that continues to unfold.