When the Diocese of Washington gathered at the National Cathedral in June to elect a new bishop, who could have predicted that we would begin our ministry together with the task of rebuilding the Cathedral itself?
Yet life is not predictable, and we begin our work by dedicating ourselves to the rebuilding task. After all, in the words of one worker on the central tower, the Cathedral is a national treasure.
The workers had asked John Chane, my predecessor as bishop of Washington, to pray with them on their work site, a 70-ton platform 300 feet in the air atop the central tower. “This isn’t just a job for us,” they explained. As he joined them, moved by the workers’ sense of ministry, Bishop Chane was struck by the extent of the damage he could see from the platform, which is largely invisible from the ground. “This initial phase isn’t about repairing broken sculptures,” he told me. “There is significant structural repair to be done.”
We have much to be thankful for. With stabilization completed, repairs can move forward to ensure that the structure will remain sound. No one was seriously injured, despite large pieces of falling debris. Even the toppling of a 30-story-high crane did only material damage and amazingly did not strike the Cathedral building. We remain grateful for these blessings, and we continue to hold in prayers those affected far more adversely by other earthquakes in recent years. Yet we must also recognize that the damage done is sobering. Stabilization efforts have exceeded $1 million already, and they will surely rise. The Cathedral’s closure to the public has interrupted its vital ministries and adversely affected its lean operating budget. Restoration efforts will take years, returning us once again to the spiritual disciplines of our forebears who carried the Cathedral’s vision even as they built this national treasure.
This calamity has served to further clarify our vision. It strengthens our call to serve God through the Cathedral’s unique and vital mission to be the spiritual home for the nation. The Cathedral is an icon, a symbol and mediator of holiness. The Cathedral is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Whether one walks through its doors once in a lifetime or every week, the Cathedral is one of those “thin places” where the veil between heaven and earth is lifted and where, for a moment, we can see the world and one another as God sees us. It’s a place where the spoken word can heal a broken heart, music stir the soul, and discordant elements find a home. It’s a place of pilgrimage, where we gather in times of crisis and celebration, transition and longing—whenever we need to be reminded that there is more to life than what we can make happen on our own, that there is a purpose and a power that we can turn to. It’s a space that can help us be still and know that God is God.
An earthquake reminds us of our vulnerability, but we have also felt the grace of God and the outpouring of support and prayers. The Cathedral staff and volunteers’ continued ministry, despite dislocation and adversity, is an inspiration for us all.
Thank you for your hard work, generous gifts, and faithful prayers for the Cathedral in these days. We will continue with renewed common purpose, relying every day on the grace of God and the support of one another. St. Paul writes that the one who has begun a good work among us will see it through on the day of completion (Phil. 1:6). We can trust God’s intention to see us through, as our rebuilding work begins, so that the grace-filled ministries of Washington National Cathedral may serve Christ and all people for centuries to come.