The Very Rev. Gary Hall was installed as tenth dean of Washington National Cathedral on Saturday, October 27, 2012. The Rt. Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, officiated and preached at “A Service of Renewal of Baptism & Shared Ministry.” Bishop Budde was joined by clergy and lay leaders of the diocese, Cathedral Chapter members and staff, as well as friends and family of Hall in the intimate setting of the great choir. On Sunday, October 28, a “Festal Eucharist Service of Welcome” took place at which Hall presided and the Rev. Dr. George F. Regas, rector emeritus of All Saints Church, Pasadena, preached.
The weekend’s two services offered what Hall called “a new way” of installing a dean of the Cathedral. Saturday evening’s bilingual service in English and Spanish focused on the Cathedral’s life as a community of the baptized living out the Gospel together within the Diocese of Washington; Sunday’s service then moved “from the font to the table,” with representatives from the entire Cathedral community formally welcoming the new dean among them.
In her sermon on Saturday evening, Budde described the stakes involved for the Cathedral and for the Episcopal Church. “We are in a time,” she said, “when we all need more courage than we have—and that is true for us individually, as a nation, and as the people of God in the Episcopal Church. This is a humbling time and an exciting one,” she added, “on our watch so much is changing, and we don’t know what the future holds—because we are not in charge. God is in charge.”
Figures formally commissioning Hall in this work included the ninth dean of the Cathedral, the Rev. Dr. Samuel T. Lloyd iii, now priest-in-charge of Boston’s Trinity Church, Copley Square. Lloyd was on hand to present the new dean with the silver Dean’s Cross, “a sign of authority in this Cathedral Church.”
Sunday’s Festal Eucharist service gathered Cathedral communities to celebrate what Hall described as “God’s expansive invitation” to all people. Representatives of the Cathedral Chapter, the Protestant Episcopal Cathedral Foundation Board of Trustees, Cathedral staff, members of the congregation, and volunteers participated,as well as representatives of the three schools on the Close, the Cathedral Choral Society, All Hallows Guild, and the National Cathedral Association.
In his sermon, Regas called for a reaffirmation of our common humanity as a means for striving for peace. “Standing on sacred soil, I see this as one world with God’s arms of mercy outstretched to every person across the planet embracing friend and foe,” said Regas. “I hope and pray Gary Hall continues to be a peacemaker. … I trust that this Cathedral will courageously lead in that mission.”
The week just prior to his installation, Cathedral Age interviewed Dean Hall to learn about his vision for the Cathedral, what his priorities will be.
Cathedral Age: What do you see as the Cathedral’s role within the spiritual life of the nation?
I think the Cathedral has already had a significant role in the spiritual life of the nation in terms of being a gathering place for the nation when we celebrate or mourn, being a symbolic presence of a faith community in the nation’s capital—on the highest point in the District, visible from all over the city—and as a place that hosts and convenes events and conversations. One of the challenges facing all mainline religious institutions, I feel, is that we need to be more movement oriented and less institutional. By that I mean that people younger than I am are interested in being involved in a faith community or an institution that actually has a mission and is living it out. So for me the Cathedral’s role in the spiritual life of the nation involves continuing what we’ve already been doing and building upon it.
We’re at a point right now of great ideological paralysis in our country. And it seems to me that one of the things the Cathedral uniquely can do, because of our history and because of our location, is to be a gathering place for people of a variety of religious and political perspectives to find ways to work together to advance the common good. That, to me, is the most important next step in being a spiritual home for the nation.
Cathedral Age: What drew you to feel called to serve as Cathedral dean?
When I read the material [for the dean search] I felt that the particular challenges facing the Cathedral right now really aligned with my skills, experience, and interests. I then chose to come here for two reasons. One is that we’re going through a period in history right now in which all elite Episcopal Church institutions are having to rethink themselves and re-imagine their ministries and how they function. I’ve helped three other communities make that transition, and it seems to me that Washington National Cathedral is in that same place. As the most visible faith community in the denomination, it’s vitally important that the Cathedral flourish in the twenty-first century: because how this place navigates that transition will be an important sign of how the whole denomination can manage that transition. And so I came here because I felt it was important work, and it was work that I really feel in this last part of my career I’ve been called to do.
Cathedral Age: Looking back over your 35 years of ordained ministry, what has most inspired you?
I’ve had some wonderful mentors. George Regas, who’s preaching at my installation, spent 28 years at All Saints, Pasadena, and was a great peace and justice advocate against the Vietnam War, a real force in the Episcopal Church’s move to ordain women, and did the first same-sex blessings at a large church in the United States in the 1990s. George has been a big inspiration in my life. Another long-time friend of mine is Harvey Guthrie, who was dean of the Episcopal Divinity School when I was a student there in the 1970s and led that school through a transition of facing into not only the liturgical renewal in the 1960s and 1970s but the ordination of women, becoming the first seminary not only to admit women students but to bring ordained Anglican women on the faculty. Fred Borsch, the former bishop of Los Angeles, was a great bishop and seminary dean who really is to me a model as a bishop, scholar, justice advocate, and pastor.
I’d say my most inspiring work had to do with my intersection with the gay and lesbian community in Pasadena in Los Angeles in the 1980s and 1990s. Coming to work at a church that had a large gay and lesbian population and an aids service center, I saw up-close not only gay and lesbian couples loving and supporting each other but participated in same-sex blessings. I also sat at the bedsides of people dying of aids. Seeing the way men and women in the gay and lesbian community supported them and cared for them—that was a transformational experience for me, my understanding of human sexuality, and my understanding for the need for the church to be strongly supportive of gay and lesbian people. I’d say that, of all the transformational experiences, that was probably one of the most powerful for me.
Cathedral Age: One month into your time in Washington, what have your initial impressions of the Cathedral been, and what do you most look forward to in the coming months?
One of my initial impressions is just how reverent visitors are when they come here. I try to walk through the Cathedral every day and say hello to the docents, and when I walk through the building I see people praying and looking around contemplatively at the space. One of the things I realize maybe more forcefully than I did before I came to work here is just how very sacred a space the Cathedral building itself is and what it means to people from a variety of religious traditions. There’s something about beautiful Gothic architecture that is transcendent. The thing I’ve noticed the most is that people who come here—even though they may be wearing flip flops, shorts, and baseball caps—all stop to reflect, pray, and contemplate.
What I most look forward to is entering fully into the life of the Cathedral. It’s an extremely wide-ranging place. The Cathedral has a national constituency and a local constituency, it’s part of the Diocese of Washington, and it has an international constituency because of its peace and justice and interfaith work. What I look forward to is really learning the breadth and the complexity of what the Cathedral’s ministry is and engaging in as much of that breadth and depth of it as I can.
Cathedral Age: What will be your priorities as the new dean?
The Episcopal Church as a denomination has not developed habits about sharply defining an identity, projecting that identity outward, and inviting people into it. I think the Cathedral—like the parishes and seminary I’ve served—has to go through an exercise of sharpening its definition of itself missionally. What are we here to do? We see ourselves as a spiritual home for the nation, and we’ve always seen ourselves as a gathering and convening place for the nation. We now need to sharpen that definition, considering what that means and how we live that out programmatically.
My first hope for the Cathedral is that we can be a place where people of varying faith traditions can come together, pray together, work together for the common good, and find a new way of being together in community that would expand our theological and ideological differences with each other. I’m a progressive person by nature—politically, theologically, ecclesiastically. But I realize that the role of the Cathedral is to be comprehensive in the best Anglican sense of that word. So I welcome the opportunity to work with people who think and believe rather differently from how I do but are willing to gather with me around the table—and work and pray for the Kingdom.
The second task is to rebuild and re-energize our National Cathedral Association and the groups of people we have all around the country who have supported the Cathedral and been advocates for us.
Cathedral Age: Which historic writers or contemporary spiritual leaders do you look to for guidance?
I think we all have different ways in which we relate to the Holy. For me in my early life, it was always pretty exclusively through literature. So I went to graduate school because I wanted to study the great seventeenth-century Anglican writers: George Herbert, Henry Vaughan, John Donne, Thomas Traherne, Sir Thomas Browne. From that I morphed into actually studying American transcendentalism: Thoreau and Emerson.
I also read a lot of contemporary poetry, and nature writing and environmental theology have always been a very big part of my spirituality. Then, as I’ve gotten older, visual art has become an important part of my piety and spirituality.
For the past 20 years I have been an associate of the Order of the Holy Cross: Benedictine spirituality has been very much the mode in which I feel most comfortable. Joan Chittister is someone I read a lot as well as Thomas Merton, in terms of prayer and spiritual life. And one of the things I like about the Cathedral is actually being in a place where I can participate in the Daily Office with other people. Coming to a place that is a worshiping community not only on Sundays but at least three times a day is really an important part of my own spiritual formation. In fact, one of my hopes for the Cathedral is to broaden our work with the Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage. Making this a place for increasing prayer practices and making people aware of prayer practices is really important to me. I also see the Cathedral as a venue for religion and the arts. I think I’m like a lot of people who find beauty—whether literary, artistic, musical, or architectural—as a way in. I think the Cathedral is already doing a lot with music and art, but whatever I can do to enhance that is high on my list.