A conversation with the Dean

The Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, The Very Rev. Gary Hall, sat down with Sally Quinn of the Washington Post, who profiled him for the paper.

She notes how Hall’s spiritual journey began with comedy, being a writer for Steve Allen during his stint on The Tonight Show.

The Very Rev. Gary Hall, new dean of Washington National Cathedral, started out as a comedy writer for Steve Allen. He got the gig, he says, through his parents. Hall’s father was an actor in Hollywood, his mother a costume designer. And the connection he forged through them with the comedian-turned-“Tonight Show” host made a lasting impression on Hall’s approach to ministry.

“Steve was a big influence in my life,” Hall says.

Now 64 years old, Hall has white hair, an angular face and thin-rimmed glasses. He looks, well, like a traditional Episcopalian. But he doesn’t talk like one. He is friendly and funny, smart and very, very frank. Boy, is he frank. Don’t be fooled by the white collar he wears. On a scorching summer day, Hall strides into Le Zinc, a French restaurant close to the cathedral and one of his favorite hangouts, in an Oxford blue shirt with white clerical collar and seersucker jacket. He settles down to lunch and a long conversation that culminates in a description of what he calls “bar theology.”

“Part of being a priest,” says Hall, “is being a cultural anthropologist.” Pastors, he thinks, should devote time — perhaps once a week — to going around to bars and engaging customers in conversations about religion. This is the thinking behind the Arlington Catholic diocese’s regular “Theology on Tap” — conversations, often clergy-led, in bars that are among the diocese’s most popular programs.

Hall reflects on his spiritual journey and how this colors his view of the Cathedral’s mission.

“I came from no place to real, established Orthodox Anglicanism,” he explains. “Now that I’m older, I’m moving back toward wearing the institutional part of Christianity lightly.”

“If the Cathedral wants to survive as institutional,” he goes on to explain, “it has to be transitional. It has to be the spiritual hope of the nation. It has to be about faith in public life and interfaith collaboration.”

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