Congratulations, Dean Baxter

Former National Cathedral dean elected Bishop of Central Pennsylvania

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

[ENS] The Rev. Dr. Nathan D. Baxter, 57, rector, St. James’ Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and former dean of Washington National Cathedral, was elected July 22 bishop of the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.

The election, on the fifth ballot, came during the diocese’s 136th annual diocesan convention, which began July 21 at Bucknell University, Lewisburg.

An election required a simple majority in both the clergy and lay order.Thus, of the 96 votes cast in the clergy order on the fifth ballot, 49 were needed for election and 84 of the 166 votes in the lay order. Baxter had 49

clergy votes and 88 in the lay order. Under the canons the Episcopal Church (III.16.4(a)), a majority of the

bishops exercising jurisdiction and diocesan Standing Committees must consent to Baxter’s ordination as bishop within 120 days of receiving notice of the election.

After this process is complete, the consecration of the new bishop will take place at Trinity Lutheran Church in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, on October 21.Baxter will succeed Bishop Michael Creighton, 65, who has been bishop since January 1996 and will retire later this year.

Baxter has been rector of St. James, the largest parish in the Diocese of Central Pennsylvania, since October 2003. The diocese has more than 16,000 Episcopalians in 71 congregations and one mission.

From 1991 to 2003, Baxter was the dean of Washington National Cathedral. During that time, he led the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, and officiated at the

memorial service for the crew of the space shuttle, Columbia. He presided over the funerals and memorial services of many prominent Americans including Thurgood Marshall, William Colby, William Fulbright, Clark Clifford, Pamela Harriman, Ron Brown and Katherine Graham, as well as the American memorial service for Princess Diana.

(To read an excerpt of an interview with the bishop-elect from the June 2003 issue of the Washington Window, click below. To read the entire interview, go to the pdf. file, here. It is on pages 7 and 10.)

Interview by Deborah Kennedy

The Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, who has served as dean of Washington National Cathedral since the fall of 1991,

will step down June 30. Here, he speaks about his accomplishments as dean and the things that have meant the most to him during his time at the cathedral.

Q: Washington National Cathedral isn’t just any cathedral. How would you describe your role as its dean?

Baxter: My role centers on the Cathedral’s mission, which hasthree focal points: to be a house of prayer for all people, to be a church with a national purpose and to be the chief mission church of the diocese. That third focus is what we have in common with other cathedrals. All of us must balance meeting the needs of the city in which we’re located with serving the interests of the diocese of which we’re a part. There’s always a tension – how

do you serve both the community and the diocese. We also must serve our own constituency, the 14,000 members

of the National Cathedral Association nationwide plus approximately 1,100 volunteers from local congregations. They are drawn to us by our mission, and they are the only congregation we have. We are now the only cathedral that isn’t also a parish church.

Q: What about the other two parts of the Cathedral’s mission?

Baxter: The first two focal points of our mission are what really make us unique. Throughout my time here, we have stressed that this is a national house of prayer for all people. That is my calling. I believe that an extremely diverse nation like this one needs a symbol of its spiritual heritage. This cathedral can serve that purpose because the Anglican ethos allows it to be grounded in its own history and still reach out to people of other faith traditions

and to people who follow no tradition.

We embrace a dream that began at the building of the city of Washington: That this place should represent the diversity of America. For me, the most important goal has been to enable people of all traditions to feel a sense of ownership of this place. We have extended a significant welcome to the leaders of all major faith traditions. For

example, the Dalai Lama thinks of this as his home in Washington. He will visit us for the fourth time this coming fall.

In 1994, with the agreement of Bishop Haines, I began to bring non-Episcopal clergy onto the staff. In 1999 I also began adding non-Episcopal clergy to the volunteer group who serve as cathedral chaplains. We now have almost 40 chaplains, and 8 of them are not Episcopalians. Also, the lay members of the staff represent six or seven different faith traditions. Finally, the docents have worked very hard to make visitors feel a sense of ownership.

Through its windows and its stone the building channels the spiritual history of our nation, and we want every person who visits it to feel at home.

Q: You also identified a third mission focus: to be a church with a national purpose.

Baxter: Yes. Our nation, like any nation, needs to be able to come together to celebrate great national events and to mourn great national tragedies. We seek to be the place where people of all faiths may do that. We also seek to be clear about our convictions without stridency, so that people know that the different sides of issues will receive a fair hearing here. A few years ago we hosted a conference on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Bishop Riah [Abu El-Assal of Jerusalem] was here, and a number of Palestinians were in the audience. One of the conference speakers was the immediate past president of the American Board of Rabbis. After he had addressed that potentially hostile audience, he said to me, “This is a safe place to have a hard conversation.” That is what I believe this place needs to be – a safe place for people of all backgrounds and beliefs to have hard conversations.

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