First phase of National Cathedral repairs drawing to close, challenges ahead though

The New York Times has a piece looking at the ongoing repairs to the Cathedral Church of Ss Peter and Paul (National Cathedral) in Washington, D.C. and the challenges to fund future repairs and operation of the cathedral.

Almost four years after a magnitude-5.8 earthquake shook the site — cracking finials and half a dozen flying buttresses and sending pieces of pinnacles tumbling hundreds of feet — the National Cathedral is struggling to piece itself back together, physically and financially, even as contractors put the finishing touches on the $10 million first phase of repairs to the interior.

But operation of the cathedral is a costly endeavor, and further needed repairs have moved Cathedral leaders to begin a massive fund-raising campaign.

Now leaders at the National Cathedral and in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington say they need close to $200 million, on top of regular annual giving, to finish restoration and set the 83,000-square-foot cathedral, the seat of the American Episcopal Church, on stable financial footing.

That figure is among the largest ever sought through a capital campaign at an American religious institution.

The financial setbacks have come as the cathedral struggles, like almost all mainline Protestant congregations, to find its footing in an increasingly pluralistic religious landscape.

Like many other churches, the Cathedral has been focusing effort on defining a mission and purpose in a changing religious landscape.

“The big push was we got to build this thing. It was like the Field of Dreams: If we build it, they will come,” said Bishop John Bryson Chane, who led the Episcopal Diocese of Washington from 2002 to 2011. “So then, once it was built, it was a national house of prayer for all people, but what does that mean?”

The man who was supposed to find the answer was the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, the descendant of a long line of Episcopal bishops and the head of Trinity Church in Boston. Mr. Lloyd was tapped for the National Cathedral deanship early in 2005 with the mandate to build the cathedral’s first permanent congregation. He sought to develop meaningful ties to the city and, fueled by money from a $15 million one-time bequest, quickly established a new Sunday forum series and special symposiums aimed at attracting new constituencies.

At the same time, much-needed repairs to the cathedral itself, estimated at $30 million in a 2011 report, went unaddressed.

But the 2008 Great Recession strained the Cathedral’s budget and limited their options.

In July 2011, Mr. Lloyd unexpectedly announced he would resign that September. The earthquake struck a little more than a month later, and the cathedral, virtually leaderless and without earthquake insurance, quickly added millions in damage to its already strained balance sheets.

Restoration has been slow, in large part because of the cathedral’s compromised financial position. Stabilization cost $2 million, while construction planning and detailed studies took an additional $2.5 million. Fund-raisers took almost three years to come up with the money needed to begin repairs.

“The challenge is, as you move further and further away from the date of the earthquake, interest wanes,” said James W. Shepherd, the National Cathedral’s director of preservation and facilities.

Fund-raising officers are trying to provide effective reminders. As they plan the cathedral’s first major capital campaign in decades — still three to four years off by most estimates — those leading the effort said they were billing the campaign as a chance to rebuild the cathedral, and not just for Episcopalians.

Current diocesan and Cathedral leadership are dedicated to finding financial equilibrium, though, as they continue to live into becoming a house of prayer for all people.

But both [Cathedral Dean Gary] Hall and Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the current leader of the diocese, who is closely involved with campaign planning, say their real work is navigating religious and cultural trends that are pushing against the institution’s continued relevancy.

That means finding ways to invest in new programming targeting young people and non-churchgoing populations.

“I just think this is the moment, this is the work of this generation, is figuring out how you face into the situation you are in and then operate effectively in it,” Mr. Hall said.

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