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Washington National Cathedral: the Problem-Ridden Consecration of Mariann Budde

Washington National Cathedral: the Problem-Ridden Consecration of Mariann Budde

by Sarah Frances Ives
Special to Virtueonline
November 12, 2011

The first service at the Washington National Cathedral following the August 23, 2011, earthquake was a cacophony of odd errors and uncomfortable mistakes. The many problems created a service who as one participant said "was not up to Episcopal standards." That statement puts it mildly with misspoken words, a malfunctioning pipe organ, poorly practiced musical groups, squealing microphones and a flustered Mariann Edgar Budde.

The service focused on bringing together many diverse musical elements with the opening processional done by a three-man group of Native Americans called Southwest Eagle Dancers. The lengthy constant drumming and chanting created a distinct tension as listeners wondered what religious tradition they were from. Clergy processed in to the syncopated drums and no singing.

Before the Episcopal Church bishops and Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori walked in, the sounds of the pipe organ began the introduction and first verse of "I bind unto myself today." After the second verse, the organ dropped out and the singing stopped and an eerie silence filled the Cathedral only relieved by the sound of walking feet. Everyone began to look at each other as the silence grew to over one minute. The organ started with verse three, played about four measures and abruptly broke off. Another long and uncomfortable silence began during which time the bishops continued their tense procession for another two minutes. Then the next sound heard to the congregation with its many empty seats was a tinny, electric keyboard. The hymn finished with this bizarre musical accompaniment that was too quiet for the hymn. Everyone was murmuring in speculation about what happened but no answers were given.

Presiding Bishop Jefferts Schori began the service with the declarations of the election of Budde (who was ordained by John Shelby Spong.) During the Litany for Ordination, the prayer was being read "For Katharine, our presiding Bishop, and for all bishops, priests, and deacons that they may be filled with your love..." when something seemed to fall upon the pipe organ keys hitting simultaneously about three octaves of notes, creating a tremendously large sound of dissonance, overwhelming all spoken words and creating a sound like something from a horror movie. Everyone quickly stopped speaking and looked at one another aghast. A woman sitting in the row behind me said, "What is the Spirit doing?"

The service continued with the disruptive pattern of first a paragraph or two in English and then in Spanish, with this constant change throughout the service hindering any focusing on worship and the meaning of the day.

But the service became more and more confused. Dr. Paul Budde, husband to Mariann, read a long poem called "Coleman's Bed" by David Whyte, not an accessible poem that seemed entirely out of place in a liturgical service. One line reads, "Ghost then, to where others, in this place, have come before, under the hazel, by the ruined chapel, below the cave where Coleman slept." What was this? The only connection seemed to be odd ruins with the mangled liturgy at this point in a Cathedral whose entire ceiling was covered by netting in case more things dropped down on the congregation.

But wait, the worst was still yet to come. The Rev. Linda Kaufman, a close friend of Mariann, gave the sermon. Kaufman started off with a reference to her own "beautiful and elegant wife" and the advice she had received about this sermon. This preacher went to describe Mariann in seminary as rich, thin, very liberal and driving a Volvo. Kaufman went on to make jokes about her weight and described herself several times as "fat" and she was surprised that the thin Mariann would be her friend. To make jokes about fat people was inappropriate to the maximum but Kaufman did this several times. Instead of the scriptures, Kaufman preached about the poem and told Mariann in a loudly yelling voice "to be hospitable, even to the stranger to you." She offered no ideas about what this meant and left the image hanging out there of the wealthy Mariann Budde having an easy financial time of life. And this was Budde's friend?

But the service continued with Jefferts Schori reading the liturgy in a long, low monotone. Everything went very slowly. During the actual consecration, "Therefore, Father, make Mariann a bishop in your church" the pipe organ decided to make more unexpected dissonant sounds, though these notes were quieter but still noticeable.

Following the consecration the newly consecrated Budde stood up to applause dressed in her new orange, purple and blue vestments. She was asked to speak and in a shaky voice gave a testimony to the great work of "John and Karen Dixon" apparently mixing together the names of Bishop John Bryson Chane and Bishop Jane Dixon.

Everyone in the congregation waited for someone from the House of Bishops to help her but they did not. Finally after a minute of this extremely shocking mistake, members of the congregation yelled out to Budde that she had her names wrong. She stopped and finally understood what was said but embarrassment reigned everywhere. She had recently dismissed Chane as Interim Dean of the Cathedral and it is widely believed that Jane Dixon organized to help Budde win the election.

So who did she want to thank in her heart? Probably Jane Dixon. Budde said, "I should probably stop now." After this mistake, Budde faded away and went to sit down for the offertory. She sat down next to Jefferts Schori and talked throughout the offertory with the Presiding Bishop (who seemed through her body language to be trying to discourage Budde's continued private loquaciousness). But Budde continued and the congregation tried to recover from the failed tribute to John Chane, who looked shaken by this.

Even after all of this, none of the rest of the service went well with the liturgy continuing as a few words in English, a few words in Spanish. This pattern successfully added to the already broken and confused environment. The communion music between singers and a piano pulled apart several times, and the microphones squealed throughout the service.

The receptions were poorly attended. What was there to celebrate after this long day of mistakes, gaffes, dissonant organ interventions and a group of noticeably discomposed group of Episcopal bishops?

Who knows what will happen next at the Washington National Cathedral? Stay tuned.


Sarah Frances Ives is a frequent contributor to Virtueonline


You can read the Washington POST story here:

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