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Washington National Cathedral Sells Assets, Announces New Layoffs to Survive

Washington National Cathedral Sells Assets, Announces New Layoffs to Survive
Cathedral seeks $500,000 to prevent further cuts

By David W. Virtue
May 21, 2010

The Washington National Cathedral, like a number of urban Episcopal cathedrals across the country, is struggling financially to survive. Some cathedrals have closed, others are barely financially viable. Trust funds have all but dried up with pledge plates and congregations rapidly shrinking.

The National Cathedral, the Episcopal Church's flagship cathedral just completed its fourth round of layoffs this past week. Another seven employees were laid off (65% of its work force was laid off in the first round in the fall of 2008), including senior staff member Canon John Runkle, priest, architect and conservation specialist who is in charge of the preservation of the cathedral.

The Very Reverend Samuel T. Lloyd III, Cathedral Dean, sent out an urgent appeal to supporters this week asking for $500,000 by June 30, "to prevent further budget cuts and [to] fix the damage caused by the winter storms." (A friend who has supported the Cathedral for many years has offered to match all unrestricted gifts made by June 30, 2010, up to a total of $250,000, wrote Lloyd).

The Dean blames "difficult economic times" on the Cathedral's woes, but VOL has learned that the situation is far more serious than damage to the Cathedral gardens, the destruction of boxwood hedges, cracks in joints, mortar pointing and heaving stone walkways.

VOL wrote to Dean Lloyd with the following questions:

1. I understand The National Cathedral has just completed its fourth round of layoffs this past week. Another seven employees were laid off (65% of its work force was laid off in the first round in the fall of 2008), including a senior staff member who is in charge of the preservation of the building, namely Canon Runkle. Why was Runkle laid off?

2. This particular layoff--Canon John Runkle is a priest, architect and conservation specialist--seemed particularly odd with the recent $10 million bequest from Hugh Adams, honorary canon of the Cathedral who focused on the building's fabric, fine arts and preservation. Can you explain this?

3. Mr. Adams passed away in October 2009 and was a long time supporter and donor to the Cathedral. Why did the Cathedral's endowment take such a big hit--much bigger than the other institutions on the Cathedral grounds? St. Albans and National Cathedral School suffered losses, but not like the Cathedral's losses. Who on the governing board and Cathedral leadership is in charge of monitoring investments?

4. It also seems strange that as the recession supposedly wanes in this of all recession-proof towns that the Cathedral is struggling so mightily to hang on. Can you explain this?

5. Why is the cathedral laying off workers in the same week they hire three new staff? The visitor service programs staff, for example, was furloughed to four days a week rather than their normal five days a week, only four full-time staff remains in this department. These folks schedule bus tours, coordinate with tour docents, field general telephone calls, and run all tours. This is another odd twist, especially since the Cathedral has recently spent tens of thousands of dollars on consultants to reinvent "the Cathedral visitor experience."

6. Why are you trying to sell off assets? I understand the Cathedral is considering selling some its rare books to the Folger Shakespeare Library, who recently made an offer to acquire the books. The prize jewel sought by the Folger Shakespeare Library is the first edition, singular copy of the Prince Henry Bible, recently appraised at over $2.5 million. Besides this jewel, the Cathedral has many holdings including an original Gilbert Stuart painting of George Washington that is currently in storage (and at what cost?) Wouldn't this painting be better served hanging in a museum for the public to view?

7. Post 2001, why didn't Cathedral leadership--especially you--take a stand on hot button issues? On city issues--infant mortality or the HIV-AIDS rate in DC? How difficult would that have been? Even when same sex marriage became legal in DC, you remained silent, instead deferring to whatever statement the Bishop of Washington, John Chane made. I am told that many of the Cathedral staff, especially its openly gay staff members, were taken aback by the silence. The Cathedral has an openly gay clergy--Cathedral Vicar Steve Huber--for example, but, when the law passed, it seemed to back away from actually performing gay marriage ceremonies in the Cathedral, or even making a statement of support. Why?

8. I am told that another disturbing event occurred in June 2009. Holocaust shooter James Von Brunn visited the Cathedral two days before the Holocaust Museum tragedy. He parked in the underground garage, walked around the Cathedral for an hour and then was escorted to the administration building where he asked to speak to Dean Lloyd. When Von Brunn was told that Lloyd was unavailable, he asked to to speak to other priests, any priest. Call after call was made by the receptionist. No priest answered or was available--something against the usual Cathedral policy. The staff quickly learned of this story and was dismayed. Was this disturbed man looking for pastoral counseling? Was he looking to harm a clergy--maybe unlikely since he had been walking around the church for a period of time. We'll never know. An interview with the receptionist is part of the FBI records.

9. I understand that the staff enjoyed a brief injection of levity in September 2009 when "The Lost Symbol", written by Dan Brown, was released. In the novel, the Cathedral plays a prominent role and one of the characters is the Cathedral's "blind dean." Many wondered how Brown was able to so accurately make that pun. But, then again, he nailed many of the details of the Cathedral including the now defunct Cathedral College, which was shuttered by you. Any comment?

10. Perhaps the Cathedral's woes are due to a lack of relevance--does America really need a "nation's church?" And, if so, what does the nation's church stand for besides burying U.S. presidents?

I look forward to your responses.


David W. Virtue DD

To date, neither the Dean, Canon Runkle, nor any of the cathedral's staff have chosen to respond to e-mails or phone calls requesting answers to the above questions. We are therefore running the questions as they were sent to Dean Lloyd.


Since writing this story more layoffs have occurred at the cathedral.

Carol Wade to leave Washington National Cathedral

May 24, 2010 -- The Rev. Canon Carol Wade, who has overseen the design and execution of some of the United States' most high-profile religious services, will leave her position as canon precentor at Washington National Cathedral after a sabbatical that begins on July 1. A source told VOL that her throne had been on the decline as of late, with worship department employees slowly being taken away from her over the past months. They were re-assigned to new endeavors, such as the Cathedral Events Team. She confirmed to a staff member that she was indeed part of the lay offs.
The cathedral will not call a new precentor, the Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd, dean of the cathedral, said, in a news release. Wade's duties will be divided among other priests on the staff, he said.

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