Tuesday, May 17, 2016

The Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, D.C.

 I have been part of more than a few conversations with pastors about whether to allow patriotism into a church sanctuary or service. Sometimes, before Memorial or Independence Day, there will be an argument (sorry, "discussion") about whether "Battle Hymn of the Republic" can be used in the order or service or "God Bless America" can be a prelude. Sometimes, the discussion is whether there should be a U.S. flag in the sanctuary, and if so, should it be taller than the Christian flag. At the heart of these discussions is whether giving honor to the country and not just God in church constitutes idolatry.

The more well-known debate, of course, is whether religion should be allowed in government institutions, meetings and ceremonies. One lawsuit after another has been litigated about allowing prayer in schools and governmental meetings. Should a statue of the Ten Commandments be allowed in front of a court building? Should "In God we trust" be on our coins?

Thomas Jefferson wrote of a wall separating church and state, but more accurately it might be called a line of traffic cones which are continually being moved one way or another. As Americans we all seem to agree there should be a line of division between church and state but border disputes continually erupt.

The National Cathedral was built very close to that line. Because the District of Columbia was completely ruled by Congress back in the day, in 1893 that legislative body passed a charter that allowed the Episcopal Church to build a cathedral. In 1907, when the cornerstone of the church was laid, President Theodore Roosevelt was there, and when the final finial (decorative piece) was placed 83 years later, President George H. W. Bush was there. The United States Congress designated it as "the National House of Prayer." Three Presidential funerals (Eisenhower, Reagan, and Ford) have been held at the Cathedral. Inaugural prayer services for a number of Presidents (FDR, Reagan, both Bushes, and Obama) have been held there.

So is it a place built to honor God or the Nation?

Inside the cathedral, near where the choir sits and behind the pulpit and lectern (I think this part is called the "apse"), there is a seat for the bishop of the diocese. The chair indicates that the church is the home church of the presiding bishop; it's called a "cathedra," and it's what makes a church a cathedral in the Episcopal Church. But the back of the cathedral, near the entrance, there's a statue of Abraham Lincoln. For the last century (at least!) there has been debate about Lincoln's faith, and yet he is a prominent figure throughout the Cathedral.

In one of the many chapels, there are cushions honoring a great variety of Americans, including names from Gerald Ford to Jefferson Davis, Harriet Tubman to Jane Addams, Wilbur Wright to Horace Greeley. These are all persons of note, but are they all people worthy of places of honor in a church? There is an Alexander Hamilton cushion, and everyone agrees (at least since the musical came out) that Hamilton should be honored everywhere.

According to our tour guide (who happened to be an acquaintance of Mindy's -- thanks, Lenelle!), there was a bit of controversy of a Church/State nature in the Cathedral back in the 1970's. One of the  stained glass windows has a unique feature: because it portrays creation, the window's creator included a moon rock. The Nixon administration didn't believe that this artifact, brought to earth through millions in taxpayer dollars, should go to a church. Some higher power than Tricky Dick must have decided otherwise.

As one watches school tour groups wander from one sight to another, one might forget that it's a place of worship. But at 10:30 a.m. an amplified voice asked for a moment of silence, followed by a priest praying aloud for the nation. Our tour guide, who used to attend Saints Peter and Paul,  said she appreciates these reminders that the National Cathedral is place of worship.

Some of the chapels in Cathedral don't seem to have anything to do with to do with the Red, White and Blue. There is a small little chapel named Good Shepherd, with a statue of Jesus, small pews for worship, and no reference to Presidents that I could detect.

And there are regular worship services in the Cathedral. The Sunday morning service is usually the best attended Episcopal service in the diocese (Wikipedia says that in 2009, 1,667 was the average attendance). We attended a Thursday noon service in the Bethlehem Chapel. Only fifteen people were in attendance. There wasn't any music in the service, but we followed an order of service from the Book of Common Prayer, shared Scripture, prayer, a sermon, and the elements of Communion. It was just worship.

That Church/State line is a difficult place to be. When wars have ended, people of a variety of faiths have gone to the Cathedral to give thanks. When Martin Luther King or Billy Graham or the Dalai Lama needed a pulpit, the National Cathedral has provided it. When the nation mourned the deaths of 9/11, the Cathedral provided a place to remember the victims. It is difficult to find where that line of church and state should be, but there are times our nation has to deal with spiritual issues, and there are times we should praise God for the good gifts He gives us through this nation. I'm glad the Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul is there to rest darn near that line.

We went to the National Cathedral on Thursday. So what did we do on Sunday?
We went to quite the Odd Couple of churches in Washington D.C. We went to Capitol Hill Baptist Church in the morning and the Table Church in the evening. At Capitol Hill we sang hymns, and at the Table we sang choruses and Carrie Underwood. Capitol Hill has a policy of one service in one place, while the Table usually has several services in different communities. Capitol Hill began promptly at the announced time, and the Table not so much. The sermon at Capitol Hill was nearly an hour of exposition, and the pastor at the table didn't even want to call his talk a sermon.

It seemed Capitol Hill and Table drew different demographics. Though both seemed to be composed largely of millenials, I talked to someone at Capitol Hill who had been pulling for Rand Paul to win the Republican nomination, and I met someone at the Table who is a big Bernie Sanders fan. I met someone at Capitol Hill who works as a representative for a defense contractor, and I met someone at the Table who works for an environmental lobby and is concerned about global warming.

On the other hand, both services had baptisms of adults proclaiming their faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. At Capitol Hill, a man told of his transformation from drug dealer to escort bodyguard to Christian. At the Table, we heard the story of a woman who went from Hindu to atheist to Christian.

Despite the many differences as we saw between the two churches, we saw the commonality of Ephesians 4:5: "One Lord, one faith, one baptism."

National Cathedral
Service Length: 31 minutes
Sermon Length: 12 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Everyone greeted each other during the passing of the peace (and it seemed likely that everyone was a visitor). The priest greeted all as they left.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 15
Probable Ushers' Count: no ushers to count us
Snacks: none
Musicians: none
Songs: none
Miles to church: 6 miles
Church website: http://cathedral.org/

Capitol Hill Baptist Church
Service Length: 2 hours 27 minutes
Sermon Length: 55 minutes
Visitor Treatment: Early in the service, visitors were encouraged to fill out the cards in the church information brochures behind each seat (there wasn't a card in the brochure in front of us, but we found one).
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none  email Wednesday afternoon, apologizing for responding slowly to our visitor card.
Our Rough Count: 990
Probable Ushers' Count: 1100
Snacks: coffee, hot water for tea, lemonade, cold water, cookies
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man), vocals (2 men, 1 woman), piano (man)
Songs: "Thou Who Wast Rich"
"God, Whose Giving Knows no Ending"
"See the Destined Day Arise"
"Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery"
"Victory in the Lamb"
"Come, ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"
"Dear Refuge of my Weary Soul"
"Speak, O Lord"
"He Will Hold me Fast"
"Christ the Lord is Ris'n Today"
Miles to church: 18 miles

The Table Church
Service Length: 1 hour 49 minutes
Sermon Length: 15 minutes
Visitor Treatment: We were greeted at the door and asked if we usually attended at the other location (this was a special gathering of the whole congregation in honor of the Church's birthday). We happened to notice a visitor's card and filled it out, but didn't find the box where it was supposed to be deposited. We gave it to a regular attender who promised to turn it in for us.
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 160
Probable Ushers' Count: 180
Snacks: decaf and water before the service, sandwiches, cake, decaf, and water for a special celebration after the service
Musicians: acoustic guitar (man), keyboard (man), vocals (woman), percussion (man), electric bass (man), electric guitar (man), choir (5 women, 3 men)
Songs: "Rejoice"
"You Brought me Back to Life"
"You are Good"
"You're a Good, Good Father"
"Down to the River to Pray" (choir, a capella)
"Must be Something in the Water"
Miles to church: 1 mile
Miles from start: 13,491
Total 2016 Miles: 13,184

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