The Washington National Cathedral; where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, gave his final Sunday sermon on March 30, 1968, has been a spiritual home for millions of people over the past 100 years. The majestic structure sits dark and silent on October 22, 2011. It has been silent and vacant as the repairs from the August 23, 2011, earthquake are being completed. Those who have attended the Cathedral for decades feel its absence most acutely. Mayor Vincent Gray has asked President Barack Obama to help the Cathedral to recover from the disaster by declaring the earthquake as a disaster making the Cathedral eligible in 15 million in federal disaster aid.
It hoped that President Obama, who gave one of the moving eulogies in recent memory at the cathedral in April 2010 for the late Dorothy Height, would respond favorably to the Mayor’s request. Although the cathedral is seeking private donations to help with the repairs, the tough economy times have left many families without the resources to respond to the request for donations as they would normally respond. Others have pointed out that the Cathedral is actually the Episcopalian Cathedral. This point is moot as the Cathedral is also a house of prayer for all people of all faiths.
Former Dean Samuel Lloyd explained to worshippers, “The National Cathedral is truly a church for all people of all faiths. We welcome all who seek a closer relationship with God to worship with us.” In many interfaith programs the National Cathedral has made a sincere effort to break down the boundaries that separate people of faith. On November 13, 2007, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa participated in a program that exemplifies the best of what the National Cathedral does in its mission to bring reconciliation and healing to the nation. The program was dealing with forgiveness and being able to reach out to the people who have caused you harm. Bishop Tutu recounted the way that South Africans forgave their tormentors following Apartheid. It was program that was not easy to forget.
In the film White Christmas, Bing Crosby calls all of his old war buddies to help a retired general who has fallen on hard times. The general’s housekeeper says it would kill the prideful man if he knew others were trying to give him a hand. A wise man once said, “Pride makes you broke!” The National Cathedral is not a proud retired general or retired college professor. It is a church. But the theme remains the same. The cries for help may not be as loud or urgent as they could be. But the need is there. Donations are needed today. With plans to open for the Sunday service for the first time since the earthquake on November 13, 2011, there is a great deal of work that needs to be done.
In an interview with Richard Weinberg, the Director of Communications, for the National Cathedral, Weinberg told the present writer why it is important that the United States of America supports the work of the Cathedral. “The National Cathedral is an Episcopal Cathedral and as far as the daily offices and the regular schedule of worship services on Sunday and the way runs itself ecclesiastically it is officially an Episcopal church and it is a unique church and it is a unique institution. And it is many things to many people. So it is at once an Episcopal Cathedral and it is at once the spiritual home for the nation. It is simultaneously a place that is welcoming of all faiths and, in fact, no faith. We have many frequent gatherings not just for the local community but for the nation,” Weinberg said.
“Regardless of one’s personal stance on whether or not the National Cathedral deserves funding from FEMA. It is a fact that it is a National Treasure which the mayor spoke to which is why he is supporting us on this effort. Regardless of all the things which takes place inside the Cathedral’s walls. The building itself is an icon and is a very unique Gothic achievement in architecture and is worthy of preserving. We are grateful to the Mayor following his announcement that he would include the Cathedral in his request for federal aid through FEMA,” Weinberg said.
“The National Cathedral is a national treasure,” Mayor Gray says in his letter to President Obama. The Mayor is right. The National Cathedral is a national treasure; however, it is also a church. It’s doors need to be open. As Rev. M.C. Hammer said, “I have to pray just of make it today.” The National Cathedral needs help now. Go to www.nationalcathedral.org for more information.