Dean Gary Hall

Confederate flags and stained glass: Why can't journalists run more than one point of view?

Confederate flags and stained glass: Why can't journalists run more than one point of view?

Years ago, I used to be a tour guide at the Washington Cathedral. We were called “cathedral aides” back in the mid-1970s and we wore purple gowns in the winter with cute purple berets. In the summer, we retained the berets, but wore summer garb with some purple in it. It was always a challenge to find the right color blouse I could wear with my outfit, but I loved memorizing the facts about all the gargoyles, chapels and the amazing stained glass the illuminated the place.

Some of those windows depicted scenes from U.S. history. What drew the most eyes was the blue, green, orange, red and white Space Window showing the universe with a tiny piece of moon rock embedded therein.

Meanwhile, my personal favorites were the brilliant-hewed windows by Rowan LeCompte who designed some 40 of the cathedral’s 200+ windows.

However, let it be noted that LeCompte did not design two windows that were in the news yesterday. I’ll begin with an account by the Washington Post:

Washington National Cathedral, one of the country’s most visible houses of worship, announced Wednesday that it would remove Confederate battle flags that are part of two large stained-glass windows honoring Confederate generals Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee. Cathedral leaders said they would leave up the rest of the windows — for now — and use them as a centerpiece for a national conversation about racism in the white church.
The announcement comes a year after the cathedral’s then-dean, the Rev. Gary Hall, said the 8-by-4-foot windows have no place in the soaring church as the country faces intense racial tensions and violence, even though they were intended as a healing gesture when they were installed…

Next comes a quote about the windows being installed in 1953. Then there is this very significant information, if one is looking at this story from a journalistic point of view. Please read carefully:

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Dollars, demograpic decline and the gospel (or Gospel) of new Washington Cathedral dean

Dollars, demograpic decline and the gospel (or Gospel) of new Washington Cathedral dean

Talk about candor. From the get-go, the recent Washington Post story about the selection of a new dean at Washington National Cathedral is very upfront about the fact that this highly visible Episcopal Church landmark faces a crisis of dollars and demographics. And then there was that earthquake thing, literally.

Consider the headline, for example: "Needing to raise ten of millions, Washington National Cathedral picks a fundraiser for its new dean."

Now, I realize that college and university presidents are frequently hailed as great fundraisers. However, I don't know of many pastors, preachers or priests who have welcomed that label. In this case the Rev. Randy Hollerith -- for some reason the Post editors drop "the Rev." or even "Father" on the first reference -- makes it clear that this isn't his label of choice, either.

There is also the question of whether he plans, as was the norm with the Hollywood-shaped previous dean, Gary Hall (once again, now clerical title on first reference), to use hot-button cultural and theological issues to push the cathedral into the headlines.

Hollerith says he won’t enter the position with plans to focus on specific social justice issues, a contrast to Hall, who was on the national news within a few months after coming in August 2012 by announcing that he’d open the cathedral to same-sex weddings.
“I’m not an issue-driven person. I’m a gospel-driven person,” he said. “Of course, the gospel at times is prophetic and has things to say to the world. But I don’t approach things from the point of view of hot-button issues, so to speak.”
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t share with Hall and other recent deans a focus on one topic in particular: race. The Episcopal Church -- a small Protestant denomination that until recent decades represented the faith of the American elite -- has become less diverse racially in the past few decades, Hall said. ...

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Exit the National Cathedral dean, after only three years (but lots of edgy headlines)

Exit the National Cathedral dean, after only three years (but lots of edgy headlines)

As a rule, it's almost impossible to understand news in the Episcopal Church, and the global Anglican Communion in general, without understanding that these events are affected by trends and decisions at the local, regional, national and global levels.

So a tiny diocese in New England elects a noncelibate gay male as a bishop and there are revolts in the massive, growing churches of Africa and Asia, creating problems for the leaders of the giant but fading Church of England, which tries to figure out how to cope as the U.S. Episcopal Church goes rogue, while American leaders struggle with waves of local lawsuits, linked to all of this doctrinal warfare, from coast to coast.

This makes for complex news stories that are hard to cover in, oh, 600 words or so.

In that context, recent events at the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington -- better known as Washington National Cathedral -- are relatively simple and localized. While the cathedral looms large over the nation's capital, it has relatively little power at the national level and is almost irrelevant at the global level (unless it creates controversy that draws attention, perhaps by holding Islamic prayer services).

Thus, the decision by the cathedral's dean -- the Very Rev. Gary Hall -- to step down after only three years is, first and foremost, a local Episcopal story. As noted in an unusually long news story in The Washington Postthe fact that the cathedral is increasingly become a local institution is part of the problem.

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