This post will be continuously updated.
A Word From Dean Randy Hollerith, 17 January
I understand the strong disagreement many people have with the decisions to accept an invitation for the Cathedral choir to sing at the Inauguration and for the Cathedral to host the Inaugural Prayer Service. I am sorry those decisions have caused such turmoil and pain. Yet I stand by those decisions — not because we are celebrating the President-elect, but because we want to model for him, and the rest of the country, an approach to civility.
Understand that civility does not mean endorsing a president’s views, behavior or rhetoric, nor compromising our own Christian values. Our willingness to pray and sing with everyone today does not mean we won’t join with others in protest tomorrow. We will always strive to bridge the divide and repair the breaches in our life together. As a Cathedral, we have decided that we will approach this moment as open-handedly as possible.
Samuel Carabetta, St. John's, Georgetown Parish, Washington, D.C. (received by email 15 January, and Facebook post)
The announcement that the Cathedral Choir of Men, Boys and Girls will perform during the musical prelude to the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony is extremely unfortunate and unwise. It contributes to “normalizing” the election of the most notorious and divisive person ever to become President of the United States, a man who has trampled on the church’s teachings time and again. This is not a normal occurrence and certainly not a normal President. It lends the moral authority of the Episcopal Church to Trump and all he represents. It also reduces the Cathedral Choir to nothing more than one of the “acts” at the event in question.
There is a vast gulf between praying for our elected leaders and praising them in this way. Yes, at a time when emotions are raw, it is important to offer spiritual solace and the healing gift of transcendent beauty; however the leaders of our church have chosen the wrong person and the wrong audience. Many years ago, at another time of deep national division, the Very Rev. Francis B. Sayre established Washington National Cathedral as a spiritual home and source of inspiration for those who opposed McCarthyism, racism, poverty, and the Vietnam War. Lending aid and comfort to the Trump inauguration tramples on that legacy.
Gary Hall, former Dean of the cathedral, quoted in
Jenkins, Jack. "Washington National Cathedral under fire". Thinkprogress.org, 13 Jan 2017
“I would not have held the inaugural prayer service, nor would I have allowed the choir to sing because the positions Trump has taken are so inimical to the gospel. I know it has been our tradition to do it, but this is a really different kind of candidacy and presidency—and it’s a time, really, for the church to be the resistance to this kind of authoritarianism instead of legitimizing it by allowing it to use the symbols of Christianity.”
A full statement from Hall on 17 January: "Washington’s National Cathedral should not bestow a blessing on Donald Trump", Religion News Service
Letter to Bishop Budde, Dean Hollerith, Fr. Barnett, and Mr. McCarthy, 13 Jan 2017, John M. Russell, Christ Church of Hamilton & Wenham, Mass.
I find it puzzling at best, and reprehensible at worst, that any entity within The Episcopal Church would desire to offer such support and affirmation to this particular individual… I remind you that the President-Elect is someone who has mocked a disabled person in front of a crowd, has repeatedly spouted clear racism and bigotry, has advocated for war crimes, has invited the interference of a foreign power in our electoral process, and whose blatant misogyny is well documented. How you can possibly believe that it is appropriate to encourage children to participate in an event whose purpose is to honor and support such a person is not only disturbing but such an encouragement borders on the immoral. I wonder how a young boy in the Cathedral Choir will realize, 10 or 15 years from now, that trusted adults in his life suggested and supported the proposition that he offer his God given musical talent in support of a person whose reputation and behavior is so vulgar and despicable.
"Hold Fast To That Which Is Good", 14 Jan 2017, Nicholas White, St. Paul's School, Concord, N.H.
It’s not enough to see both sides of the argument. It’s not enough to be all things to all people. It’s time to stand up against evil and hold fast to that which is good. In other words, don’t accept invitations to do things that run counter to your core values. You cannot be a strong leader of an institution, offer mere platitudes, and simply say that you see both sides of the situation.
For Immediate Release
OTHER LITURGICAL MINISTIRES OF WASHINGTON NATIONAL CATHEDRAL TO HAVE SIGNIFICANT ROLES AT UPCOMING PRESIDENTIAL INAUGURATION
Mr. Oliphant C. Wigglesworth, Assistant Deputy Director of Communications, Washington National Cathedral, Washington, DC
13 Jan 2017 - Just because the inauguration takes place outside the confines of Washington National Cathedral doesn't mean that the lay people who regularly serve in the liturgies of the Cathedral can't be of assistance.
In addition to the National Cathedral Choir, Washington National Cathedral is very pleased that several other lay liturgical ministries will be taking part in the upcoming presidential inauguration.
The Flower Guild has graciously agreed to provide table decorations for the presidential luncheon. We believe that tasteful floral arrangements, which speak to God's creative power, are an important part of coming together as a nation at this time in our national life.
Members of the cathedral who serve as lectors will be on hand in case anything needs to read aloud, such as the emoluments clause or the rest of the Constitution of the United States.
The Cathedral Vergers have agreed to help the inaugural committee in helping the VIPs on the dais find their way to their seats and to the podium. Based on past experience, none of the vergers expect George W. Bush to follow (LOL).
The Cathedral ushers have volunteered will stand at the back and direct people to the portable toilets.
The Cathedral Acolytes will be prepared with processional candles in case there is a total eclipse of the sun.
Editor's note: in case you are possibly still undecided about the matter, let's clear it up for you: the above is satire and does not represent any kind of official communication from the National Cathedral whatsoever.
There has been much conversation and consternation among Episcopalians since the St. Louis (hooray!) Post-Dispatch broke the story that Choirs of the National Cathedral will sing at the inauguration of Donald Trump.
I have great respect for my colleagues at the National Cathedral. And I don't envy any of them, especially not now. The National Cathedral is a tremendous place that has chosen to intersect with civic life in our nation's capital, and in so doing it has taken seriously its role to serve as a kind of spiritual locus of the nation at times of national significance.
But in light of the decision to have the Choirs sing at the inauguration, I want to reflect on something for which I believe they fail to account: the inauguration itself is a liturgy.
At its center is that sacramental holy of holies, the oath of office (administered by a secular cleric in robes!). Then follows the homiletical inaugural address, the ritualistic ascension of the past president by helicopter, the eucharistic presidential luncheon, the processional to the White House, etc.
Then there are poems (if the inauguration is for a Democrat!). And of course the whole thing is surrounded by music.
It is a tightly scripted pageant of civic liturgy we see every four years, and it is meant to evoke a certain kind of feeling.
In a marvellous essay about worship the theologian James Alison draws a distinction between civic liturgies, like presidential inaugurations, and what he perceives to be "True worship."
Using the extreme example of a Nuremberg rally to help draw the distinction between the civic ("Nuremberg") liturgy and the "True" liturgy (the "un-Nuremberg"), Alison writes:
The liturgical organisers of the Nuremberg rallies knew exactly what they were doing, and did it remarkably well. You bring people together and you unite them in worship. You provide regular, rhythmic music, and marching. You enable them to see lots of people in uniform, people who have already lost a certain individuality and become symbols. You give them songs to sing. You build them up with the reason for their togetherness, a reason based on a common racial heritage. You inflame them with tales of past woe and reminders of past confusion when they were caused to suffer by some shame being imposed upon them, the tail-end of which woe is still in their midst. You keep them waiting and the pressure building up. All this gradually serves to take people out of themselves; the normally restrained become passionate, unfriendly neighbours find themselves looking at each other anew in the light of the growing “Bruderschaft”. Then, after the build up, the Führer appears, preferably brought in by means of a helicopter or airplane which has been seen from beneath by the gradually effervescing crowd, and before long, the apotheosis takes place, and he is in their midst.
(The whole essay is worth a read, now more than ever).
Alison's point is that civic worship is about getting people excited around a particular person for a particular purpose; it is "dangerous and dehumanising." On the other hand, the True liturgy of Holy Communion is actually supposed to be "boring" because there's nothing left to achieve. God has already won the victory! We're not supposed to "get" anything from Christian worship.
So yes, as the Bishop of Washington notes, the inauguration is "an occasion for prayer and an opportunity to offer the balm of beauty." And yes, as the Dean writes, "[m]usic is a precious gift that holds the potential to point our hearts toward something larger than the things that divide us."
But when music is used in the service of Alison's "Nuremberg", the "something larger" may be rather incongruous with the mission of the church.
Update: 13 Jan 2017, 2:12 p.m. Earlier today the Washington Post published a story called "Washington National Cathedral’s decision to participate in Trump’s inauguration is creating tension".
On Facebook, Diana Butler Bass laments:
For any of you holding out hope that this would be a "truth to power" moment, please note this line from the article:
"Trump asked that there be no preaching during the interfaith service, she [the bishop] said. 'This is not the occasion that we will use to address particular issues of policy or concerns we might have about the direction he’s taking the country.'"
Maybe it is time to stop being so naive and admit that Trump is creating his own religion reality show here? And that it is being legitimized by the Episcopal Church?
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art."
Toni, Morrison. " No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear". The Nation. 23 March 2015.
A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.
G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
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