August 8, 2013

Homework for Dean Gary Hall

Fogged in? Recent comments in a Washington Post profile of National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall indicated that visibility of area churches might be limited from atop Mount Saint Alban’s. (Photo Credit: The Washington Post/Getty Images)

If you haven’t read it yet, Mark Tooley has a good read on Washington National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall and his recent profile in the Washington Post. At one point in the Post interview, Hall seems to have time-warped into the Washington of 1975, in which the Cathedral is “an aging white church in a large black population.”

“We’ll have an urban progressive liturgical church and a more suburban conservative church,” Hall forecasted of Christianity in the nation’s capital. The Episcopal priest also assessed that “We’re in a period where people under 50 don’t see the church as a credible place to explore their questions about God.”

These comments made me consider the possibility that Hall has only experienced a small slice of Christianity in the District. The area has changed enormously since my arrival in 2001, with new populations and new churches. Certainly, there are many young people exploring questions about God at churches in the District.

Dean Hall might find his preconceived notions of a divide between suburban megachurches and urban progressive congregations, or a black/white racial divide, challenged at these newer congregations.

The city ceased to be majority-black years ago, with a diverse mix of immigrants and gentrifying whites moving to the urban core. Many of these groups have established their own church communities here.

Thriving churches aren’t the ones you see from the street. Many evangelical congregations established in the past decade attract a disproportionate number of young persons and lease space from smaller, older churches that have buildings.

Old-line Protestant pastors sometimes mistakenly believe that ecumenical engagement with other old-line Protestant churches gives them a good survey of the local church landscape. It doesn’t. Certainly, there is an “ecumenism of the trenches” that takes place in the District, but don’t look to established church councils to see this fully at work.

I visit many of the old-line churches in DC. My invitation is for Dean Hall to get to know some of his neighbor churches by making similar visits to evangelical congregations.

  1. Ask fellow old-line pastors “who is leasing space from your church? What are they using it for?” Pastor Amy Butler at the beautiful and historic Calvary Baptist Church in Chinatown could explain how her progressive church shares space with Grace DC, a vibrant Presbyterian Church in America congregation. Grace DC is surprisingly traditional, full of young families and has already planted a daughter congregation (Meridian Hill). Similarly, Pastor Robert Hardies of All Souls Unitarian Church on the prominent 16th Street corridor could explain how his congregation leases space to Anglican Church of the Advent, which has barely a member over 40 years old. Teddy Roosevelt’s old congregation of Grace Reformed Church (UCC) shares space with the evangelical Christ Reformed Church near Logan Circle.
  2. The Post profile reveals how Hall enjoys theological discussion in bars and other social spaces. As the Post’s Sally Quinn noted, Hall might enjoy the Theology on Tap programs offered by the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and Diocese of Arlington. Lots of young people gravitate to Buffalo Billiards in Dupont Circle or Ireland’s Own in Old Town Alexandria for this event.
  3. Ask who the other new faces in town are. Hall isn’t the only one to relocate to the District for a job opportunity. At International Ethiopian Evangelical Church or any one of its “branch” churches across the area, Hall could see another part of Washington’s changing face. It isn’t even necessary to stray from the confines of an Episcopal Church: Amanuel Ethiopian Evangelical Church shares space with St. George’s Episcopal Church in Arlington.
  4. Inquire who is planting new congregations. National Community Church is a “stealth” Assemblies of God church spread out over six locations, most of which are in the District (they also own Ebenezer’s Coffee House on Capitol Hill – more socializing opportunities) Southern Baptists are also active in Washington, as are more Anglicans here and here.

This list is just another sliver of DC’s church pie, but I hope Hall will find it useful as he continues to grow acquainted with his neighbor churches. This isn’t the Washington of 1975 – welcome!

2 Responses to Homework for Dean Gary Hall

  1. Eric Lytle says:

    A friend who used to work in DC assures me that there are many vibrant and growing evangelical churches in the area, but that National Cathedral pretty much defines itself as the negative of whatever those churches are doing. In a sense the liberal churches are committing institutional suicide, they know it, and they don’t care.

  2. cleareyedtruthmeister says:

    The old-line liberal churches, like Hall’s, do have the unfair advantages of unwarranted influence and beautiful buildings paid for by someone else. If discussion was limited to Hall’s professional achievements outside previously-established institutional contacts we would not know who Gary Hall is.

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