Over on Anglican Ink Journalist George Conger has a story up today about the Washington National Cathedral soliciting proposals for corporations and non-profit groups to lease its premises.
The move by the cathedral corresponds with an overall trend of Episcopal churches renting their facilities to outside groups as they seek to sustain expensive facilities amidst shrinking endowments and dwindling congregations.
The new program aims to provide event space to corporations and nonprofit organizations, but not to individuals. Earlier this year the cathedral began exploring renting its nave out for tai chi and yoga meditation sessions, shortly after announcing that a new $10 admission fee would be charged to visitors in an effort to pursue “new revenue opportunities”.
The Episcopal Diocese of Washington’s cathedral, officially known as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, has scrambled for years to fund the landmark structure on Washington, D.C.’s highest point. Major budget reductions were enacted in 2009 and 2010, dropping the operating budget from $27 million to $14.7 million, and cutting the staff from 170 to 76 full-time employees.
A second, smaller round of cuts in 2011 further trimmed the budget and cut an additional six positions. Then central Virginia was hit with an earthquake in August of 2011. While only minor injuries were reported in the tremor, pinnacles on the central tower of the cathedral were damaged and flying buttresses were cracked. The Washington Post reported that the cathedral’s insurance policy did not cover earthquake damage and cathedral officials stated that they would need to raise millions of dollars to evaluate damage and to stabilize and repair its exterior.
Plate-and-Pledge, the primary measurement of a congregation’s giving, is only about $2 million at the cathedral — that’s a small fraction of the $12.9 million annual operating budget. The cathedral congregation has long relied upon preservation grants and various other revenue sources to maintain the structure.
To put this in context, the cathedral reported a 2012 average Sunday attendance of about 1,400. Grace Cathedral in San Francisco has an almost identical plate-and-pledge with half the attendance. St. Martin’s in Houston, which reports an attendance of nearly 2,000, has plate-and-pledge of well over $10 million. Either members of the cathedral congregation are giving significantly less than their peers in similarly large Episcopal churches, or the cathedral is generously padding its attendance figures.
While the cathedral has seen a steady uptick in membership since former Dean Samuel Lloyd began building the cathedral congregation into a parish in the mid-2000s, attendance has fluctuated from 1,300 to 1,800 and back down again.
Current Dean Gary Hall has attempted to raise the cathedral’s profile, bringing political action to the forefront, calling for new firearms restrictions and making the massive gothic church available for gay weddings.
While Hall has expressed interest in re-thinking how the cathedral brings in dollars, in a 2012 interview with the Detroit Free Press Hall announced that he is, “not about trying to convert someone to Christianity. I don’t feel I’m supposed to convert Jews or Muslims or Hindus or Buddhists or Native Americans to Christianity so that they can be saved. That’s not an issue for me.”
Hall also shared about finding common cause with those who do not profess a faith in Jesus Christ.
“I have much more in common with progressive Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists than I do with certain people in my own tradition, with fundamentalist Christians,” Hall declared. “The part of Christianity I stand with is the part in which we can live with ambiguity and with pluralism.”
Hall began work at the cathedral in late 2012, so attendance and congregational giving reports are not yet available for much of his time there.