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National Cathedral Dean Exits Amid Struggles

"The cathedral dean delighted in inserting the church into any national news story he could find, from gun control to the Confederate flag." -- IRD Anglican Program Director Jeff Walton

Contact: Jeff Walton, Institute on Religion and Democracy, 202-682-4131, 202-413-5639 cell, jwalton@TheIRD.org

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2015 /Christian Newswire/ -- Washington National Cathedral Dean Gary Hall has announced his departure as top official at the Gothic landmark church citing massive budget and program changes needed and "continuing evolution of its internal culture." Hall concludes his time in December after three years at the Cathedral, two years before his five-year contract was set to end.

The landmark Episcopal church struggled to raise $11 million towards an estimated $34 million in needed earthquake repairs. An expensive underground parking facility and hefty costs for the operation and maintenance of the Cathedral campus have also stressed the church's finances, which rely disproportionately on outside gifts and grants. During Hall's tenure, the cathedral began charging an admission fee for visitors and announced it was available to rent for corporate events.

According to statistics from the Episcopal Church Office of Research, average Sunday attendance at the Cathedral dropped from more than 1,800 persons in 2005 to less than 1,400 in 2013, the most recent reporting year. The cathedral's annual budget has dropped from $27 million in 2009 to $12.9 million today.

IRD Anglican Program Director Jeff Walton commented:

    "Despite assuming leadership of the cathedral after the 2011 Virginia earthquake, Hall seems to have been unaware of the scope of fundraising and budgetary challenges that he would necessarily confront. Instead, the cathedral dean delighted in inserting the church into any national news story he could find, from gun control to the Confederate flag.

    "As he blamed cathedral struggles on a general disinterest in organized religion, Hall seemed unaware of thriving new evangelical and immigrant congregations populating Washington, D.C.'s religious landscape.

    "Cathedral programs, such as contemplative labyrinth walks accompanied by Native American flute music, seemed exclusively targeted at aging white liberals, the declining demographic which populates oldline Protestantism.

    "Changes to allow gay weddings at the cathedral, as well as host the first transgender preacher there, kept the National Cathedral in the news, but also limited its appeal."