This article is about the mess at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) in Upper Northwest in the District of Columbia, hereinafter referred to as the District, as the locals refer to the Federal District, the US nation’s capital.
Update: 14 September 2022: People go to an Anglican/Episcopal Cathedral to see/hear an Anglican Liturgy and for the rich Anglican choral tradition, correct? Not to hear Pentecostal/Southern Baptist music. They would go to a Pentecostal or Southern Baptist church if they wanted that, correct? Are Southern Baptist and Pentecostal churches trying to run away from their past the way the people in positions of power at Washington National Cathedral are trying to run away from their former Anglican past? This is insanity. But this is the Century of Insanity as I have written many times, so maybe that explains this insane phenomenon. Are Southern Baptists and Pentecostals trying to become “more Anglican” whilst WNC is now Pentecostal with a little Anglican thrown in to give the appearance that they are still part of the worldwide Anglican Communion? This article was originally titled “Southern Baptist Washington National Cathedral…”. But after what I observed in their most recent video of the previous Sunday’s Liturgy which I’m not linking to since I don’t care to promote it, I said to myself: That’s not Southern Baptist. That’s Pentecostal, based on the music style I observed. Will they be rolling in the aisles and speaking in tongues the next time I scan through one of their videos? (which won’t be any time soon at this point I can assure you of that. I’ve had it up to here with them. I spent years in the Southern Baptist church — not by choice — and I never saw the style of “gospel music” used in our church that I saw at WNC this past Sunday. I did a short stent (maybe one Sunday) in the Pentecostal — and couldn’t wait for that to be over — and what I saw at WNC much more matches the rubbish they do in Pentecostal churches. I honestly don’t know who they’re trying to attract or appeal to by having such drastically different and clashing music styles all in the same Liturgy at Washington National Cathedral. It doesn’t work, and no one there seems to understand that. Well I suspect the Cathedral Organist, Thomas Sheehan, understands that — being a well-trained musician — but they don’t care what he thinks. He just does what he’s told. That’s what I had to do when I was Organist-Choirmaster in Anglican parishes, which is why I had some falling out with the priests. A friend of mine watched part of the Liturgy — he couldn’t take it either! — and said, “This is a mess. Why are they doing this?” Yeah, it’s like going to a classical music performance and then during intermission they bring out a band to play blue grass music. Insanity. But that is a perfect analogy. I noticed that nearly all of the Men of the Cathedral Choir who used to be there — some had been there for years — are gone. They were paid choristers. So they are choosing to not take part in this rubbish? Understandably so. I wouldn’t. Did they get fed up with this mess as well considering they were all classically-trained musicians and could probably sing wherever they want with their skill level. I think some of the Men of the Cathedral Choir were choristers in the two Orchestra Choruses in the District performing in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on occasion: The Washington Chorus and the Choral Arts Society of Washington. Some of them were also choristers in The Washington Bach Consort. I scanned through the most recent Liturgy from WNC which was last Sunday. They now have an Organ Scholar who played part of the Liturgy. She played well. I liked her High Church interlude improvisations during the processional hymn. Their other Assistant Organist appears to be gone. He wanted no more of this mess either? And of course High Church Benjamin Straley is gone. He got out just at the right time I guess you could say. He’s now a Rector at an Anglican parish up the coast. As for WNC, they’ve made the cathedral more Southern Baptist — strike that, it’s Pentecostal to be accurate — than when I wrote the following article (below) by adding even more gospel music with that twangy baby grand piano parked in the Quire area, and saxophone and the singer with her eyes rolled back in her head trying to swallow the microphone like you see with pop culture singers who have to all copy each other. Who knew there were umpteen arrangements of “Amazing Grace?” — I knew there were quite a few — and you’ll hear them all there at WNC. I see they’re even having a “Home Coming Weekend” where they’re promoting “Fellowship.” Ugh. I never could stand that word “fellowship” which I heard all the time in the Southern Baptist. How hick, low church and very Southern Baptist. Home Coming is right out of the Pentecostal and Southern Baptist churches. I know from having been a musician for many Home Coming services which took all-day Sunday. Home Coming was one Sunday every Summer. It was the beginning Sunday of 1-2 weeks of revival services where we were in church every night. Our church originally had one week of “revival” but then some nut had the idea of doing two weeks. That was too much. The High Anglican Gospel procession at WNC is indeed gone. No procession now for The Gospel which means less for the acolytes to do and less High Church. Of course there’s no incense. Did they bury the thurible in the back yard since they will have no more use for that? I liked the reading of The Gospel in español and then in English. I bet that pisses off some people, the English-only plebs who hate on Latinos and Hispanos, and migrants. The Gospeller’s español was perfectly spoken, and unlike the Low Church priests there he made the three signs of the cross before beginning his Gospel readings. (See, I did say one thing positive about this insanity). As I wrote in the following article, WNC is a mess with the two mixing of genres and styles (Anglican and Pentecostal; to be blunt it’s a mind fuck): It doesn’t work. They don’t seem to have the intelligence to have two different liturgies like other churches do who insist on doing this nonsense. Have their preferred Pentecostal “service” early and the traditional Anglican Liturgy later, like other churches who are hell-bent on marketing to a stupid-is-in pop culture audience. Although to be honest, I didn’t see that audience there, so the idea of “Go to Washington National Cathedral to get your fill of gospel music” doesn’t seem to be working as I said it wouldn’t to begin with. Because Southern Baptists or Pentecostals are not about to go to “an Episcopal Cathedral.” I had relatives who were Southern Baptists and they absolutely refused to step into any Anglican parish — even when I was the Organist/Choirmaster there — because to them that was as bad as going into a Catholic church. The people I saw in the pews looked more like the usual tourists and the type one would expect to see in an Anglican church. I did see some bowing to the processional crosses, so they were Anglicans/Episcopalians. Not the pop culture crowd that WNC seems to be trying to attract with this Pentecostal stance. So I don’t know who they think they’re trying to appeal to? Or do they know themselves? Online viewers? Why would they care about online viewers? And who dreamed up this nonsense? The Dean? Instead of having two distinct “services,” they mix the two and it doesn’t work. It’s a mess, and they don’t seem to grasp that it’s a mess. Dense. The COVID pandemic continues despite the public’s denial mentality hat “it’s over.” The District does not require face masks to be worn indoors, but in my opinion anyone who cares about their life and health would wear a face mask indoors. It just makes sense to do so to avoid getting COVID, a cold, the flu or anything else. Clearly, most people don’t care what they get, or they’re of the “I’ll take my chances” flippant mentality, until it’s too late. What is the big deal about wearing a face mask? I don’t understand that. I saw no one in the congregation wearing a face mask and no one social-distancing. How many people become infected with COVID with such super-spreader events such as this since (congregational) singing is one of the main ways that COVID is transmitted whether one is fully-vaccinated/boostered or not. The vaccines wane in their effectiveness over time. Most people don’t seem to know that or care. Most of the Cathedral staff in procession wore a mask. The Dean did not. That told me more about him than I cared to know. I guess he thinks The Holy Trinity will protect him. Good luck with that thinking. I don’t think it works that way. The impression I came away with was that the Dean doesn’t really care about his health, otherwise he would have been masked like the others in procession. I saw two of the girls and two of the men in the Cathedral Choir wearing masks. The acolytes were not. And neither organists were wearing a mask, and the organ scholar was singing one of the hymns whilst facing Thomas Sheehan — I’ve never seen organists sing at the organ console even as a page turner — as Cathedral Organist Thomas Sheehan was playing. Hopefully the organ scholar hadn’t become COVID infected recently but asymptomatic and was spreading it to Thomas. Thomas Sheehan, the Cathedral Organist, is the one I feel sorry for. He’s a superb, High Anglican organist, and I’m High Anglican (Anglo-Catholic). I don’t want to assume what he thinks. Maybe he likes this musical mess, but I don’t think there are too many High Anglicans who would be very happy with the Pentecostal-bent that WNC has taken, even though it’s been a long time in coming. The congregation at WNC is also weird. They turn to watch the procession coming up the aisle for some reason, the way people turn to watch a wedding procession with the bride coming up the aisle. I don’t know why they do that. What’s the appeal of watching people process? And people don’t really like being starred at in procession; I know I didn’t. Pre-COVID pandemic, I don’t remember the resident congregation doing this; they remained facing the High Altar. One can see out of the corner of one’s eye when the processional crosses pass by and one bows to that. Are any of the resident congregation still there considering what their cathedral church has been turned into? Maybe the tourist plebs — who don’t know any better — started this nonsense of facing the procession. In the cathedrals I’ve been in, the congregation did not turn to watch the procession. They remained standing facing the High Altar. That’s why this looks weird to me. And production places ads in the video during the Organ Voluntary, which is very disrespectful to the organist. We’re there to see the organist play, not to read your ads about this and that happening at the Cathedral. Why don’t you run those during the Homily, or do you Pentecostals call that the “Sermon?” We don’t have a short attention span for watching well-trained musicians. What is wrong with you people in production? Does production think we’re bored from watching Thomas play or what? They’ve always done this disrespectful stuff to the musicians (Cathedral Choir and Organist) as if the musicians are considered “background” or something, but in the past it was production’s obsession with stained glass windows. Now it’s ads. They would never dream of placing an ad over top of a priest speaking, would they? Of course not. No, this is only done when musicians are performing as if musicians are considered second class citizens by production. (And BTW, you don’t need to keep that banner up at the bottom of the screen with the name of the hymn during the entire length of the hymn. Anybody with an operative brain already knows the name of the hymn, if anyone cares to begin with). I wanted to see the interaction between the two organists to see their rapport at the end of Thomas’s Organ Voluntary, but of course production had to cut that off and go to stain-glassed windows, and before that a view of the ceiling. Production crews seem to have this rule that they must show the ceiling no matter what. It’s another one of their obsessions: Ceilings — even the most ordinary and mundane ceilings with nothing there to look at — and stained glass windows. To them that’s more important than anything the Organist is doing. Of course they would never show either if a priest were speaking. It just shows production’s utter disregard and disrespect for musicians, and I’m sick of it. The best camera crews I have seen are in the EU, particularly in Deutschland, particularly in Frankfurt. The camera crew for the hr-S is superb. (hr-Sinfonieorchester/Frankfurt Radio Symphony). They focus on the musicians, particularly the superb Orchestra Chorus (which is usually from Leipzig – see Brahms’s EDR performance above) and the fine musicians in the Orchestra. The camera crews I have seen in the US frankly suck. St Thomas usually has a good camera crew. They are not obsessed with ceilings and windows. They will show them on occasion, but they usually focus on the musician(s) performing rather than go off as if the viewer is utterly bored by the whole thing. Is Thomas perhaps thinking: Why didn’t I stay at Harvard? (He was Associate University Organist and Choirmaster there). Why did I take this job? I would suggest he belongs at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue (Anglican Communion), but to me they have become lower church (and using less incense?) since the pandemic began. Pre-pandemic, the organ playing for the hymns under Organist jeremy Bruns used to be grand and glorious. It’s not now. The organ playing now is pretty much, well, boring to be honest — rather toned down; not grand and glorious — and playing hymns “by the book” despite them having a new pipe organ. Some of the improvisations are more High Church, but I was disappointed with the organ playing during the Spring quarter of 2022. It was much better organ playing under Jeremy Bruns. The best thing about St Thomas from a musical point of view these days is the Choir of Men and Boys, not the organ playing. The trebles are the best you’ll hear anywhere — St Thomas having the only resident Choir School in the US — where the boys sing with perfect intonation. The Men of the Choir mostly sing with perfect intonation, but occasionally one will hear wobbling and fluttering — as if they’re trying to sound like opera divas — in loud passages where the tenors and or basses (usually a bass or two) come out of perfect intonation. But they usually return to perfect intonation in quiet passages. I wonder if they took the camera off of the gospel-Pentecostal group and showed the ceiling or windows or an ad for “Home Coming” during that? My friend said: I doubt that. They would want to show that singer’s eyes closed — isn’t that a requirement for pop culture singers? — and that mic halfway in her mouth with her tongue sticking out the way you see on pop culture “talent” competitions and the like where it looks like the singer is trying to swallow the microphone. No way they would cut to an ad or the ceiling during that. Yeah, it’s only the Cathedral Organist and choristers that production would disrespect. (Please excuse any mistakes in the above update. I’m having eye allergies and can’t see a damn thing, so I hope what I wrote is written correctly.) End of Update.
I wrote this article months ago and forgot to post it. I haven’t watched any Liturgies since then out of a sense of disgust from the last time I did which this article is about — or do they now call them “services” to be like Southern Baptists? — but I would presume that things at the Cathedral are the same as then or have continued to deteriorate towards god-awful Southern Baptist since the last time I watched a Liturgy there. I mean, why wouldn’t they be the same as or worse than then? Here’s the article I wrote:
“This Southern Baptist from San Antonio loves how Baptist the Cathedral gets. I hear more of the old Baptist hymns here than I do at my church.”— this comment left on one of their videos by a Southern Baptist from the US state of Texas. I’m sure they greatly appreciated the comment and glad that people have noticed the glaring transformation from Anglican to hick Southern Baptist. I have absolutely nothing positive to say about the Southern Baptists, in part, from my having served as Organist in SB churches when I was younger and not by choice either. To be clear, most of the Southern Baptist people were very nice to me and I was friends with them, but their liturgy — well they don’t call it that — sucks, as well as their doctrine.
I find it really odd that a Cathedral Church of the worldwide Anglican Communion — this Cathedral Church pretends to be “progressive,” pro-Queer and all — is desperately trying to be like the right-wing, conservative, anti-Queer and anti-progressive Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). It’s a case of Insanity. It should be pointed out that the SBC were among the strongest supporters of the former demented White House occupant, (DJT) who shall remain nameless. What are they at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) going to do with all that? It doesn’t jive with what they pretend to be, or do they not realise that? It’s creating yet another clash in beliefs/doctrine along with the current clashes they already have in their Liturgy of being Anglican one moment and Southern Baptist the next. Insanity. When you try to be “all things to all people” it creates a mess and the appearance that you stand for nothing.
Washington National Cathedral has been having its own “identity crisis” for many years now. They don’t seem to know what they want to be, despite what they’re officially supposed to be: Anglicans/Episcopalians, it’s all the same denomination, just two different names for the same church depending upon where you are around the world, with the mother church being the CoE (Church of England). The Archbishop of Canterbury is the spiritual head and Her Majesty The Queen (Queen Elizabeth II) is the secular head and the Supreme Governor of The Church of England.
I’d like to know who at Washington National Cathedral is obsessed with the Southern Baptist Convention and is trying to make the Cathedral as much like them as possible? Is it some of those Low Church priests? Suggestion: Wouldn’t it be easier for that person or persons to leave the Cathedral and join a local Southern Baptist Church in DMV (the District, Maryland or Virginia)? I should think so, rather than making the Cathedral into what they personally want it to be.
Fact: The word “Protestant” was removed from the 1970s revision of the Book of Common Prayer (BC) and The Hymnal in the United States of North America. So the new BCP and The Hymnal read “The Episcopal Church.” Not “The Protestant Episcopal Church.” And many Anglicans — especially the Anglo-Catholics/High Church people — don’t consider themselves Protestants at all and even resent being referred to as “Protestant,” myself included. The Royal Family probably consider themselves Protestants, as Low Church as they are. They could easily pass as Southern Baptists quite frankly. Related: Are Anglicans Protestant? Also, the BBC sloppily thinks of any denomination that is not Catholic as Protestant, so they refer to “the Protestants” — but they mean Anglicans — and “the Catholics.” But it’s not that simplistic and that black and white and I wouldn’t expect the conservative BBC to understand that. I guess to the BBC, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is also Protestant, yet the Mormons don’t consider themselves Protestant. From my research, their doctrine more closely aligns with the Catholics.
Trying to be “all things to all people” never works. Instead it gives the appearance that one stands for nothing with no principles or convictions of ones own, just operating on the whims of the shallow and superficial pop culture of the day, which is exactly what’s happened at WNC. Think: “Let’s sing a jazz Amazing Grace with the twangy piano and saxophone and a vocalist with her eyes rolled back in her head as she swallows the microphone and wobbles her tongue, and tries to emulate the cookie-cutter singers on the many pop culture vocal competitions on television.”
Before the COVID pandemic began, out of frustration, I had stopped watching the liturgies at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) in the District of Columbia — that’s the official name of the US nation’s capital by the way for those who don’t know, and hereinafter referred to as “the District,” which is how residents of the District, Maryland and Virginia (DMV) refer to the District of Columbia or DC — and I had stopped watching because of how Low Church and Southern Baptist they had become at WNC. I think the last article I wrote about WNC was this article about outstanding Thomas Sheehan, the Cathedral Organist. I think I wrote at the time that I expected them to bring in a Praise Band, the latest shallow pop culture fad for some churches. Well, they did. It’s called The Cathedral Band according to what I saw on their website. A band in an Anglican Cathedral? WTF?
I wrote that they at WNC were becoming more and more Southern Baptist. Well, I watched one of their recent Liturgies to see what they’re doing now, and I think the change to Southern Baptist is nearly complete. There’s not much left to do, other than cut out a few other things that they would say are “too Anglican.” Then they can leave the worldwide Anglican Communion (which includes the US Episcopal Church) and contact the Southern Baptist Convention and ask to join them. I guess they’ll keep the name “Washington National Cathedral” for historical, tourist and PR purposes, even though Baptists don’t have Gothic cathedrals or cathedrals period in the real sense. Oh they have some buildings that they call a cathedral, but it’s much different than the Anglican definition of a cathedral which is the seat of the Bishop. For example, some people think that St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan is a cathedral. It’s not. It’s a parish, although it looks similar to San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral (Anglican Communion) inside and outside. But the cathedral church in New York City is the Cathedral Church of St John the Divine. That’s the seat of the Bishop for New York. I guess they could call WNC a parish — a very large parish — since it would no longer be the seat of the Bishop, and Baptists don’t have Bishops. Well, Baptists don’t have much of anything to tell you the truth. I have considerable experience in the SBC as a musician, unfortunately, something I had no control over at the time.
But whilst watching this Liturgy at WNC, I said to my screen: JFC, they have really gone down hill.
I’m not sure whose idea it was from the beginning. Maybe the Low Church Dean’s idea? He’s just as Low Church as the Dean before him. You might remember that the former Dean carried The Gospel in procession like he was carrying a library book or school books. He carried The Gospel under his right arm. (Roll eyes) I’d never seen that done before. Remember that? He was about as Low Church as you could get. Is he sure he’s in the right job or field? He also nearly jogged around the free-standing altar when it was time for him to take the rarely-used incense and cense the altar. I take it he was not an “incense guy.” By the way, was he asked to leave by somebody (maybe the Bishop)? I ask that because he left his position as Dean awfully quickly. Well, it was almost as if he was indeed in the wrong job. He would have fit in nicely among the Southern Baptist since he was that Low Church. Although Baptists don’t think in terms or even know about Low and High Church. As for the former Dean, he introduced the Choral Arts Society of Washington at Norman Scribner’s funeral liturgy at the Cathedral. It was clear to me that the Dean knew absolutely nothing about the Choral Arts Society Chorus or what they do. He spoke very vaguely about them — because he knew nothing about them? — in his introduction. He said nothing about them being one of the District’s major Orchestra Choruses to perform over the years with the National Symphony Orchestra and guest international orchestras in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Yes, when I lived in the District and the following years after I moved to San Francisco, the three major Orchestra Choruses at that time were: Norman Scribner’s Choral Arts Society of Washington, Dr Paul Traver’s University of Maryland Chorus and Robert Shafer’s Oratorio Society of Washington. They were all superb. They were the Choruses selected/invited to perform with the major symphony orchestras (NSO, et al) in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall.
I honestly don’t know why they at Washington National Cathedral (WNC) don’t become Southern Baptist, since that’s what they want to be deep down based on what they’re doing up there in Upper NW in the District.
I should say that the official name of the cathedral is the Cathedral Church of St Peter and Paul, and not Washington National Cathedral. The cathedral is used for state funerals of corrupt parasitic politicians (were any of them Anglican/Episcopalian?), where in recent years George W Bush and Michelle Obama have been seen swapping candies during the Liturgy. See these images. The two do seem to have a thing for each other. Perhaps that’s why Obama — insisting “we must look forward and not backward” — greatly expanded on the right-wing agenda of the Bush/Cheney regime.
I suggest they (WNC) leave the worldwide Anglican Communion, that shouldn’t be that difficult to do. Close the Cathedral School for Boys since Southern Baptists don’t have Choirs of Men and Boys (and or Girls) performing Anglican Cathedral Music, and continue to perform tacky, syrupy gospel music with wobbling and annoying vibrato (and the vocalist swallowing the microphone and with her eyes rolled back like in pop culture fad), and saxophone accompanied by twangy piano, like other Baptist Churches of the conservative and bigoted Southern Baptist Convention.
It’s also rather striking that a cathedral that pretends to be so “progressive” — such as with Queer rights and freedom from discrimination, for example — has become more and more like one of the most anti-progressive, prejudiced and anti-Queer bigoted Christian denominations in existence. One wonders how they rationalise that in their minds at WNC? And who do they think they’re catering to and why? Southern Baptists have no interest in visiting an Anglican/Episcopal Cathedral. I’ve had Southern Baptists relatives who absolutely refused to step in an Episcopal Church — when I served as Organist/Choirmaster there — because “I don’t understand the Liturgy” they told me, nor did they have any interest in it. In fact, they hated on Anglicans as much as they hated on Roman Catholics.
For their “online service” [sic] as they call it at WNC, it’s like being at a performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis or Beethoven’s Ninth and having a Praise Band and Gospel Choir perform a few ditties in between the movements of the Missa Solemnis or of Beethoven’s Ninth (“Choral”). It’s a major clash in styles. Or think of it this way: You’re at a performance in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam and the Choral Arts Society of Washington (or the superb University of Maryland Chorus when they were in existence) on stage and they’re performing either the Missa Solemnis or Beethoven’s Ninth. Then, in between the movements of each piece, a Praise Band and Gospel Choir come out on stage to lead the concertgoers in a syrupy round of “Amazing Grace” or “We’re Marching to Zion” or some other gospel ditties with piano, saxophone and you-name-it. It is such a complete clash of genres and styles. Then, they go off stage and the superb Orchestra and Chorus return to the next movement of the Missa or Beethoven’s Ninth. Insanity. This is what I mean about “trying to be all things to all people” and it’s a mess.
Other churches who have two different styles of worship have two different services. They have the intelligence to not mix styles. Isn’t that basic sense to most people? Apparently not, to those at WNC. The early service is for the pop culture/praise band crowd. The latter Liturgy is for the traditional Liturgy so there’s no clash in worship styles. They don’t seem to grasp this concept at WNC.
At the Conservatory where I trained, I remember the students in the Church Music degree programme talking about this topic: You don’t mix styles in a Liturgy because it creates a major clash in styles. The two styles are so drastically different, especially with a twanging-ringing piano in a cathedral setting. And some people might ask: Why are they playing a piano in a Cathedral? Doesn’t anyone know how to play the Cathedral’s Great Organ? But that’s the way it is at wannabe-Baptist Washington National Cathedral these days.
I’d also like to point out that the word “service” (that’s WNC’s language) is Southern Baptist language as well. Anglicans call their Liturgy “The Holy Eucharist” or “The Mass” (Anglo-Catholic/High Church) or “The Holy Communion,” or “The Festal Eucharist.” It is not called “the service.” In their video titles they call it “online worship” which sounds very Low Church and Southern Baptist.
One wonders: Will they stop using the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) at WNC, since Southern Baptist don’t use and have probably never heard of the BCP. The only book they use is that book full of mythology and violent stories called the bible.
Well, someone wrote a comment on one of their videos (they used to have comments disabled). That person wrote this about WNC:
“This Southern Baptist from San Antonio loves how Baptist the Cathedral gets. I hear more of the old Baptist hymns here than I do at my church.”
Whoa! See what I mean? “…how Baptist the Cathedral gets.” That’s sad. So it’s not just me who has noticed this. What an odd comment to read since, again, WNC is technically a cathedral church of the worldwide Anglican Communion. It has nothing to do officially with the Southern Baptists or the right-wing Southern Baptist Convention, at least not yet. But this “Baptist Cathedral” called WNC has been in the making for a number of years. They’re Anglican one moment. Southern Baptist the next.
Or let me put it to you this way for those who don’t know anything about an Anglican Liturgy, but have a vague understanding of a Roman or French Catholic Liturgy. It’s like having two churches across the street from each other. One is a Southern Baptist Church and the other is a Roman Catholic Church. You walk over to take in a bit of the SBC. Then you walk back over to the Catholic Church. Walk back and forth between the two for an hour or so and go in and observe their Liturgy (Roman Catholic ) or service (Southern Baptist). The two don’t jive at all in their structure or in their music. The two clash in a major way. That’s the problem with WNC is that they’re two drastically different styles creating major clashes throughout the Liturgy. It’s a mess. Especially with that damn ringing grand piano stuck in there in the Quire area accompanying the Introit? And accompanying the saxophonist. A piano does not work well acoustically in a cathedral because it becomes “ringy” because of the cathedral’s echo. I’ve never liked a piano in an Anglican Liturgy, and I majored in piano major at the Conservatory where I trained.
But for some reason and to cater to some people — who exactly are these people they’re catering to? — they want Southern Baptist gospel music at WNC so they dragged in a piano and gospel singers, along with a saxophone. To make it more like jazz?
But at least the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys has been moved to the Quire stalls where they should have been to begin with, rather than stuck out there in the Sanctuary area of the cathedral for years where they used to sit, which also looked very Southern Baptist. For those who don’t know, the Sanctuary is not the entire room as it is in a SBC Church. The Sanctuary area in an Anglican Church is the relatively small area around the free-standing altar — not the same as the High Altar — often inside a railing. In an Anglican Church, the “entire room” is called the Nave, not the Sanctuary. But Southern Baptists wouldn’t know any of this either and again, they don’t call their “service” a Liturgy. And as podunk as most Baptists are, I guess I wouldn’t call their “service” a Liturgy either. They call it a “Worship Service.” And that’s what WNC call their Liturgy to be even more like the SBC.
The trebles (boy choristers) of the Choir of Men and Boys sounded “acceptable” in this Liturgy, although they didn’t sound like the consistently superb trebles at St Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. There were also two adult sopranos in the Choir. The trebles were singing with perfect intonation, the adult sopranos were not (they were singing with noticeable vibrato), so they ruined the perfect intonation of the boys. That’s the responsibility of the Choirmaster, Michael. I had wondered who was singing with that very noticeable wobbling vibrato. It must have been one or both of them and Michael, the Choirmaster failed to tell them to “please sing with perfect intonation, meaning no noticeable vibrato, as the boys were mostly singing with.” Perfect intonation is one of the foundations of choral excellence.
Michael — who some people say should have been shown the door years ago — allows his adult choristers to sing any way they want, meaning with noticeable vibrato which prevents perfect intonation. Assuming he trains the girls and boys, he believes in perfect intonation for them. As for the men and women? Nah. Because I’ve heard very annoying and noticeable vibrato from them many times. I remember some descants where the soprano section sounded dreadful as they wobbled their way through the descant, not at all striving for perfect intonation (the perfect blending of voices). Descants are never to be sung with noticeable vibrato. They are to be sung with perfect intonation. The choral standards have sunk at WNC just like the rest of it, except for Thomas Sheehan of course. His level of excellence remains the same fortunately, to his credit. He’s a wonderful organist. Too bad, few there appreciate him, including the production crew. Although they would likely say, “We appreciate Thomas. We love him.” Well why the hell don’t you keep the camera on him then when he’s playing his Organ Voluntary, rather than having the camera roam all around the cathedral? The camera never roams when the priests are “performing”/talking or giving the Homily. Clearly, the production crew has a different lack of respect for the clergy versus the music, a complaint I’ve made about WNC for years.
But the person I feel the most sorry for is superb Thomas Sheehan, the cathedral organist. He left his previous post for this mess? The poor guy. And he looks like the nicest guy. He was the Organist at Harvard’s Memorial Chapel before this. I suspect if he were privately being honest, he might say he regrets taking this job. I know I would, considering what they’ve done since Thomas arrived. Same with superb Benjamin Straley before him. Thomas is in the wrong job. Should he ever read this: Well, Thomas, you never know when there might be an opening at St Thomas Fifth Avenue in Manhattan where they are proud High Church Anglicans. No Southern Baptist crap there. You can apply there and will have no trouble being hired there where you belong, considering the way you play and with your outstanding talent, skill level and improvisational skills/talents. He deserves to be Organist for a parish and congregation that will appreciate him. At St Thomas, they are very respectful of the music and many stay to hear the Organ Voluntary, in part, because it’s considered part of the Liturgy. What did we see at WNC when Thomas was playing his Organ Voluntary? We saw most people walking out and talking over it. Extremely rude. They couldn’t be bothered. But that’s how Baptists approach their music. It’s to be talked over when the Organist is playing. Only a few were sitting in silence taking this opportunity to hear a piece by my favourite Herbert Howells. At least a few were respectful at WNC. I didn’t see any resident congregation in the pews near the Sanctuary as was the case pre-COVID. And I do know them when I see them, unless they’ve changed their dress style to more informal because of the cathedral unofficially changing to Southern Baptist, Southern Baptists usually don’t appreciate things like that. ****
I guess you’ve gathered by now that I’m a High Church person so I’m disgusted at what WNC has become. But I’m not at all surprised; it’s not unexpected. Again, this was well-planned and in the making for years. I just didn’t know when it would be complete. They eased it in gradually so as not to shock. I wonder what the resident congregation — often referred to as “the liberals in upper NW” — think about this? Or are they still there?. Maybe they have given up on WNC too. When I say “Upper NW, ” I’m referring to the Northwest quadrant of the District. DC is divided into 4 quadrants: Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and Southwest. WNC is way up Wisconsin Avenue in Upper NW on Mount St Albans. I’m a former District resident myself.
BTW, what happened to The Gospel procession? That got gutted too because that was “too High Church” for you Low Church wannabe Southern Baptists as WNC? [scream!] Ending The Gospel procession also gives their excellent acolytes less to do. The Gospel was first read en espanol, which is good, but that must make some of the bigoted “immigrant” hating tourists angry as they make ignorant comments in their every day life about los Latinos and los mexicanos. Then The Gospel was read in US English. Neither Low Church priest reading The Gospel made the 3 signs of the cross or if they did the camera didn’t show that (forehead, lips and heart) as is customary at the announcement of The Gospel. We were taught that in Confirmation class. Maybe she (the priest) by-passed that. Or maybe she’s from a local Southern Baptist Church and is there to help them become even more Southern Baptist.
What happened to the occasional use of incense? Hmmmmm? I’m surprised they still have the procession or the 2-3 processional crosses — or is that the token “High Church” Anglican part? –, although I saw very few in the Nave bowing to the processional crosses. Do most of the tourist even know where they are? They’d say, “I think it’s a museum, isn’t it, that has a pipe organ?” They usually stand with their arms folded not singing the hymns, or looking off at the ceiling, not participating at all in the Liturgy.
As for the lack of incense, they would likely say: “Oh we can’t use that because it scares people away! I didn’t see anyone running out of the cathedral when incense was used, did you? (Nah). They will say, “We like to cater to the tourists visiting the District.” Well the tourists are only there in the District and at WNC once so why would you cater to them? Loco./Crazy. You should be catering to your resident congregation — if they are still there — who are there every week. Where is the intelligence up there? It ‘s become Southern Baptist. They would likely say: We sometimes drag the thurible out but never put anything in it! Well that part is true. And I remember seeing some of the priests nearly at a trot as they were censing the free-standing altar as if they couldn’t wait to get it over with because they weren’t into it or didn’t agree with using incense. “We like to give the appearance that we use incense even when we don’t” they might say. What I saw in this “liturgy” has been coming for some time unfortunately. I wonder when they hear Thomas play and his High Church improvisations if they’re thinking to themselves, “Oh there he goes with that High Church stuff again. I can’t stand that. Why doesn’t he play “Bringing in the Sheeves” or something instead or “When the Roll is Called Up Yonder I’ll Be There” like good Southern Baptists? Some good gospel, hick, redneck, tobacco-chewing, gun-toting SBC music? Ugh.
At this point, again, I suggest that WNC leave the Anglican Communion. Stop pretending to be something you’re not or don’t want to be and putting on this pretense of wanting to be Anglicans/Episcopalians — since they obviously don’t feel comfortable as Anglicans. Join the Southern Baptist Convention where they will feel more at home, despite the SBC’s bigoted views on some social issues. They can just overlook all that stuff whilst the piano cranks up another round of “Amazing Grace” sung in gospel hick style.
I’ve noticed that the Dean of the Cathedral thrives on eating the posterior region of the parasitic career politicians — both D and R — from Capitol Hill and previous White House residents. I remember when he gave a smile to that piece of trash that was in the office of “president” before Biden took office. The Bishop of the Diocese of Washington looked the opposite direction in the procession. She wanted nothing to do with him, to her credit.
A suggestion: Have two different and distinct liturgies:
Since they are adamant about continuing this mixing of denominations (Anglican and Southern Baptist – roll eyes) and trying to be all “ecumenical” or something, they should have two distinct liturgies. That’s what other churches in various denominations catering to pop culture are doing where they’re trying to “be all things to all people.” So, for example, the Praise Band or Southern Baptist service would be an early service, at 8am or so. Then the traditional Anglican liturgy would be at 10 or 11AM. They would be two different services at two different times with no overlapping what-so-ever. Some of the hymns could be the same but no obvious Southern Baptist hymns in the Anglican Liturgy such as “We’re marching to Zion” or “Amazing Grace” like one has heard at WNC. Many Christian denominations sing the same hymns (or at least the text) but Anglicans sometimes have a different hymn tune/setting for the hymn than the other denominations. It would make much more sense to have two very different and distinct “services.” If someone wants to go to the Praise Band / gospel service, do so. For those who want the High Anglican Liturgy, they would go to that. But trying to combine the two creates major clashes in style inside the Liturgy. Trying to be “all things to all people” is often a failed concept to begin with. It rarely works. Instead, stand for something, rather than acting like weak, bent-over Democrats and giving the Low Church people whatever they want at the expense of your alleged beliefs and Anglican convictions.
The Organ Voluntary and the camera work:
Production seems to think that no one cares to watch the organist. Do they think he’s boring to watch? If so, I take it that none of the production crew are musicians or have much or any musical training. They will keep the camera frozen on any priest when s/he is “performing”/talking. The same level of respect is not given to the Cathedral Organist. I remember this problem from before and it’s still going on: One really annoying thing was the camera work during the Organ Voluntary which was Herbert Howells’s Paean, one of my favourite organ works. I was looking forward to watching Thomas play that but unfortunately viewers didn’t get to see much of that because it was covered up with shots of the cathedral, the stained glass windows — I remember this same complaint from some years ago — and their ads about Choral Evensong and “Prayer Healing” (that sounds like Southern Baptist as well) and giving them money. As mi amigo/my friend said, “They would never disrupt the Homily or the Welcome or the First and Second Lesson or the reading of The Gospel or the priest giving the Homily by taking the camera off of him or her to show scenes from the cathedral or for begging or for “Prayer Healing.” That’s true. It’s only the music and the artist that gets this disrespect. They often did the same thing when Benjamin Straley was Cathedral Organist. Some of us wanted to WATCH him play, but instead we were shown scenes of the stained glass windows, some of which we had already seen umpteen times. They also have this big banner of the video screen which covers up whatever is being shown. Sigh.
And by the way, Southern Baptist WNC might want to make some clarification on their website. Under transportation and how to get to the Cathedral, it’s been awhile but as I remember the language they used was referring to take “the bus” on Wisconsin Avenue. What bus? Such attention to detail that these Southern Baptists have and this is so typical of many Southern Baptists from my experience with few exceptions to that. You know, I suspect quite a few buses of various types roll down Wisconsin Avenue from time-to-time and how is any tourist supposed to know which bus will take them there? In fact, American University (not that far from the Cathedral) in Upper Northwest has their own campus shuttle service and the closest Metro stop to American University is Tenleytown/AU on the Metro’s Red Line. So the AU shuttles (buses) would be running on Wisconsin Avenue, which could confuse tourists leading them to ask, “Do you go to Washington National Cathedral?” What they at WNC should say is Metrobus or the Metro — they are the correct name for both operated by WMATA (the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority) — will take you close to the Cathedral, or as close as you can get by taking either. But usually people who drive around in a big SUV don’t refer to the areas transportation correctly or that accurately at all — because they don’t ride it! — so that could explain “the bus” sloppy language on Southern Baptist WNC’s website. Chau.—el barrio rosa