Upon joining Washington National Cathedral in 2005, I assumed responsibility for the Cathedral’s rare book collection.  The collection consisted of over nine thousand volumes on religious subject matter, as well as secular.  Many books predate 1750, including a number of incunabula, with several quite valuable editions and a few that are priceless.  The collection came into existence during the Cathedral’s first century as donors offered their personal collections of books, visiting dignitaries presented them as gifts, and specific acquisitions were made by the Cathedral Library while it existed.

However during the 1970s, the Cathedral Library formally was closed and its librarian released.  Soon thereafter, many items were sold or donated to other institutions.  Yet due to donor restrictions, a portion of the rare book collection remained in storage at the Cathedral.  Over the ensuing years, volunteers attempted to manage the collection with limited, consistent success.  By the time I assumed responsibility, an accurate inventory of the entire collection did not exist; background information on each item, including donor records, was not readily accessible; the location of certain specific items could not be confirmed; the quality of security was questionable; and the books were deteriorating due to poor environmental conditions.

Immediately, I petitioned Governance for the necessary funds to bring the rare book collection under control and establish a strategic plan for proper stewardship, and was granted preliminary support to begin.

First, we hired a research library consultant to inventory the collection on the shelves and, working with an assistant, confirm that list with an existing written inventory, resolving inconsistencies and entering the information into an electronic database.  The consultant then was to collect all background information on each item, including all donor agreements, and enter this information into the database as well.  This effort required research in numerous files located in various departments, reviewing committee meeting minutes and Cathedral periodicals, along with interviewing a number of staff and volunteers who participated in the life of collection at some time.

As the donor agreements were collected and reviewed, it became obvious the Cathedral had not used a consistent gift vehicle over the years in receiving donations, so the terms varied widely.  We then hired a lawyer specializing in non-profit donations to review the agreements and make recommendations on their proper interpretation.  This information also went into the database.

As the consultant inventoried the collection, she was directed to review the condition of each book and note the general degree of conservation required.  We enlisted the help of professional volunteers to lend their expertise and provide immediate attention to the most pressing deterioration problems.  They also provided estimates for the next level of conservation treatment.  Working with a small amount of funds, we made minor improvements to the existing mechanical equipment to provide more stable levels of temperature and humidity.  Also, tighter security controls were installed.

In the final report, I directed the consultant to analyze the content, distribution and associated value of the collection’s subject matter to help Governance better understand the breadth and specifics of the collection in order to make informed decisions.  Also, we made recommendations for next steps in the responsible care for the collection.  In the end, the entire collection was verified, an inventory and all associated information was consolidated in one location on an accessible electronic database and confirmed, and the environmental conditions improved.

For the first time in over 40 years, the Cathedral regained control of its rare book collection, so it now can be better stewards of the collection’s perpetual care and honor the trust bestowed upon the Cathedral by donors in the past.

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Most religious structures built over the last two centuries were designed to accommodate the traditional threefold aspects of congregational life: worship God, educate the members, and build community among the faithful.  Certainly in some instances, provisions were made to support social outreach, but these basic programs were the functional parameters by which faith communities understood their reason for being and gave shape to the buildings they created.

However in the present day, as many congregations face the harsh realities of declining membership, shrinking budgets and deteriorating buildings, it is time to look beyond the traditional parameters that defined congregational life and explore alternatives.  Religious leaders need to take greater initiative in creating innovative ways in which to use its real property for unconventional ministries before congregations are forced to close.  An example of such creative leadership exists in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (D.C.).

The Church of the Holy Communion is an Episcopal congregation that has served the historic Congress Heights neighborhood in Southeast Washington, DC since 1895.  For the first half of the twentieth century, Congress Heights was an integrated, working-class neighborhood, populated to a large extent by whites.  As demographics and economic opportunities shifted following World War II, the profile of the neighborhood gradually changed to become primarily African-American and low income.  Holy Communion, which had a congregation of as many as 800 members during the 1960s, experienced decline as members moved out of the neighborhood, grew older and died.  Over the same period, the effort made by the congregation to reach out to those who now live in the neighborhood and invite them to church did not produce sufficient new members to offset the decline.  As a result, Holy Communion reached a point where it averaged fifteen to twenty people at Sunday worship and only could afford a part-time clergy person.  The existing Gothic-Revival church and educational wing were constructed in 1952 and 1957 respectively, when the size of the congregation was at its height.  Not surprisingly, as the congregation shrank, the buildings suffered from deferred maintenance.  In other words, by 2005, Holy Communion teetered on the verge of closure.

At this same time, the Episcopal Diocese of Washington was taking decisive action to address another issue—the critical academic and social needs of young boys from low-income families in the District of Columbia.  The Diocese committed itself to establishing a boys’ school, honoring the memory of Bishop John T. Walker, the first African American Bishop of the Diocese, and locating the school in the economically-challenged Southeast quadrant of the city, where the need is great.  Yet with limited financial resources in hand, the prospect of purchasing land and building a new or buying an existing structure and renovating it seemed beyond the reach of the Diocese.

Recognizing the instance of two struggling ministries—one diminishing and the other fledgling, Diocesan leadership devised a creative solution: establish a partnership between Holy Communion and the Bishop Walker School, whereby the congregation provides the real property on which both ministries can function, while the School provides the resources to renovate the church and educational wing to accommodate both programs.  The congregation will enjoy the benefit of a newly-restored facility on the weekends, while the School will bring new purpose and vitality to the property during the weekdays.  Each ministry will enjoy the benefit from partnering with the other.

Both entities were agreeable to the partnership.  So working with Devrouax & Purnell Architects of Washington, Holy Communion, the Bishop Walker School and the Diocese together created a design to rehabilitate the existing buildings to accommodate the first phase of the School’s growth—from Junior Kindergarten to fourth grade, to upgrade the facilities to meet current building codes and provide accessibility for the disabled, as well as to preserve the congregation’s worship space all on a frugal budget of $2.3M.  In the fall of 2010, the congregation resumed worship in its historic church, as the School moved into its new spaces of the shared facility.

Is the partnership proving to be a success?  By and large, it is.  Still, challenges often occur in the early stages of any relationship.  The most notable glitch is that Holy Communion’s congregation is yet to enjoy an appreciable increase in members and giving.  The expectation was that the partnership, with its revitalization, inherently would attract new members to the congregation.  Yet, reality is proving that Holy Communion still must undertake the hard work of reaching out to people in the broader community and providing them a spiritual home.

Nevertheless, this creative partnership deserves attention, applause and encouragement.  Not only was a faith community saved from closing, but a vital new ministry established.  The visual presence and tangible efforts of a religious institution were enhanced and extended in a neighborhood needing positive influence and assistance.  Revitalizing the buildings and grounds brought money and jobs into the local economy, as the larger city benefits from preserving the historic streetscape.  In short, this partnership helped a great many people who needed it.

And what is more, this model of partnership can be replicated.  Examples where congregations partner with assisted living facilities for the elderly and disabled or with secular community centers to meet the needs of the surrounding neighborhood exist and are successful.  At the heart of each success are creative religious leaders who recognize the needs facing their faith communities, as well as their secular communities.  By matching needs with programs, real property improvement with philanthropy, and utilizing the skills and experience of design professionals, along with a dash of entrepreneurial spirit, these leaders are crucial in developing successful, adaptive-reuse solutions that address the challenges of declining congregations before their demise.

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In 1907, the first stone was laid in the construction of Washington National Cathedral and in 1990; the last stone was set in place.  As I began work at the Cathedral in 2005, I soon learned that over the course of its nearly one-hundred years of existence, a comprehensive survey of the building fabric had never been made.  Understandably, for the first eighty-three years, most of the attention was devoted to completing construction of the Cathedral, not preserving its fabric.  Yet with construction now complete, many in Cathedral governance felt it was time to turn its attention away from the building and devote its resources in other directions.  As a result, the prevailing attitude toward preservation was one of reaction, rather than pro-action.  In other words, wait for something to break and then fix it.

I immediately set to work reversing this attitude by raising the awareness of Governance to its responsibility of being good stewards of the historic landmark it had inherited, by teaching that a policy of deferred maintenance is more costly than preventative maintenance, and encouraging them to be more fiscally responsible by creating a prioritized list of preservation capital projects, with associated costs, for the next five, ten and fifteen years.  With this specific information in hand, a more responsible strategic budget could be established and the necessary funds set in place for any forthcoming major projects.  Finally after pressing the issue for two years, Governance was convinced to release the necessary funds allowing me to proceed with this important study.

Fortunately, the Cathedral maintained good records of its construction history, through drawings, specifications, correspondence, photographs and annual maintenance logs.  However, the information is not centralized nor easily accessible, which means it is used rarely.  Working with a historic architectural consultant, we sifted through all of the information and, after interviewing a number of people who participated in the construction and/or ongoing maintenance of the building, assembled an accurate and comprehensive history of construction in both written and graphic form.

The team then inspected the entire Cathedral, assessing the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems, noting any deterioration, failures and potential failures.  A number of specialists, including stone, stained-glass, metal and wood conservators, and roof and moisture protection specialists participated and provided recommendations.  Detailed technical analysis was made of selected materials and practices including mortar, stone repair, sealant use, waterproofing membranes, and lead roofing.  After a year, a comprehensive conditions report was assembled indicating every aspect of the building fabric: material descriptions, maintenance history, present condition, level of attention required and recommendations going forward.

Once the data was assembled, I then prioritized the items based on level of urgency and worked with the consultants to attach an estimated budget to each item.  I also evaluated the project list based on projected annual budgets for the next five years and current maintenance staff size and skill sets.  In the end, I assembled the information into distinct packets for specific audiences in both print and digital forms.  Governance received a summary of the conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, all in a language that was comprehendible and useful for strategic planning and budgeting.

For those concerned with more technical aspects of the survey and its applications, they received the detailed conditions report, the prioritized project list and associated budget projections, which provided specific background and application information in an accessible form.

For the first time in Cathedral history, both Governance and Maintenance had the technical and budgetary information it needed to adopt a policy of pro-active preservation of the Cathedral.

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During my first year at the School of Theology in Sewanee, I participated in a contemplative retreat at St. Mary’s Sewanee Retreat Center, just off Sherwood Road.  While walking the grounds in silence, I stumbled upon the cemetery of the Sisters of St. Mary’s Convent for the first time.  Here, set in the midst of the Mountain’s majestic forested canopy, was this little “jewel box” fashioned by human hands inspired by the Spirit of God.

The cemetery is a formal square of sacred ground bounded on each side by a low wall built of sandstone quarried from the surrounding mountain.  The plot is oriented with respect to the four cardinal directions of the compass, so each grave is positioned to face east allowing its inhabitant to greet the rising sun on the morning of the Second Coming of our Lord.  In the meantime, the rows of simple markers for each interred Sister are presided over by a handsomely-sculpted figure of the crucified Christ, raised in glory within a stone niche centered on the western wall.  Opposite the Crucifix and centered on the eastern wall is the lychgate.  Built of heavy-timbers in the form of a gable roof, this gateway grants access to the burial ground, but its low clearance encourages the living who visit to bow in reverence as they enter the precinct of the dead.

Here is a place: intentionally-shaped, exquisitely-fashioned from humble, indigenous materials and devoted to the most primordial act unique to our species and fundamental to our Christian faith – the burial of the dearly departed.  The mere nature of its existence is a sacramental expression of the beauty of the Incarnation in the midst of our fallen world.  It makes manifest the words of Jacob, who said, “Surely, the Lord is in this place and I did not know it.”

When I am fortunate to return to the Mountain, I try to visit the cemetery of the Sisters—not because I am particularly close to anyone buried there—but out of gratitude for what this sacred place awakened in me.  Never before had I felt drawn to name a place where I preferred my earthly remains to be interred.  But from the experience of this holy ground, I now know for me the Mountain is my gateway to heaven.

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Trinity Episcopal Church ArchitectIn preparation for its 250th anniversary in 1996, Trinity Episcopal Church in Staunton, Virginia, hired Frazier Associates to prepare a historic structures report on the church property.  The present Gothic-Revival church building, constructed in 1855, is the third church to be built on the site.  The existing church is listed on the National Register and has a notable collection of Tiffany stained-glass windows.  The site consists of an entire city block and includes a large parish hall (c.1872 & 1924), a rectory (c.1872) and numerous historic grave markers.

As the Principal Historical Architect, I worked with the firm’s other two principals to plan this project, determine the level of research needed to achieve the desired goals, define the scope of the final products, divide responsibilities among appropriate staff and specialized consultants, manage the work in progress and assure the final products were accomplished on time and within budget.

In our work, we conducted extensive research at national, state and local levels, using historical records, primary and secondary sources, as well as numerous personal interviews, to produce a detailed history of the parish and its historic structures, including a construction history for each building.  We produced measured digital drawings of the site and each building on it.  We investigated and assessed the condition of all materials, assemblies and systems in each building and provided recommendations for treatment, along with associated cost estimates.  We established preservation zones on the site and in the buildings that defined levels of historic value in particular areas and guided the degree of appropriate preservation action in each.  Specialized consultants, including structural, electrical and mechanical engineers, stone and stained-glass conservators, landscape architects and archivists, were made part of the team and each provided his or her professional assessment and recommendation.  Working with church leadership, we created proposed space plans for the future needs of each building.  I crafted an annual maintenance plan to guide the perpetual care of the buildings and grounds.  The number of tasks involved and individual participants required the creation of a master calendar to track each task with strategic benchmarks along a timeline.  The timeline of each task was coordinated with the others so all work could flow simultaneously and any necessary overlap was anticipated.  To make the plan successful required clear communication, frequent follow-up and clarifications, and flexibility when glitches occurred.  Throughout the project, we were in constant contact with church leadership, providing monthly reports of progress and revelations.

In the end, the deadlines were met within the required time limit.  All information and reports were documented in written and graphic form and assembled into a comprehensive volume.  We presented the completed information to the church leadership and congregation in an open forum and received enthusiastic feedback.  The parish used the report as anticipated, to guide its next large projects: the preservation and rehabilitation of the church, parish house and rectory; designing and constructing a sympathetic addition to the parish house; designing and installing a new pipe organ in the worship space; conserving the collection of stained-glass windows; creating an archive to house the parish’s historical records and establishing an annual maintenance plan.

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