Rev. Gary Hall tapped as new dean of Washington National Cathedral
By Fredrick Kunkle and Michelle Boorstein,
A Michigan minister who grew up in Hollywood and entered the clergy after becoming active in the civil rights movement at Berkeley in the 1960s has been elected to serve as dean of Washington National Cathedral, church officials said Tuesday.
If his selection is approved, the Rev. Gary Hall, whose career has veered between the classroom and the pulpit, would assume the highest post at the cathedral after a tumultuous five-year period marked by budget-cutting, soul-searching and an earthquake whose tremors cracked the landmark’s loftiest spires.
Church officials said they think that Hall, who has taught English at UCLA and served as dean of the Seabury-Western Theological seminary in Evanston, Ill., has the right background to take charge of the cathedral’s multiple missions and raise its profile on the world stage. As a lifelong student of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Hall said he hopes to play a part in shaping American intellectual thought at the intersection of politics and religion.
“I think one of the things I’m most interested in is how can the cathedral deepen its mission of convening conversations about faith and public life at a time of such great polarization,” Hall, 62, said Monday in a brief telephone interview.
Hall would become the 10th dean of the cathedral, the official seat of the Episcopal Church in the United States. He is a rector at Christ Church Cranbrook and chaplain of the Cranbook upper school in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., the private institution attended by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and other members of his family.
Hall’s selection follows a seven-month national search that eventually focused on his résuméas a priest, a teacher and a dean.
His parents worked in motion pictures. His late father, Henry R. “Huntz” Hall, was an actor who played, among other roles, one of the tough-talking street urchins in the Bowery Boys movies. His mother designed costumes for “Bewitched” and other TV shows. As an English major at UC-Berkeley, Hall remembers being impressed by clergy who helped lead the battle for civil rights.
“I never entered a church, basically, until I entered college,” he said. After attending Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., and becoming an Episcopal minister, he returned to school for graduate studies in English and philosophy, eventually earning a PhD in English at UCLA.
If the selection is approved, Hall would help oversee a cathedral whose regular congregation numbers about 1,200. The neo-gothic structure is a well-known spot for interfaith and liberal Christian dialogue and events, and funerals for presidents and other prominent Americans are often held there.
Although supreme authority rests with the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, who is the bishop of Washington, Hall would become the overall head of the cathedral and its ministry in Washington and across the country. As dean, Hall would assume a role as the cathedral’s spiritual leader, chief executive, public voice and chief fundraiser at a time when the cathedral needs at least $50 million for repairs from the August 2011 earthquake and previous preservation needs.
His nomination must be approved by the cathedral’s governing board — the Cathedral Chapter — as well as a foundation that oversees several well-known city Episcopal institutions.
The post was previously held for more than six years by the Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, who announced his departure in July after a tenure buffeted by budget cuts and rifts. But some say Hall could be coming in as things are looking up. After slashing its budget by about 60 percent, the cathedral has eked out a small surplus in the past two years and improved its fundraising. Officials had just done a strategic plan when the earthquake hit.
“We were looking for someone who could lead a truly national institution,” said Alexander Platt, chair of the search committee. “It’s a cathedral, not a church, and cathedrals have much broader aspirations than a church, especially the National Cathedral.”