The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry, 81

Provost led National Cathedral out of debt

The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry promoted the cathedral, a major center of worship in the Episcopal Church, as a national house of prayer.
The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry promoted the cathedral, a major center of worship in the Episcopal Church, as a national house of prayer.
  Enlarge Photo    

Network News

X Profile
View More Activity
By Michelle Boorstein
Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Very Rev. Charles A. Perry, a former provost of Washington National Cathedral who was credited with pulling the church out of approximately $11 million in debt in the 1980s and completing construction on the building, died Oct. 24 at a hotel in Asheville, N.C., after a heart attack. He was 81.

He was a Charlottesville resident and was visiting Asheville for the fall foliage when he died.

As the cathedral's provost from 1978 to 1990, he ran its day-to-day operations and was also its chief pastor.

Provost Perry worked to promote the cathedral, a major center of worship in the Episcopal Church, as a national house of prayer. With the help of the Egyptian Embassy, he planned an interfaith service in memory of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who had been killed by militants in 1981 .

The next year, he helped organize a vigil for U.S. military personnel who died or were missing in the Vietnam War. The latter event involved the reading aloud of nearly 60,000 names and stretched over five days.

Provost Perry was an outspoken advocate for the ordination of women in the Episcopal Church, which is the U.S.-based branch of the Anglican Communion. Women weren't allowed to be priests in the Episcopal Church until the mid-1970s.

He was executive officer of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington before becoming provost of the cathedral. Shortly before he took that position, the cathedral was teetering on bankruptcy, according to press reports at the time.

Much of the debt was accumulated when Francis B. Sayre Jr., then dean of the cathedral, accelerated construction of the building in time for the nation's bicentennial in 1976.

After celebrations for the bicentennial, the cathedral was $11 million in debt, according to a 1981 article in The Washington Post.

"All construction was stopped, thermostats were lowered, visiting hours for tourists reduced, and drastic personnel cuts reached from canons to choir boys," the article said.

The cathedral gets no funds from the Episcopal Church or the federal government; as a national house of worship, the cathedral relies on the support of individuals locally and nationwide.

Provost Perry, regarded as a tenacious leader, spent years directing an aggressive fundraising campaign that managed to pay off the massive construction debt. The drive included a "stone campaign" in which donors could endow a numbered building stone in the cathedral wall.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company

Network News

X My Profile