Construction on the Washington Cathedral, delayed for nearly three years while church officials tried to raise the money to pay off $11 million in debts, will resume next Monday, the Rev. John T. Walker, the Episcopal bishop of Washington, announced yesterday.
Walker, who had taken on the job of dean of the cathedral in an economy move, said the cathedral has received enough contributions earmarked for construction of the Pilgrim Gallery to proceed with that project.
While the cathedral will continue to give the "highest priority" to retiring the debt, Walker said he believed that resuming construction on a pay-as-you-go basis "will have a positive effect on the larger capital [funds] campaign."
Canon Charles A. Perry, cathedral provost, said that with the current inflation, "we believe that a dollar spent on construction today will buy much more than one spent a year or two from now."
The Pilgrim Gallery will be located above the west rose window at the base of the two west towers, which have not been completed. When finished, the gallery will offer visitors a spectacular view of the Washington area.
The rough stone for the gallery has been quarried already and sits among the grass and weeds of the cathedral's stoneyard, off Wisconsin Avenue NW. Perry said the stone cutting and setting would begin slowly with one or two workmen and, if funds continue to come in as anticipated, the work will expand by spring. "There's a long mobilization phase -- you've got to get machinery oiled up and conditioned again that's been sitting there rusting," he said.
The cathedral ran up a massive debt, in part because of the pressure to complete several phases of the building, including the west rose window, in time for the bicentennial in 1976 and Queen Elizabeth's state visit at that time. Early the following year, as the specter of bankruptcy loomed, church officials were forced to make deep cuts. Lights were turned off, the heat was turned down, visiting tourists were pressed for donations and personnel levels slashed, from choir boys to canons.
Unlike a parish church, the cathedral has no members to appeal to in hard times. While it holds worship services daily and several time on Sunday, they are attended primarily by tourists or other visitors.
Although it is sometimes called the National Cathedral and is used for state occasions such as funerals for national leaders, the cathedral receives no funds from the government. Nor does it get any money from the budget of the national Episcopal Church.
In May 1979, the cathedral launched a $15.5 million capital funds campaign to pay off its debts and at the same time, continue to raise money for further construction and an endowment fund. The National Cathedral Association, a voluntary support group meeting here this week, was told that $7.74 million has been raised since then, most of which has been applied to the debt.
But some contributors have asked that their donations go for new construction rather than old debts, and it is that money that will launch the Pilgrim Gallery.
Walker said that while the cathedral will continue to emphasize retiring the debt, it will try to raise money for future construction by encouraging would-be donors to develop a personal relationship with the fruits of their gifts.
Every stone in the gallery is numbered and a fund-raising brochure, promises potential donors that "Your stone will be identified and when it is set in the gallery you will be notified." Prices range from $250 for a simple rectangular block to $1,250 for the more elaborate handcut tracery stones.