Washington National Cathedral shuts doors over COVID-19 rise in D.C., moves worship online

Washington National Cathedral shuts doors over COVID-19 rise in D.C., moves worship online

Worship at the Washington National Cathedral will move online after a spike in the District of Columbia’s COVID-19 infection rate, the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, the Episcopal congregation’s dean, said in an online message posted Wednesday.

Worshipers will be able to view services and other holiday events online via https://cathedral.org/. A publicist said in early December that the cathedral’s worship services have had more than 2.6 million views from around the world since March 15, 2020. Average Sunday attendance including Facebook and YouTube viewership is reported to be 33,720, a number usually associated with so-called megachurches.

“As one of the largest churches in America, we routinely welcome more than 15,000 people to celebrate the Christmas holiday,” Father Hollerith wrote. “However, given the spike in infections, I simply cannot justify gathering massive crowds as the public health situation worsens around us,” he added.

“To protect the health of everyone in our community, we will shift all Cathedral services online through the holiday season, and the building will be closed to visitors and worshippers for all activities,” Father Hollerith wrote. “Our intention is to re-open the Cathedral at a socially distanced reduced capacity and resume public worship on Sunday, Jan. 9.”

Father Hollerith, appointed dean in 2016, noted, “As the world shifts around us, I believe we need to be responsible and responsive. It is better to pause now and celebrate later than to celebrate now and be filled with regret later.”

A cathedral spokesman said via email that Father Hollerith’s posting is the only statement on the matter. The Washington Times contacted the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and asked whether other churches in the city will be closed as well.

Officially dedicated as the Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington, the building is more commonly known as the Washington National Cathedral. It serves as the cathedral of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington and is the seat of the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, currently the Most Rev. Michael B. Curry.

The cathedral has hosted the state funerals of former Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1969, Ronald Reagan in 2004, Gerald Ford in 2007 and George H.W. Bush in 2018. Numerous notable Americans have also had their funerals there, most recently former Secretary of State Colin Powell in November and former Sen. Robert Dole on Dec. 10.

The bodies of Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States, and his second wife, Edith Wilson, are interred in the cathedral. He is the only American president buried in the District of Columbia.

The omicron variant accounts for 75% of new COVID-19 cases in the nation, The Times reported Tuesday, although the variant, first detected in South Africa, doesn’t cause more severe disease than earlier strains of the novel coronavirus that first achieved pandemic status in 2020.

For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.

Health, The New York Today