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W.Va. native reflects on year as National Cathedral dean

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The Rev. Francis Wade served as pastor in West Virginia churches for 17 years. The venues for those assignments have little in common with that of his most recent role -- interim dean of the Washington National Cathedral for much of the past year.

The cathedral in Washington, D.C., has between 1,600 and 1,800 worship services a year, he said. On Sunday mornings, between 1,200 and 1,500 people fill the pews and as many others watch the services online, he said. The cathedral has a staff of about 80.

"I was the rector of St. Luke's, now St. Christopher [Episcopal Church] in Charleston and there's not a lot of comparison," Wade said.

A Fairmont native, Wade was appointed for the part-time dean's role by the National Cathedral's governing board in January after Rev. Dr. Samuel Lloyd III, the previous dean, stepped down.

Wade had previously served as rector of St. Alban's Parish, an Episcopal church on the grounds of the cathedral.

"I had been around the cathedral since '83," Wade said. "I knew the place and the place knew me. That's why I was chosen [as interim dean]. It wasn't like I had been plucked from Oregon and placed in Washington.

"It was familiar and really fun because these are wonderful people, they do wonderful things," he said.

Wade's role was to be a mentor for the cathedral's staff and to be the public face of the cathedral Sunday mornings while the governing board searched for a permanent dean. Wade served at the cathedral until September, and Rev. Gary Hall took over as its 10th dean in October.

Wade's tenure came at a tumultuous time for the National Cathedral, which had been damaged by an earthquake just a few months before he arrived. The 5.8-magnitude quake that struck in September 2011 damaged the highest points of the cathedral. The force shook apart stones and affected the pinnacles of the central tower. Flying buttresses suffered cracks as well. It caused $20 million in damage.

But Wade downplayed his role in restoring the church.

"[My role was] getting that stabilized and getting the system, people and institution to recognize we just took a big hit, this is a big problem, but it's stable and we can move on," Wade said. "No one asked me to carve an angel or anything."

During his time at the cathedral, Wade participated in the funeral for American astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, who died in August. Wade also witnessed the nation's military practice the procedures for a president's funeral.

He counts that as among the most interesting experiences of his time there.

"When a president dies, everyone needs to know what to do," he said. "One of the reasons it looks so precise and correct is they come up and make sure the new people know how to bury a president.

"I hadn't really thought about that, but it makes sense when you think about it."

But what Wade was most impressed with during his time there were the people, he said.

"One of the things that really meant a lot to me were the people who work there," Wade said.

He was impressed from the staff, from the maintenance crews to the administration, he said.

"Those people, wonderful people who understand what they're doing to be a part of ministry serving God and community," Wade said.

While the cathedral's size may have been bigger than was he was used to in his home stare, Wade said the people he served there were the same.

"I think one of the really great lessons is that with great venues [like the National Cathedral], inside of them the people who worship in Charleston, West Virginia are the same as people who worship here," Wade said. "When you step into that world, people are here for the same reason and it's a great leveler."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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