By Greg Asimakoupoulos
On a hill not far from the White House stands an imposing granite building where the daily proceedings are opened with prayer. The members are concerned with both world and personal affairs. The chambers are visited by thousands of tourists each year.
No, I’m not referring to Capitol Hill. Rather, I have in mind St. Alban’s Hill on which is perched Washington National Cathedral. The lesser known hill that shadows our nation’s capital is nonetheless significant given our country’s highly politicized environment.
While vacationing in Washington, D.C. this summer, my wife and I had the privilege of worshiping at the cathedral. The preacher of the morning was the 55-year-old dean of the cathedral, Randy Hollerith. His message was based on the Old Testament account of David being confronted by Nathan the Prophet following the king’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba. I found the Dean’s application, in which he called for leadership to be held accountable, especially timely.
When I was invited to conduct a funeral in Arlington Cemetery several weeks later, I contacted the National Cathedral to see if I could interview the Dean. To my delight, my request was granted.
Curiously, the day before the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony during the Justice Brett Kavanaugh nomination investigation, I sat down with the dean of our nation’s most well-known church.
Like Father Tim in the Mitford Series novels, this Episcopal priest shared office space with his dog. Lady, the dean’s black lab, welcomed me with a well-lubricated tongue and a waving tail.
When I asked Randy about his most memorable experience as leader of the cathedral, he referred to former Sen. John McCain’s Memorial Service a few weeks before. It was a highlight of his two years in the position.
He mused, “As I officiated a service watched by millions, I stood directly in front of three former presidents and their wives. It was a picture of the potential unity that exists in a sadly divided country.”
Following an hour-long visit, I left the dean’s office pondering his description of McCain’s service. It occurred to me that looking for signs of unity is not the exclusive purview of a D.C. cleric whose office overlooks the White House. It doesn’t take the elevated location of the National Cathedral to be given a perspective by which to see signs of hope. It is an opportunity extended to each of us.
I determined to start looking for encouraging signs from my vantage point. I thought of the Mercer Island Clergy Association. Pastors, priests and rabbis focus on what we share in common as we sponsor an ecumenical Thanksgiving celebration each fall as well as the high school baccalaureate service in the spring. I see signs of hope in residents at Covenant Shores who annually walk side-by-side to raise money for breast cancer research regardless of their political persuasion or religious label.
I see signs of unity among our state and national politicians who reach across the aisle to engage in weekly prayer groups. I see hope in a well-known conservative pastor publicly calling on the president to apologize for the insensitive way he mocked the accuser of Justice Kavanaugh. And I see a sign of optimism in the 10-year-old daughter of Justice Kavanaugh suggesting her family pray for the alleged victim. My list of signs is growing.
Although permitted to privilege of sitting in the office of the cathedral dean, I will likely never stand at the Canterbury pulpit in the Cathedral Nave. All the same, I have an unobstructed view of ways people around me are choosing to cooperate. I’m guessing you do, too. The key is focusing on what’s before us and determining to fixate on the positive.
The Rev. Greg Asimakoupoulos is the full-time chaplain at Covenant Shores Retirement Community on Mercer Island. He is the faith and values columnist for the Mercer Island Reporter and contributes original poetry each Blue Friday to KOMO news radio.