Then news came this week that the cathedral, visited by every U.S. president since Theodore Roosevelt laid its foundation stone in 1907, was considering selling off part of its rare books collection, probably worth millions. Cathedral officials said the potential sale of the books is a separate matter from its ongoing budget difficulties. But they acknowledge that they no longer have the staff and resources to care for such a vast collection, which includes volumes donated by Queen Elizabeth II and Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie and a Dutch Bible that was the first written in modern language.
The officials are in discussions with the Folger Shakespeare Library, which, with its internationally known conservation department, could possibly better preserve the fragile pages and make the tomes available to scholars.
The cathedral’s chief operating officer, Kathleen Cox, said the possible book sale, as well as measures such as eliminating financial support of a global poverty program, is an attempt to refocus on the cathedral’s core mission as a “church for the nation” and tourist attraction.
The Episcopal Church is experiencing the “perfect storm” in its finances with a soft economy, declining membership (and thus donor base) and enormous litigation costs to hold on to property and keep it from those pesky Anglicans. (If TEC struggles with keeping up its flagship church, how can it expect to do so elsewhere when it wins all of these lawsuits?)
My experience with church finance has led me to one cardinal rule: unless things are desperate, you never sell off fixed or real assets to pay for operating expenses. That tell me the state of National Cathedral. (I should note to my Church of God friends that their budget drop, from $27 million to $13 million, more or less is the same as the estimated remittances of the entire denomination before and after our reallocation of resources. And that’s just one Episcopal church.)
But really, they might as well dump the books. These include the following:
The cathedral, which has not had a rare books librarian since the 1970s, has been talking with the Folger over the past year about a possible sale or donation of about 2,000 of its 8,000 books, mostly rare Bibles, Books of Common Prayer and theological works.
Given TEC’s direction, and their desire to ditch 2,000 years of Christian belief and practice, the books would be better in other hands. They’re certainly not going to take inspiration from them.
One other idea: why doesn’t TEC just empty the library and move “815” (their headquarters) to National Cathedral?