Washington National Cathedral announces staff layoffs as COVID-19 hits finances

By Egan Millard
Posted Jun 17, 2020

Photo: Washington National Cathedral

[Episcopal News Service] Washington National Cathedral announced on June 16 that it is making staff cuts “that are both necessary and hard to accept” as the economic damage from the COVID-19 pandemic mounts.

Effective July 1, the cathedral will reduce its full-time workforce by 15%, eliminating 13 full-time and 13 part-time positions. Another 12 full-time employees will be fully or partially furloughed, and most remaining part-time employees will work fewer hours, the Very Rev. Randolph Marshall Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, announced on Facebook.

“I want you to know that these are more than mere numbers on a spreadsheet; each decision involves painful change for treasured colleagues and friends, and it grieves me deeply,” Hollerith wrote. “In my 30 years of ordained ministry, this is the hardest set of decisions I’ve ever had to make.”

Hollerith said he and other senior cathedral staffers will take a 20% pay cut, all employees will see reduced benefits in the coming year, and all raises and new hires will be paused until further notice.

Though the National Cathedral has maintained a robust online presence, “three months of closure due to the pandemic have had serious negative consequences on our finances,” Hollerith wrote, stressing that the cuts are the result of “forces beyond our control” and not mismanagement or poor planning.

In fact, after years of financial struggles – mostly due to the damage caused by a 2011 earthquake – the cathedral’s finances had been on the upswing. The past four years had seen consecutive budget surpluses, and fiscal year 2019 saw major increases in membership, visitors and income. Congregational giving went up 39% from the previous year, and event and program revenue went up 50%.

Now visitors, events and programming – which make up over 20% of the cathedral’s operating revenue – are gone for the foreseeable future. The staff cuts mostly affect the cathedral’s tourism and events management departments, Hollerith said.

“Out of a commitment to responsible and sustainable financial stewardship, we need to reduce the cathedral’s footprint until a vaccine is developed and the public feels comfortable gathering in large groups once again,” he wrote. “Cathedral life has shifted these last three months, and we need a budget that reflects our new reality, for as long as it lasts.”

The cathedral will continue cultivating its online ministries, focusing on worship, music and “the two pandemics that plague us: COVID-19 and the sin of racism,” Hollerith wrote.

“I ask you to join me in prayer for each member of our cathedral family who is impacted by these changes,” he added. “We will make every attempt to support them personally and professionally, and we will walk with them through this transition.”

– Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org.