1st Time Church Review: National Cathedral, Washington D.C.

For those of you that don’t know – my wife Tyra, our two youngest boys (we have six) and myself have embarked on a year long RV trip to see the United States! We will be working and going to school “online” and experiencing the great history and culture and great lands that God has blessed us with. Each Sunday we will visit a different church and blog about our experience as “first time visitors”.  We will share our experiences to hopefully benefit YOUR church and any church who reads the blog post to learn about positive and negative experiences and how you might address these in your own church.

Wow, who knew that visiting a large, historic church would be such an awesome experience!  Learn how you can be just as welcoming as this church!

So since this is our last weekend in Washington D.C., I was thinking about a more memorable Church worship service for this Sunday and I decided we should go to none other than the National Cathedral. I didn’t know much of anything about this church besides some glimpses I had seen on TV. In fact on the drive over this morning I told Tyra and the boys it was a Catholic service and that meant they would not be able to take Communion.

The boys were both very disappointed! They both pleaded to go to a Methodist Church instead. I was proud of them but knew we would have an experience, so we carried on.

I asked my boys if they knew why a Catholic Church wouldn’t allow hen to receive communion. Christian snails he knew.

“Because Catholics are meanies!”


I was raised Catholic and so I told them all about why they wouldn’t be able to have Communion. They were not satisfied.

But then it dawned on me that I wasn’t actually sure it WAS a Catholic service. A quick look on their website told us it was an Episcopal Church. LOL.

Well I had never been to an Episcopalian service. My assumption (wow, a lot of assumptions today!) was that it would be very Catholic still. And that most likely we still wouldn’t be able to take Communion.

Ok so we got there early enough to run and get some Dunkin Donuts on Connecticut Avenue near the National Zoo which we visited two Sunday’s ago).

And then we tried to park our Dodge Dually in their parking garage. Big mistake. Their sign into the garage says clearance is 7’0. And the truck is 6’6″. But then once we got into the garage the sign changed the rules to clearance of 6’6″!

We had a few minutes of stress trying to back up and the found a spot we could park near the entrance. Anyway I mention this just to remind churches to check ALL your signage to make sure it all makes sense to a first timer!

We made it into the service just as the procession started into the Sanctuary. This was definitely a “high church” service.

The sanctuary is shaped like a cross and is just amazing. Check the photos. They asked us to not take photos during the service but I had to sneak a few for you my readers!

This was a big church. My expectations were not high in terms of getting the warm fuzzy “welcome”. I was just looking for some good, traditional “Catholic” worship and to be able to see this landmark of a church.

As we came in a young lady wearing a “welcome” ribbon on her blouse welcomed U.S. and had activity sheets and crayons for the kids. Just her being there and doing that was pretty cool. They cared about our kids. Always a good move.

Well as we started through the order of worship we were pleasantly surprised about:

– the prayers and Bible readings of the day were all in a very plain English style and not what I expected from “high church”.

– we were ALL welcome to partake of Communion! Yeah!

The printed liturgy (like 6 pages worth) was very easy to follow and we never felt lost in the unfamiliar order of worship

– I heard many of the same prayers and responses that I am used to hearing in Methodist church donut made us feel comfortable

About halfway through the service, even though no one had personally introduced themselves to us Tyra mentioned to me she felt “welcome”. I would describe it as being comfortable or “at home”. Weird. We hadn’t made any connection with anyone but yet we felt welcome. Maybe it was that we weren’t feeling like outsiders who didn’t know what to do next.

Anyway we had a good worship. Good preaching. In fact the Pastor (or are they priests in the Episcopalian church?) even had a political statement. He said something to the effect that our government destabilized the a Middle East so we should take some responsibility in the refugees that had been created. Wow. Bold. Making a political statement of mercy in Church – I LIKE IT!

But the kids were bummed that they had a hard time hearing what was spoken due to the echo. And we all had a hard time following the singing due to the volume of the organ. The organ was absolutely awesome, but yes a bit loud. There was a big disparity between the volume of the Organ and the amplified Choir. It did help that there were TV screens all over the sanctuary so that you could “see” what was being said/sung.

So the service progressed and all was fine. We had good worship.

Then as soon as the service was over, the older lady in front of us turned around immediately to ask about us. She wanted to know if we were visiting, etc. She introduced herself as Pat and took an interest in our travels and such. She asked if we wanted to hear about some of the history of the Cathedral, etc and of course we said yes and she proceeded for the next 45 minutes to an HOUR to give us the grand tour!

She took us to the back to see the statues of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and pointed out some cool things about the statues and what not. She took us in the elevator up and into the main Tower so we could see the countryside from way up high. They had had damage to the towers in an Earthquake back in 2010 and the damaged pieces were on display. We saw some great views from up there!

She took us all around and then we went off on our own and toured around to all the little chapels that are built within the cross shaped sanctuary. It was just an amazing place to be. HIGHLY recommend you go there if you are in the D.C. area! Great worship – great people like Pat and a very important part of history!

What I loved about this church – the girl that had a “Welcome” ribbon on her shirt as we walked into the Sanctuary and she handed us the liturgy. They had some things for the kids to color / read, etc. The liturgy was so well organized, printed and easy to follow. And of course having our own personal tour guide “Pat” who took an hour out of her day to show us around.

Summary: If the only great welcoming experience we had was “Pat” – we would have felt just as good about this Church. I maintain that it only takes ONE person to care and be interested in a first time visitor to make them feel WELCOMED!  Budget required:  $0.  Make it happen church!

Be Pat to someone this Sunday!

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