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Washington National Cathedral hangs out the for rent sign

Washington’s National Cathedral is for rent. The Cathedral Church of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the City and Diocese of Washington announced this week that it was soliciting proposals for corporations and non-profit groups to lease its premises. However, the cathedral’s management said it would reserve the right to reject proposals not in keeping with its image.

In January 2014 the cathedral began charging a $10 admission fee to tourists to help cover its estimated $13 million annual operating budget. Damaged by an earthquake in 2011, the cathedral chapter is also seeking to raise an additional $20 million to complete repairs to the structure. The bulk of the cathedral’s budget historically has come from donations, but a decline in revenues over the past decade has seen its budget slashed in half in recent years.

The 21 August 2014 announcement stated the rental program would continue to “broaden the Cathedral’s welcome” to the community as well as expand “our stewardship of the building by offering spaces for use when they might otherwise stand idle while creating a new revenue stream supporting operations and special projects.”

Guidelines would be put in place for the use of the cathedral, however, to prevent the scandals surrounding the rental of the Episcopal Church’s cathedral in Manhattan.

The new program creates a uniform process and an established set of policies to review and to provide space rentals to organizations.  The guidelines frame appropriate use of Cathedral spaces, including types of users and events, and ensure the Cathedral’s image will be maintained at all times: Cathedral spaces are available for corporate and non-profit organization use, but not for individual use, and the Cathedral retains approval of all inquiries and applications. Rentals will be permitted only when they do not interfere with other Cathedral programming or services.

In 2007 the Cathedral of St John the Divine in New York let its premises to the singer Elton John to celebrate his 60th birthday. John, who months before gave voice to his disdain for Christianity, noting  he would “ban religion completely … Organized religion doesn’t seem to work. It turns people into hateful lemmings, and it’s not really compassionate,” turned the Diocese of New York’s cathedral into a ballroom.

The New York Post reported that for John’s party “the altar was set up as a stage for the performers, which included the trendy rock group Scissor Sisters, Sting and Paul McCartney.”

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