Episcopal Life feature editor Nan Cobbey spoke June 9 with Washington's Bishop John Chane about the funeral of President Ronald Reagan at the National Cathedral in Washington on Friday.
Cobbey: Tell me about making the arrangements for this funeral--the security measures you've had to go through, the liturgy planning. What's it been like for you?
Chane: The planning for this particular service, or for any service which would be a state funeral--and all living presidents in the United States will be buried from the National Cathedral--have been well underway even prior to my coming to the Diocese of Washington.
One of the first briefings I had not long after I was elected and consecrated was with the Military District of Washington, sharing with me the protocol and the work that would be undertaken to develop a service for such an occasion. I was notified that, because of the preparation time and because of their involvement and the relationship of the National Cathedral to such services, I would have to be available 24/7/365, which was a real shock. I travel quite a bit from the diocese. I had made a comment that I may be in Honduras. They said, "It doesn't make any difference. We'll get you home."
We now have a manual which has been developed by our Foundation Crisis Action Team. It's both Cathedral and diocese. It is primarily focused out of the Cathedral Foundation of which I am the president. So that has been developed for two years. So this is a very detailed and voluminous manual. It's huge. It's got to be at least 1,000 pages. That manual was developed in communication with the Military District of Washington that's in charge of any state funeral, the Secret Service, our own police force here in the close--and we have 30-some officers on staff here.
Cobbey: You do?
Chane: Oh, yeah. We have our own police force ... because of our schools. We have about 1,800 students on this campus on any given day, plus we have well over 2,000 employees on top of that. So we are a small town. And everything is contained on 53 acres.
I received word Friday afternoon from the Cathedral that the president's condition had deteriorated and that I needed to begin to make some contacts that the Reagan family had requested be made, in terms of individuals they wanted to participate in the service.
Cobbey: Can you tell who those are?
Chane: Yes. They had requested that His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios, who is the Primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, be here. It was important to begin to make contact with him at the request of the family. And also there was a request that an imam be notified and invited to participate.
Cobbey: A particular imam?
Chane: It would be an imam that would represent a moderate branch of Islam who is reasonably close by but represented a fairly large community. I have a good friend who is a professor of Islam Studies at American University, Akbar Ahmed, who recommended Imam Mohamed Magid Alin, who is a really wonderful guy who has a large mosque in the Dulles area in Virginia.
Cobbey: Who else did they specifically ask for?
Chane: They specifically asked for His Eminence Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, who is the Catholic archbishop of Washington, who would be my counterpart here in the city.
They had asked for specific readers, or specific readers had been designated by the family representatives.
Cobbey: And did they ask for Senator Danforth?
Chane: Yes, they did, specifically for John Danforth.
Cobbey: And is he the officiant, or the preacher, or ...
Chane: In our order of service, he is listed as the celebrant and then I participate at the very beginning of the service with the reception of the body, prayers for the departed and then, at the very end, offer the blessing on the family and the congregation before we head out of the cathedral.
Cobbey: Was it you and the cathedral liturgists who chose other people, musicians, soloists...?
Chane: No. This was all either at the request of the family through the Military District of Washington or, in terms of state protocol, came directly out of the Military District of Washington.
Cobbey: So, does the funeral follow our order of service at all?
Chane: It looks like the Order of Burial. Sure, no question about it. We have preludial music; we have the reception of the body as it enters the church. We have an anthem for procession. We have a collect for the burial. It follows the Book of Common Prayer pretty directly. Which is helpful for them and helpful for the family. We have Commendation. We have a litany for the departed, prayers of the people.
Cobbey: Talk to me a little about the security measures that are going on.
Chane: I received word at a quarter of four on Saturday that the president had died. As soon as that word was received, what we call our Action Crisis Team, which is part of the Cathedral Foundation, took over our board room here at Church House. And we had seven phone lines installed here that would be used by our people and the Secret Service. That center went up early Sunday morning and has been staffed pretty much 24/7.
The Cathedral, at 6 o'clock tonight, will be completely locked down; the entire Cathedral Close will be locked down.
Cobbey: What does that mean actually?
Chane: Well, in our terminology, because we live in Washington, and there is always the threat of terrorism, lockdown means nobody, not anybody ... no vehicles ... are permitted on this close at all. There is a lot of acreage--there's 53 acres. No person is permitted on this close without verifiable identification which is verified by our police department and the Secret Service. And starting tomorrow [Thursday], no vehicles are permitted on this close at all. It's completely locked down. The Cathedral is closed. The Cathedral is being swept tonight [Wednesday]. Swept means security sweeping. It will then be completely locked off until Friday when the service begins at 11:30am or when people begin to arrive about an hour and a half before the service.
Cobbey: And will they go through a screening and metal detectors?
Chane: This service is only by invitation. It is 3,800 invitations. They all have to come in one door. They come in through the West Entrance, come in through what we call the Gate House. There will be magnetometers there. There will be devices to sniff for any radioactive agents. This is called a "national security alert" so that every available resource that can be brought to bear on this service is being focused in on this Cathedral on Thursday and Friday. This is the safest place in the world right now. Or it will be.
We also have portable chain link fence ... that completely surrounds the Cathedral itself, so that there is no access. You'd have to jump the fence and those fences are patrolled on a regular basis. I live right across Wisconsin Avenue on Woodley and I can walk here, but if I walk to the Cathedral I've got to have not only my Cathedral identification badge, I have to have security from Secret Service to get in here for the services on Friday morning. And I've got to do interviews
with "Good Morning America" and "Today" and other network shows on Friday morning. And the Secret Service will absolutely sweep that area clean and then we will be there making sure that the people that are there are there until the time of the presidential motorcade.
Cobbey: How much media is going to be there? Have you any idea?
Chane: Oh, tons. I've let the staff both at the cathedral and diocese handle all of the pressure. And all I've done is spend time with the media. So I've been very, very busy since Monday. And that will pick up even more tomorrow. The body will be lying in state tonight at the Capitol ... once they swing from the Capitol on Thursday night, then it becomes even busier for us here.
Cobbey: What's the most nightmarish part of all this for you?
Chane: I don't think there really is a nightmarish part because it is very much a part of what the National Cathedral was designed and built to do. It was a vision of Pierre L'Enfant, when Washington was laying out this city, to have a great church that would somewhat replicate great churches in Europe that would stand as a beacon for the emerging new democracy in the nation. It was denominational, of course, and that was not the problem. But it needed to be a place that people could focus themselves on both nationally and globally. So, the cathedral always has lived with that and so has the diocese.
So it really hasn't been a nightmare. I think the only thing that has been hard is that we've continued to have visitors in the cathedral all day today [Wednesday]. We've had buses that come every day for pilgrimages. But for me it meant, as of Monday morning, my normal schedule was cancelled. It meant that day and night were committed to being engaged in the planning of this. And dealing with some of the diplomatic pieces that become somewhat tricky because everybody in the world thinks they need to be a part of the service. You just can't do that because it is like every funeral, the family determines who they want. It is like being a rector in a parish, you just have to abide by what the family would like and you want to keep it as simple as possible according to their wishes.
Cobbey: Are you turning away heads of state?
Chane: Yeah. Quite frankly, that's been very hard and that's my job. To be in touch with the Vatican and to let them know what is and what is not going to happen. Folks, I think, are for the most part, fairly understanding. It really is a matter for respecting the wishes of the family and what they would like to see happen. The most important thing for me is to do what I would do if I was a parish priest or a pastor in a congregation, and that is to live within the wishes of the family and make sure we, within good order, did what they have asked us to do.
Cobbey: Now tell me, what is the best part of it?
Chane: I think the best part of it is really living into what a cathedral ought to be and what a diocese ought to be in companionship with its cathedral. In many ways, this is one of those unselfish ways of giving yourself away to a greater purpose. I think it is also a time when the nation needs to have a place which it can focus its attention, its grief and also an opportunity that provides people who have a commitment to the process to have closure.
So, for me, it is very satisfying to be here and to be able to provide that ministry not only to a nation, but really the global community. And with every living president being buried from this cathedral ... it is a reminder of how the nation really needs to be able to focus on a place that has a sacred and important connotation attached to it. And the fact that we are an Episcopal cathedral, I think, makes it, for me, even far more pleasant. Because that's who we are.