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JourneyNote: Reflections on the Dedication of an Apostles Edition at Washington National Cathedral

By Heritage Program Director Brad Neary

Posted October 19, 2023 in Religious Institutions
Director Brad Neary holds a volume of The Saint John's Bible Apostles Edition during the Dedication Ceremony at Washington National Cathedral.

Nearly two days have passed since I processed out of Washington National Cathedral’s Great Choir at the conclusion of this past Sunday’s Choral Evensong. During this special service, a rare Apostles Edition of The Saint John’s Bible was presented and dedicated “to be set apart for the service of Christ’s holy Church.” I am still feeling a powerful afterglow from the event…and maybe always will.

For the past decade, it has been my professional goal and a personal dream to place a fine art, printed edition of The Saint John’s Bible at our Nation’s Cathedral. Perhaps this had something to do with being a patriotic American…or a devout Episcopalian…or both — I am not certain. I just know that deep down in my heart I wanted this to happen.

My regular attendance at the annual Episcopal Parish Network Conference often provided the opportunity to initiate hopeful conversations with members of the Cathedral’s clergy team regarding such a placement. Sadly, the prospect of an acquisition would dim as the conversation invariably turned to the $38 million in damage that a rare 5.8-magnitude earthquake caused to the Cathedral on August 23, 2011. Clearly, the full restoration of our Nation’s Cathedral was the highest priority for their fundraising and development work.

This uncertain trajectory took a delightful upward shift on August 8, 2022, when incredibly generous benefactors, Elaine and Bruce Culver, informed me that they were interested in placing an Apostles Edition at the Cathedral.

The Culvers stand in front of Washington National Cathedral.

It took no time for me to reach out to The Reverend Canon Jan Naylor Cope, Provost, and The Very Reverend Randy Marshall Hollerith, Dean, with the incredible offer. And it took no time for Provost Jan to respond with, “Suffice it to say that the Dean and I are both so delighted by the extraordinary gift and look forward to receiving it.”

The set’s dedication page shares that the gift was made possible through the generosity of the Culvers’ Catharine Elizabeth Laney Trust. The page’s elegant calligraphy and inspired artwork (featuring the Cathedral’s distinctive logo) were designed and executed by Suzanne Moore, one of the artists who created illuminations for the original manuscript of The Saint John’s Bible.

The 7-volume set now resides in the Cathedral’s newly renovated Virginia Mae Center. As the Cathedral’s website describes the Center: “Centrally located within the tranquility of the Cathedral grounds, the Center is a pace of learning, pilgrimage, and spiritual renewal, a safe venue for difficult conversations and a healing space for all who enter its doors.” The volumes are displayed and stored in a stunning case that was hand-crafted and custom-stained by Fr. Lew Grobe, OSB, and his talented crew at Saint John’s Abbey Woodworking.

Just prior to Sunday’s service, Rob Culligan (VP of Institutional Advancement), the Culvers and I enjoyed gathering in the Virginia Mae Center’s library with Dean Randy and Provost Jan. We admired Volume One as it rested in its new home and had the opportunity to recount why Saint John’s Abbey and University chose to step into this monumental project twenty-five years ago. It was here that the Culvers humbly shared that they found it to be “blessed to be a blessing” by providing this gift.

DC-area alums from College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University
DC-area alums from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University gather at the Washington National Cathedral for the welcoming of the Apostles Edition.

The Evensong/dedication service somehow felt both majestic and intimate (see video of the service here). A dozen adult members of the Cathedral’s choir were joined by 20 members of The Girls Cathedral Choir as they shared their uplifting voices. Rob Culligan and I had the honor of presenting the two Scripture readings. The Culvers’ official presentation of the Apostles Edition to the Dean and Provost was a tender, emotional moment for me. Having two dozen DC-area alums from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University join us brought a “family” feel to the evening. The icing on the cake was witnessing a large crowd approach the volumes post-service, eager to experience the beauty of the illuminations and the elegantly calligraphed Scripture – the very reason these sets were produced in the first place.

For the faith community that calls the National Cathedral their spiritual home and for all those who will make a pilgrimage to the Virginia Mae Center, we are honored that The Saint John’s Bible is now in your midst to ignite your spiritual imagination.

Brad Neary

Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program

Brad Neary, Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program
Brad Neary, Director, The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Program