The job of arranging a memorial service for the first man to walk on the moon fell, in large part, to the first United Methodist to serve as worship director for the Washington National Cathedral, in Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Gina Campbell worked behind the scenes to make sure that the Sept. 13, 2012 farewell for Neil Armstrong pleased his family, NASA officials and a packed house of high-profile guests.
“With so many people involved,” said Ms. Campbell, “you use your best diplomatic skills.”
The National Cathedral, with its soaring towers, is a rare major North American example of neo-Gothic architecture—and a bastion of Episcopal worship. Though known as a “house of worship for all people,” it’s the seat of the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church and the bishop of the Washington Diocese, as well as home to an Episcopal congregation.
Ms. Campbell is not only the first United Methodist to serve as worship director; she’s the only non-Episcopal priest to do so.
“United Methodists should be proud,” she said. “It’s a great compliment to our church and to all the institutions and people that put me here.”
Ms. Campbell, 57, is a United Methodist preacher’s kid, the daughter of the Rev. Jim Gilland, retired from the Western North Carolina Conference. She studied at UM-affiliated Duke University, and at Candler School of Theology, another UM school, before becoming an ordained elder in the Southwest Texas Conference.
She served many years in parish ministry, including after moving to the Washington, D.C., area with her husband. When the Pentagon was attacked on 9/11, she was pastor of a church in nearby Bethesda, Md. Many in her congregation were traumatized, knowing victims. Along with consoling them, Ms. Campbell joined a team of clergy who, through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), provided pastoral care to colleagues whose congregations were even more directly affected, both in Washington and New York.
“We tried to help them figure out how they were going to stay afloat,” she said.
The work proved difficult for Ms. Campbell physically (respiratory problems resulted from breathing in dust at Ground Zero), as well as emotionally and spiritually.
“Sometimes you just get spiritually thin,” she said. “Whatever reserve I had, got used up in that experience.”
Ms. Campbell left parish ministry in July 2002, beginning what she calls a “stepping out” period. She taught on an adjunct basis at Wesley Theological Seminary, worked with the Center for Family Process in Bethesda and began a four-year period of intensive prayer through the Academy for Spiritual Formation.
But there was something missing, and she eventually sought to fill the gap.
“I was looking for a place to get back into church anonymously, and I started worshipping at the [National] Cathedral,” she said.
By 2007 she had joined a Cathedral choir. That led to her becoming a volunteer coordinator of choir music, and in 2008 she took a paid position as music librarian for the Cathedral.
In 2011, the Cathedral leadership named her clergy associate for liturgy, and last April she was named acting director of worship—a status that became permanent in October.
Ms. Campbell said her Candler seminary education, particularly courses on worship with Professor Don Saliers, stood her in good stead as she took on more responsibility. Beyond that, the comfort level gradually increased on her side, and on the Episcopalians’.
“They got to know me, and I got to know them, and I got to know how the Cathedral operates,” she said. “And I could produce.”
The Cathedral’s dean, the Rev. Gary Hall, said, “I have every confidence in Gina Campbell as Washington National Cathedral’s director of worship and would characterize her being an ordained Methodist minister as a strength.”
He added: “The United Methodist Church and the Episcopal Church have long connections, and I am still hopeful that our two churches can share our ministries officially in the way we do with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Gina is educated in Anglican liturgy, but she brings an evangelical sensibility that it is important for the Episcopal Church to affirm and recover.”
The Cathedral, across its spaces, has some 2,000 services a year. Ms. Campbell preached her first sermon there—a funeral for local sportscaster George Michael—in January 2010. As worship director, she is among the regular preachers, and provides leadership and direction for communion ministers, nave chaplains and lectors. She’s also heavily involved in the creating of liturgy.
In January, the Cathedral made news by announcing that it would have same-sex weddings. Gay marriage is legal in the District of Columbia and Maryland, and the Episcopal Church lets the bishop in a particular diocese decide whether same-sex weddings will be performed in Episcopal churches there.
The UMC, which officially holds that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, does not allow its clergy to officiate at same-sex unions. Ms. Campbell said Bishop James Dorff of the Southwest Texas Conference, of which she is still part, made clear her limits.
“What I do is schedule and facilitate, but I don’t perform,” she said.
The service for Neil Armstrong was a major Cathedral event that occurred early in Ms. Campbell’s tenure as worship director. The memorial included jazz star Diana Krall playing piano and singing “Fly Me to the Moon,” as well as a clip of President John F. Kennedy’s speech announcing that the United States would put a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.
Of Armstrong, Ms. Campbell said: “He must have been a fine man. Everyone who spoke of him, spoke of him with such warmth and depth.”
Another big occasion was the Jan. 22 Inaugural Prayer Service, attended by President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
It was a decidedly interfaith event, and marked the first time a Sikh had a role in an Inaugural Prayer Service. But the preacher happened to be a United Methodist, the Rev. Adam Hamilton.
Ms. Campbell listened to her colleague approvingly.
“He has a good sense of humor, and he used it well,” she said. “He did a nice piece of work.”
While quite willing to talk about the services that prompt news coverage, Ms. Campbell said she prefers the simplicity and beauty of evensong, which is observed daily at the Cathedral.
“Whatever is unresolved, whatever is incomplete, you just lay it down in prayer,” she said. “It’s a lovely way to end your day.”
Ms. Campbell also has favorite spots within the Cathedral.
“There’s a little tiny place called Holy Spirit Chapel, which is where the intercessions are prayed every day at 2:45,” she said. “It’s the place where you see the most people praying and lighting candles. It’s glorious to go up into the tower and look out, but the prayed-in places are the places I love.”
Through her work at the Cathedral, Ms. Campbell has had to become intimately familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, which is central to worship within the Anglican Communion, including the Episcopal Church and Church of England.
Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England, and Ms. Campbell argues that because John Wesley, Methodism’s founder, never left that church, the Book of Common Prayer deserves to be considered “part of the DNA” of Methodism.
“I was born and raised a Methodist, and I read a lot of the prayer book and it’s not strange to me,” she said. “And there are things in it that I find incredibly powerful.”