Feb. 7, 2013
This story appears courtesy of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry
A few months after the Rev. Gina Campbell 81T, a United Methodist elder, was appointed worship director at the Washington National Cathedral, she planned the national memorial for Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon.
“The Armstrong family was great to work with, and the people from NASA were delightful,” Campbell said.
Among the unique moments in the service were the playing of President John Kennedy’s 1962 speech calling Americans to put a man on the moon and a slow and solemn version of the song “Fly Me to the Moon,” sung by Diana Krall. The image of the cathedral’s space window was used in the service and on the program. That stained-glass window holds a piece of lunar rock that the crew of the Apollo 11 brought back to earth.
Campbell is the first worship director at the cathedral who is not an Episcopal priest, and she believes that was intentional.
“I think they knew this would be a departure from what people expect. And from a missional point of view, the cathedral is a house of prayer for all people,” said Campbell.
Campbell was appointed to a UM congregation in Bethesda, Md., and in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, she helped with pastoral support at the Pentagon and did some work for UMCOR.
The experience was incredibly difficult, and she developed some respiratory problems and ended up “stepping out a little” from her pastoral duties. She took part in the Academy for Spiritual Formation Companions in Ministry – four years of deep communal prayer formation – taught at Wesley Theological Seminary, and worked with the Center for Family Process in Bethesda, Md.
During this time, she volunteered for the choir and the library at the cathedral, then later became the music librarian. All of that resulted in her getting to know many of the staff at the cathedral; and since music and worship work together, she took a job as the clergy associate for liturgy.
When the job of worship director came open, Bishop James Dorff, episcopal leader of the Southwest Texas and the Rio Grande Annual Conferences in the UMC, and the Episcopal bishop in Washington, the Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, were open to her appointment as interim in April 2012. The appointment was made permanent in October.
The guideline for all worship services at the cathedral is the Book of Common Prayer, and she does not depart radically from that. “But I bring a slightly different style of preaching, as I’m more of a storyteller. And I use slightly different prayer language,” Campbell said.
One of the issues to consider is the space, since the cathedral is so enormous. “You have to think about the liturgy on a larger scale. How do you really put it out into the space?”
The cathedral has about 2,000 services each year and there is a congregation, which has a high percentage of people in their twenties and thirties who are really interested in fresh forms of worship.
Campbell’s duties include providing leadership and direction for a number of worship groups—including Communion ministers, nave chaplains, and lectors—and she has also served as the chaplain to the various cathedral choirs. She works closely with the dean, the vicar, and the director of program and ministry as a teacher in areas of Christian formation and education. Like the other cathedral clergy, she also serves as a pastor and preacher to the broad Cathedral community and the congregation.
Campbell, a member of the Southwest Texas Annual Conference, has served churches in Georgia, New Jersey, Texas, and Baltimore.
She attended the UM-related Duke University as an undergraduate and attended seminary at Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Candler is one of the 13 UM schools of theology.
Campbell said she owes a great deal to her UM-related education.
“I’m incredibly grateful especially for everything Don Saliers taught me at Candler, not only in class; but also in his interactions with the liturgy of the church and with God’s people,” she said.