Friday, August 11, 2017

Tales from the Slype, Part 3: Be Still, and Know That I Am God

David Deutsch directs the last TV show of his career on September 26, 2003, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

By David Deutsch, Volunteer Verger at Washington National Cathedral, [email protected]

I began as a volunteer verger at Washington National Cathedral in July of 2003. Over the course of my time, I had certain epiphanies that, among other results, told me that this great stone edifice which can look cold and imposing on the outside, actually has a warm heart and vibrant spirit. When I am at the cathedral, I hang out in the slype. Now a slype in medieval times was a covered passageway between the dean’s office and the nave, giving the head of the cathedral easy access to the services. At Washington National Cathedral the slype is comfortably furnished, has storage for vestments, the service books, etc. The slype is both a control tower and hanger for worship. This is part 3 in the "Tales from the Slype Series:"

It is Tuesday, January 24, 2004, and the icy sleet begins around 3 pm. I am sitting in the slype at Washington National Cathedral preparing to lead the office of Evening Prayer. At 4 pm the phone rings. The assistant cathedral verger, Larry Keller, tells me that because of weather conditions the cathedral is closing, the doors will be locked, and the staff and volunteers are being sent home—well, not all the staff and volunteers. I am to stay and lead 5:30 Evening Prayer in Bethlehem Chapel on the lower level. I will be the sole verger, really, the sole anybody outside security, in Washington National Cathedral.

Soon security dims the lights in the nave. The cathedral becomes very quiet. Silent. I am utterly alone in that huge stone building. I experience an overwhelming sense of awe. I palpably feel the peace and stillness.

As 5:30 approaches, I realize how much my life has changed. Six months ago, I was the director of the live, network show, The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. Tonight is New Hampshire primary night. At this moment I would be on the air trying to make order out of chaos in a crowded tense control room. People would be yelling. I would call for graphics to be inserted, roll tapes into the show, and coordinate with camera operators at remote locations around the country. I keep up a steady stream of commands: “Ready New Hampshire. Going to Judy in New Hampshire. And take New Hampshire. <go Judy> Font in…and lose it stand-by 3 on Jim. Hold three. Take 3. Ready chroma-key. Take. Ready the precincts graphic. I need it. And…dissolve to graphics A…”

It is time. I walk into a silent Bethlehem Chapel. I open my Book of Common Prayer, look at the empty seats and begin. "O God, make speed to save us..."


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Abstract: David Deutsch, retired director of the PBS NewsHour and volunteer verger at Washington National Cathedral compares the pace of life in the control room with Evening Prayer in the quiet, peaceful, and empty Bethlehem Chapel on a cold, icy night in January.

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