Hello. Welcome to National City Christian Church. My name is Stephen Gentle and I am the senior pastor here at this historic church. I invite you to come with me on a tour of this Disciples National Cathedral here in the nation's capital.
National City Christian Church was dedicated October 19, 1930. It is one of the most beautiful church buildings in Washington, The style is Early American Classical. Situated on a terrace overlooking Thomas Circle, the building is approached by a broad flight of steps. The exterior is faced with Indiana limestone - 97 carloads. Ten Ionic columns enclose the portico.
Rising from the facade of columns is a beautiful tower which goes up 164 feet above the portico floor. Architect John Russell Pope designed the building. He also designed the Jefferson Memorial as well as the National Archives and the old National Art Museum on the Mall.
After climbing the steps we enter the narthex. We look up and see a distinctive bronze chandelier. It is the only original chandelier left after the new lighting system was installed during the restoration in 1981.
Looking down we notice inlaid in the narthex terrazzo floor a cross design. This cross is a variation of the Scottish Cross. Two of our Disciples founders, Thomas and Alexander Campbell, immigrated to America from Ireland in the first decade of the nineteenth century. Of course, with the name Campbell we know they came from deep roots in southwest Scotland. Another founder, Walter Scott, immigrated directly from Scotland.
We look up to the east and then west and see two stained glass windows. These two narthex rose windows are in memory of Bernard "Pete" Chewning and in honor of the work of the laity of the church. Both windows were designed by Rowan LeCompte, who also designed two windows in the sanctuary (and at least 38 in the National Cathedral). The east window, lit by the rising sun, speaks of the coming of Christ, so its motif is a circle of color like a rich Christmas/Advent wreath, enclosing a cluster of lighted candles.
The west window glows with the light of Easter. On a warm background, gold, bronze and rose, appears an interwoven linear pattern like a crown of thorns. At its center is a spray of white lilies.
We now enter the sanctuary through brass-studded doors which are covered in twelve near-perfect American Holstein cowhides. We can almost hear the dedication music "Open the Gates of the Temple" coming down to us from dedication Sunday, October 19, 1930.
We are now in the nave of the sanctuary. The room is 180 feet long and 70 feet wide. The ceiling rises 57 feet above the floor - or about five stories.
The half dome of the chancel (front of the church) reminds us somewhat of the design which Pope did about fifteen years later for the Jefferson Memorial.
The square decorations on the ceiling are called coffers. There are 55 of them and the florets in the center alternate between dogwood blossoms, a symbol of the crucifixion, and the bursting pomegranate, a symbol of the resurrection.
There are 33 pews on each side of the central aisle and seating capacity is a little less than 1,000. Brass plaques at the end of each pew also designate the state or organization. The pews are arranged alphabetically, alternating across the center aisle, to help you find your state pew.
At the end of each pew are hand-needle-pointed cushions, representing all fifty states, the U.S. territories, Canada, and other organizations important to the church.
National City was the congregation of two sitting presidents. As we look to the left we see the James A. Garfield presidential window. While Garfield was in Washington, first as a representative from Ohio and then as president, he attended Vermont Avenue Christian Church, the church whose congregation became National City Christian Church. He became president on March 4, 1881, was shot July 2, 1881, and died September 19 of that same year. This window commemorates some of these events. The window’s theme is martyrdom, depicted in the central medallion by the stoning of Stephen, recalling the assassination of Garfield. In the window are symbols of his scholarship—a book, pen and ink. The seal of Hiram College where he served as president is seen. Also seen are the seals representing his governmental service in Ohio, the House of Representatives, the Senate, as well as the presidency.
Pictured in the stained glass is the "shanty" where Garfield worshiped. Many citizens of Washington teased the little congregation by saying it was unbecoming for a president of the United States to worship in this "Campbellite shanty." Looking around at the magnificent space where this window is located, we understand why Hilda Koontz, author of our first history, entitled her book, From Shanty to Cathedral. The James Abram Garfield presidential window was dedicated in April 1981.