WASHINGTON—Despite the diverse faiths represented at the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service Tuesday morning, all of the religious leaders had the same plea for the next four years: unity.
“In this service, we come together to acknowledge that in order for America to have a future, we’ll first need to find a deep and abiding faith in God,” said the Rev. Adam Hamilton, who delivered the sermon and serves as senior pastor at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. “It is this faith that calls and compels us to humility and compassion…it is this faith that helps us to discover the kinds of visions that are worthy of this great nation.”
President Barack Obama, newly sworn in for a second term, sat in the front row of the cavernous Washington National Cathedral with his wife first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and spouse Jill Biden. The service at the Episcopalian cathedral is a tradition dating back to George Washington and consists of prayers, hymnals and readings from national religious leaders from across the United States.
The service started with instrumental preludes and music sung by the Washington Performing Arts Society Children of the Gospel Choir. Opening remarks were given in Spanish by Mariann Edgar Buddle, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, and in English by Gary Hall, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral.
In between biblical readings, calls to prayer were done in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin before religious leaders prayed for members of the government and armed services.
“Make them bold for the work you have set before them” Kathryn Lohre, president of the National Council of Churches, prayed. “Give them the vision to care for your creation. Lead them to willingly fulfill our obligations and responsibilities in the community of nations.”
Before the sermon, there were also prayers lifted up for the American people.
“In your eyes, the world is our neighborhood,” Rev. Dr. Serene Jones of the Union Theological Seminary prayed. “Grant us every necessary grace to love our neighbors as ourselves. Open our eyes to see the life-giving and the good in every person and every place.”
Rev. Hamilton used analogies throughout his sermon to compare the president’s leadership to both Moses and Martin Luther King Jr. For America to be successful in the future, he believes there must be a unifying vision.
“A compelling vision…excites us; it leads people to a willingness, to sacrifice and renews them with a sense of purpose,” Hamilton said. “We need at least one or two goals or dreams that Americans on both side of the aisle can come together and say, ‘yes, that’s what it means to be an American.’”
Yet, most of Hamilton’s sermon seemed to be not directed at the people in the cathedral but to Obama himself. Hamilton said the president, “should have been a preacher,” because of his ability to inspire.
“Lead us to be a compassionate people, to be concerned for the marginalized,” Hamilton closed, again seeming to address the president. “Help us rediscover a vision for America that is so compelling and unites us, that calls us to realize the focal tension of this country…lead us as a nation to knock holes in the darkness.”
At the end, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Martin Luther King’s own Ebenezer Baptist Church, quoted sections of King’s I Have A Dream speech. The remarks received a standing ovation and had a visible effect on the audience, including Dolores Wiarco who grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles during the riots of 1965.
“There are not enough words to describe the emotions that are brought up with this event,” the 59-year-old Wiarco said through tears. “When we grew up…we all seemed to forget at that time that we were all God’s children. And it seems like we are coming together and I feel like our president is helping the nation to come together.”