Episcopal leaders address church’s part in Trump's inauguration

Presiding Bishop, Washington Bishop, Cathedral Dean see role as urging unity, prayer

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 12, 2017

Clergy lay hands and pray over President-elect Donald J. Trump Sept. 21, 2016, at the New Spirit Revival Center in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Photo: Jonathan Ernst/ REUTERS

[Episcopal News Service] The involvement of Washington National Cathedral and its choir in the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump has stirred concern in parts of the Episcopal Church.

The Cathedral Choir accepted an invitation to perform during the musical prelude to the Jan. 20 inauguration ceremony. That prelude begins at 9:30 a.m. EST. The actual ceremony is scheduled to start at 11:30 a.m. The program is here.

The cathedral confirmed three weeks ago that it would once again play out one of its traditional roles in U.S. life by offering Trump and the nation a chance to come together in prayer. The invitation-only 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service will take place at 10 a.m. Jan. 21, the day after Trump is sworn in as the 45th president.

After news of the choir’s participation prompted a deluge of comments on social media as well as emails to officials involved, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Cathedral Dean Randolph Hollerith all issued statements on Jan. 12 addressing those concerns.

“We all know this election has been contentious and there are deep feelings being felt by Episcopalians on all sides of the issues,” Curry said in his statement. “We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain.”

Acknowledging that there has been “much discussion, and some controversy” about the appropriateness of the cathedral hosting the traditional prayer service, and of one of its choirs singing at the inauguration, Curry said that those issues raise “some basic Christian questions about prayer.”

“When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?” is how Curry described the questions.

The presiding bishop said the practice of prayer for leaders is “deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions.”

Curry said that tradition of prayer means Episcopalians are praying that “their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good.”

“We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally. I pray for the president in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord,” he said. “If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way of prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.”

Construction on the 58th Presidential Inaugural Platform continued Jan. 4 on the west front of the U.S. Capitol. Photo: Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies via Facebook

Prayer is both “contemplative and active,” Curry said, adding that people who pray should both listen to God, and serve and witness to the world in the name of Jesus.

“We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus, to ‘love your neighbor,’ to ‘do unto others as you who have them do unto you,’ to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation,” he said.

Hollerith replied to questions about the choir’s participation in his statement.

“Our choir is singing at the inauguration to honor the peaceful transition of power that is at the heart of our democratic government,” he said. “Let me be clear: We do not pray or sing to bless a political ideology or partisan agenda, regardless of the man (or woman) taking that sacred oath of office. We sing to honor the nation.”

The dean said choir members are not required to participate in what he called “part of our call to serve as a spiritual home for the nation.”

“In our bruised and polarized country, we hope the gift of our music can help remind us of our highest ideals and aspirations as one nation under God,” he said.

Budde said that “while I do not ask you to agree, I simply ask you to consider that we, too, acted on spiritual principles.

“Those principles, while they may seem to conflict with yours, are also essential for the work that lies ahead.”

The first principle, she said, is that Episcopal churches “welcome all people into our houses of prayer.”

“Welcoming does not mean condoning offensive speech or behavior; it does not mean that we agree with or seek to legitimize,” she said. “We simply welcome all into this house of prayer, in full acknowledgment that every one of us stands in need of prayer.”

The second principle, Budde said, is that “in times of national division, the Episcopal Church is called to be a place where those who disagree can gather for prayer and learning and to work for the good of all.”

Saying she is “alarmed by some of Mr. Trump’s words and deeds and by those who now feel emboldened to speak and act in hateful ways,” Budde said. “I believe in the power of God to work for good, and the capacity of our nation to rise to our highest ideals.”

Episcopalians and others have also questioned whether the cathedral ought to host the customary prayer service for the incoming president on the day after the inauguration.

Beginning with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration in 1933, presidential inaugural prayer services have taken place at Washington National Cathedral, which calls itself a “house of prayer for all people.” That tradition has been more recently consistent since President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985. The exception was President Bill Clinton, who chose Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, the historic black church in downtown Washington, for both of his inaugural prayer services. The cathedral has also been the location of funeral and memorial services for nearly all the 21 U.S. presidents who have died since the cathedral’s founding.

“At a time when emotions are raw, we hope to offer a few moments of spiritual solace and the healing gift of transcendent beauty,” Budde said. “We also want the nation to know that we are still here, as people of hope. While the inauguration is a civic rather than a religious ceremony, it is also an occasion for prayer and an opportunity to offer the balm of beauty.”

Budde previously said she would participate in that service, as is traditional for the bishop of Washington which includes the District of Columbia and four neighboring counties in Maryland.

Curry has asked Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries James “Jay” Magness to represent him at the prayer service because the presiding bishop will be leading a pilgrimage of reconciliation to Ghana, a commitment he made more than a year ago.

– The Rev. Mary Frances Schjonberg is an editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys is scheduled to participate in the inauguration’s musical prelude. This story was updated at 11:15 EST Jan. 13 to clarify the fact that the entire cathedral choir is participating.


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Comments (210)

  1. Judy Wright Mathews says:

    Thank you, Bishop Curry. We Episcopalians sometimes disagree with one another. Those of us who can still stay together, pray together, and work together will accomplish more for the good of all of God’s children. This can surely apply to persons of all religions and denominations, as well as we of all political parties.

    Tallahassee, Florida, The Episcopal Diocese of Florida

  2. Kimberlee Bridgeford says:

    Then have a service and do all the prayers! Just DON’T do it for the Inauguration!

    1. Judith Hoy says:

      YES! I agree with you Kimberlee Bridgeford. Thank you!

  3. Rev. Cindy Nawrocki says:

    Bishop Budde’s words speak for many of us. While we certainly do not condone the president-elect’s behavior or words, we respect the need for prayer for our nation’s leaders.

  4. John T Hollingsworth says:

    It’s time for the country to join together in prayer as we have done for many years. The radicals on both sides will dispute the issues forever and never come to a reconciliation.
    Let us move forward not backward

  5. I Timothy 2:2 is pretty clear on the duty to pray for those in authority – that, or the Bonhoeffer option, and I don’t thin we’re there yet!

    1. The Rev. Gerardo Ramirez says:

      I have always prayed for the OFFICE OF THE PRESIDENT OF THE USA, and I will continue to do so. Prayer for wisdom, guidance, and for the welfare of this land, and I will continue to do so. Also, if the Episcopal Church wants a seat at the table to advocate on issues, this service is important in establishing ourselves’

    2. robert hunter says:

      The Cathedral was chartered by an act of the United States Congress. I don’t know whether the grounds are owned by the Federal Government. I shudder to think what would be the national public reaction if the Cathedral had refused, if it could have refused.
      The public prayers do serve to comfort the divided nation; that all our actions are most acceptable by our loyal benevolent God

      1. Ruth Rocchio says:

        sir, there is no comfort to be had here, especially for those of us in the trenches who will see the great harm coming. I hope you understand that.

  6. Donald Heacock says:

    I support The Presiding Bishoo’s Statement. I prayed for President Obama at every service for 8y . Years
    ..I profoundly disagreed with his treatment of.Veterans & military but I prayed.

    1. Valleri Callahan says:

      Life long Episcopalian here. I find that interesting- I really do. We are a third generation military family, most are retirees. My husband and father in law both disabled as well. Son retired fairly recently, and son-in-law is still active duty. We think our President has done a pretty good job with regard to vets. My husband and father in law get wonderful care at VA ad don’t worry about hearing aids, or any other health care issue. This may be a regional issue. However, my biggest concern is NOT how Obama has dealt with vet issues, it is Trump!

      1. John Ira Clemens says:

        Thank you Valleri. A little off topic but there are those who served and have navigated the VA system for generations and those who perpetuate rumor and innuendo. I am a multigenerational veteran and have served veterans my entire life. I know the issues and that no system is perfect but GOP efforts to destroy the federal workforce and the systems that serve our vets is traitorous.
        BTW, pray for our leaders indeed. They’re going to need it.

    2. Stephen Mills says:

      If you think the treatment of our vets under President Obama was bad wait till you see what Trump does to the vets: http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Columns/2017/01/03/VA-Doesn-t-Need-Be-Privatized-and-Our-Vets-Know-It

    3. Cheryle Gardiner says:

      I, too, am a lifelong Episcopalian. My husband died of service-connected disabilities 3-1/2 years ago. He was proud to vote for Obama in ’08 and, had he been competent, would have voted for him in ’12 as well. Jim received wonderful treatment from the VA out here in Portland, and without them we would have lost everything since he spent his last years in a nursing home. Jim was always treated with respect – as was I – and thanked for his service. What many don’t realize is that a large percentage of those providing care for Veterans – from neurosurgeons all the way to receptionists – are, themselves, Veterans. I am very worried that both my SS and my survivors’ benefits will not get me through a Trump administration.

  7. Carol Stone says:

    The people of the United States, in a process whose structure has been in place since 1789, have duly elected Mr. Trump the President. I am glad the National Cathedral Choir will participate and that a prayer service will be conducted as it would be for any other President. This is exactly the right way to begin Mr. Trump’s tenure — to pray for him in this role.

    1. Pamela Payne says:

      I agree Ms. Stone. I did not vote for Trump, and do not agree with his agenda and his conflicts of of interest, but he is the President-Elect, and we need to pray for guidance for him and his administration. Our National Cathedral is a place of national prayer, and should continue in that role, without taking partisan positions.

  8. Anthony Price says:

    Let’s also keep in mind that the Episcopal Church is still regarded by many as the “Church of the Establishment”, with a legacy from pre-1776 Anglicanism. Probably that’s why the National Cathedral is an Episcopal Church, for example. Seems we have a duty to uphold, regardless of our personal political views.

  9. Susan salisbury says:

    Bishop Curry is right. The Episcopal church is NOT an arm of the Democrat party. It is Jesus’ church.

    1. Ruth Rocchio says:

      Jesus was a left-wing radical, profoundly anti-establishment and very much a man of the little guy. The Episcopal Church in my youth actually exemplified this. I am sad to see the very financially safe leaders towing the political line.

  10. Cliff Cannon says:

    While I would acknowledge the need for prayer for our nation and citizens, I shudder to think any church professing the love and spirit of Jesus would have invited Adolph Hitler into their sanctuary to ask God’s blessings on him. While the service may have been conducted for incoming presidents of both parties, never before has such an openly racist, misogynistic, ethnocentric and homophobic member of the human race won the office.

    1. The Rev. Fred Fenton says:

      I agree. Trump is unfit to be President. He represents a threat to democracy and world peace. Episcopal leaders who recognize the threat should be denouncing his words and deeds, not celebrating his inauguration.

  11. Christine Moseley says:

    There is a difference in hosting a service of prayer for Mr Trump and the country and particiapting in the celebration of his values.

  12. John Merchant says:

    I’m saddened and appalled that The Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys will sing at the political and secular governmental ceremony of inauguration at the capitol. This is especially so this year as a man whose words and actions, especially in regards to those in our nation who are marginalized, oppressed, and disenfranchised, are in clear contradiction with the Gospel and with the mission and ministry of the Episcopal Church. Following tradition of some years, it is right and good for the Cathedral to host the service of prayer for the new president and for the cathedral choir to sing there. It’s very disappointing, however, to see the cathedral, which has been a part of my life since I was a boy, depart from its longtime traditional ministry of worship for our nation in the inaugural festivities.

  13. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

    Your words and your expression is shameful!

    1. Hugh Hansen, Ph.D. says:

      My words above were for Mr. Warren. I totally agree with Ms. Stone. How could we do less and call ourselves Christians?

  14. John D. Andrews says:

    Matthew 5:43-48New International Version (NIV)
    43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

    1. Kim Hobby says:

      Thank you John D. Andrews. This is the gospel reading for Independence Day in the Book of Common Prayer. It is true: we find our deepest freedom in trusting God’s goodness and mercy even as we suffer at the hands of our enemies. Prayer changes things, and the first thing it changes is the one who prays. True prayer changes our hearts of fear and hatred to hearts of courage and love, despite our human instincts. I pray that the hearts of all our leaders, including the President-elect, will be opened to see, hear, and respond compassionately and respectfully to all people at all times and in all places.

  15. Ronald Peak says:

    I did not vote for Donald Trump, nor do I like him as a person. However, he is my President Elect, and he was elected under the laws of this democracy known as The United States of America. Like it or not, he is my President. As such, he is allowed to (and encouraged to be) in the Church I consider my home. I pray daily that he will become a great President, that he will be filled with the Spirit in such a way that this country may continue to be known as the greatest democracy in the world. I pray my brother and sister Episcopalians will join me in prayer for the world, this country, and our President Elect. Fr Ron Peak, Retired

  16. I have no issue with the traditional prayer service being offered at the Cathedral. To schedule the choir to sing at another venue and a clearly secular and political event, however, is another matter. Accepting the engagement and performing at the Inauguration suggests endorsement of the man being honored. Neither the Episcopal Church, nor any of its cathedrals, choirs, bishops, or clergy should not be seen to endorse this, or any, president or politician. As with lawyers, judges, and presidents, we should avoid even the appearance of impropriety; performing at the Inauguration not only looks improper, it is improper. Hold the prayer service in the Cathedral, by all means, but do not grace the Inaugural venue with an implied endorsement of the President-Elect!

    1. Bonnie Kroll says:

      I agree – could not say it more bigly….

    2. Heather Hollowell says:

      I could not say it any better than has the Rev. Dr. Funston. Count this lifelong, active, pledging Episcopalian as one who is seriously considering leaving the Churth. I will see more of Jesus in the work of organizations such as the International Rescue Committee, Salvation Army, National Wildlife Fund, and National Resources Defense Counsel than I fear I will in Trump’s administration. Saddened that the Episcopal Church is giving what will appear to many to be a tacit endorsement of the incoming administration by singing at the inauguration. Bishops Budde, Curry, and Hollerith dance around that decision in their public statements.

    3. Julie E Kaufman says:

      I absolutely agree with the comments from The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston. The Rockettes have the gumption to note why it is inappropriate to be part of this inauguration’s hoopla. One would think that the National Cathedral’s choir members would agree with the Rockettes on this one, not wanting to go down in history as enthusiastic participants. Yes indeed, as the Rev. Funston said, “we should avoid even the appearance of impropriety; performing at the Inauguration not only looks improper, it is improper.”
      It’s not too late to change this part of it. Get the choir out of this please.

    4. Cheryl Nix says:

      I agree with this. The inauguration is secular and the church has no need to participate.

    5. Ruth Rocchio says:

      thank you for saying this! I am glad my father, an Episcopal priest for 40 years, is not alive to see this obscenity.

  17. Fanny Belanger says:

    Praying for – yes, of course – but that’s not the same thing to offer a whole service. The church needs to be welcoming – yes, of course – but welcoming those in search of coming closer to Christ’s spirit. This is clearly not the direction Trump’s agenda is heading to – at least for now. He clearly rejects the values that are (should be) important to us. By hosting this service, the Episcopal church is holding a position that is at best schizophrenic, at worst hypocrite. It’s never fun to say no, tough love is tough – yes – but the love of Christ is demanding. We cannot accept to do this service when Trump’s agenda threatens so many people. We need to start resisting NOW and refuse clearly any compromise with this government.

    1. Rachel mash says:

      The prayer is good. As long as the cathedral prays prophetically.it could be a powerful moment. I hope the choir would boycott though. They are musicians and should make a statement.

  18. Danielle A. Gaherty says:

    As much as I feel that Mr. Trump is as wrong for the position of President of the United States as any person could be, I feel that we should follow the example of President and Mrs, Obama in honoring the Democratic transition of power. It is far more important how we conduct ourselves than how we regard the President-Elect. There will be more appropriate forums for me and other Episcopalians to make our sentiments heard than at this moment.

  19. Marjorie Oughton says:

    These prayers are needed now more than ever.

  20. John Schroeder says:

    Let’s not conflate two separate issues. Hosting the prayer service is a tradition and a right and good thing to do. No one who is upset that I know of is arguing that we shouldn’t pray for our leaders. Having the boys choir sing at the inauguration, on the other hand, is unnecessary, and from the discussions I’ve seen, is more divisive. You could do one without the other. After all that has neem done and said by church leadership to oppose and condemn the horrors of Trump’s campaign, be careful of being in too much of a hurry to bury the hatchet. It seems like resignation, not reconciliation. That will require a an admission of guilt and repentance on the part of the offender.

  21. Diane Pyle says:

    I thank our Presiding Bishop, Michael and the other contributors for this article to bring us confirmation that the National Cathedral is for all – prayers, music and leadership in our nation. May God through the Trinity bring healing, guidance, wisdom and leadership for the common good of our country to our new President and the governing bodies of our land.

  22. Mary English Morrison says:

    No matter how much lipstick you try to put on this pig, it’s still a swine. Pray for him all you like, but he is only using the church for his own ends, which are unholy at best. I am ashamed to see the church I love standing with debauchery and one who takes pride in openly doing wrong. This is anything but a peaceful transition of power when so many march against it. It dishonors our country, our people and our God.

  23. The Rev. Jeffrey P. Cave says:

    I suggest the church authorities decal the cathedral’s role in the 2nd inaugural of Richard Nixon in 1973. It was the site for a “counter-inaugural” event, the presentation of Haydn’s “Mass in Time of War” by the National Symphony Orchestra with conductor Leonard Bernstein as conductor. There were 15,000 persons present. I was the Cathedral Canon responsible for arranging the event, along with a supportive dean and fine staff, and the bishops, Wm Creighton and John T. Walker. To think that the inauguration of a personality who has attracted universal ridicule for his vindictive, uncivil antics and absurd doctrines against immigrants, members of certain religious groups, and his political opponents, constitutes normalcy, or anything less than considerable alarm and a potential threat to our democracy, is simply weak-willed and hiding in the shadows of the truth. The Episcopal Church needs to stand up to this caricature of a national leader, and mourn for the fate of our nation in his hands. The bishop, dean and other church officials are living in a delusional reality and need to seize a prophetic moment and say no, forcefully and publicly, while still praying for the health of the nation. The Mozatrt Requiem would be a good way to start the new term.

    1. Joe Simpkins-Arganbright says:

      I agree Jeffery. The whole thing will be perceived by millions around the world as a stamp of approval on Trump. It was a neighbor who voted for Trump who gloated and gushed as she told me about the choir singing. If anything it should have been an all adult choir and not the children whom I feel certain Trump will use to vindicate himself many times over. Joe Simpkins-Arganbright

    2. Ruth Rocchio says:

      an forceful and wonderful statement sir, thank you.

  24. Ronald Davin says:

    Hear what comfortable words Rev. Graham has to say;
    “Evangelical leader the Rev. Franklin Graham has said that not only did God have a hand in getting Donald Trump elected as U.S. president, but that Trump is God’s answer to people’s prayer for a president who will stand up to the “humanistic, atheistic agenda” in Washington D.C.”

    1. Pat Kraft says:

      Graham is wrong. God is apolitical. He had no part in the outcome of this election. Jesus/God/Holy Spirit loves and cradles all people, including the “atheists” in Washington. All Jesus preached was love for everyone – to treat your neighbor as you would want yourself treated. We need to pray that our leaders will move ahead and do what is best for EVERYONE in this nations. Not just for one party or the other. There are good and bad ideas on both sides. I pray that our leaders go with the good, even if it comes from the opposing side.

    2. Kilty McGowan says:

      Not a big fan of the Graham groups but he is right on here. We voted for President Elect Trump and are ecstatic with his win. At last we will have a person who knows what business is all about. He has chosen wonderful people as advisors and in his Cabinet. This is a win-win for real Americans. We will be there to show our support and those “others” will be there to provide mayhem. Had we conservatives acted as the liberals are doing we would have been thrown in jail. These protestors, most of whom didn’t bother to vote, will be kept far from the supporters and we will be allowed to have our day just as they had theirs. We did not protest, we did not make threats against the current failed president we still did our work and we VOTED. If you want a change try voting, protesting has never solved any problem. Thank you Cathedral Choir for performing with great honor and thank you, Dean, for welcoming our new president properly.

      1. Judy Whelchel says:

        “This is a win-win for real Americans.” ~Kitty McGowan. So “real Americans” are ones that agree with you? I didn’t agree with George W. Bush on many issues and didn’t vote for him, but I would happily gone to his inauguration because I could see he was a man of gentleness and honor. Not Trump. I will pray for him and our country because we will need it, and I’m fully behind the National Cathedral prayer service. But I don’t want my church endorsing this man which participating in the secular celebrations I believe does..

    3. Mark P. Kessinger says:

      Um . . . did Billy Graham become an Episcopalian when I wasn’t looking?

  25. kathy Schlecht says:

    I don’t agree with the Cathredrals role in having its choir at the inauguration itself. I challenge Bishop Budde and Bishop Curry to walk with the Women’s March on Washingon, and put prayer, listening and Jesus into passionate action.

    1. Kilty McGowan says:

      We don’t need a woman’s march or anything else from them. There will be no one there, in any event, it is just another false group or those whose intent is destroying American traditions.

      1. Heather Hollowell says:

        Where do you get your information that most “protestors” don’t vote, Ms. McGowan? I am an involved citizen who has voted in every national and local election since I was 18, including this most recent election (when I did not vote for Trump). Remember, too, that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by almost 3 million. I will be marching in Washington on 1/21. How can you admire Trump’s business acumen? He has had many failed businesses (think Trump Steaks, Trump Casino in Atlantic City, Trump University, for starters), declared numerous bankruptcies, and brought lawsuits against workers he didn’t want to pay. He has been married three times, cheated on one wife while still married, and had a child out of wedlock. He has ridiculed or demeaned minorities, the disabled, women, immigrants, and those living in poverty, and has offered no apologies for or shown any remorse about any of his actions. Hardly a Christ-like example, at least as I was brought up to understand Jesus. Still trying to understand the Cathedral Choir’s decision to sing at the inauguration; very little in the way of explanation has been offered, beyond justification for the Saturday prayer service.

      2. Ruth Rocchio says:

        Kitty is clearly misinformed, typical and unfortunate of those who voted for a sexual predator for president. Very sad statement on the lack of education of some sectors of our population today. I grieve.

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