Trump inaugural events end in prayer at National Cathedral

Interfaith service hoped to ‘remind the president that he is called to lead all of us, not just a narrow few’

By Mary Frances Schjonberg
Posted Jan 21, 2017

[The families of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence take their seats at the 1 hour 53 minute mark of this video, followed by Trump and his wife Melania. The service begins shortly thereafter.]

[Episcopal News Service] The morning after Donald Trump became the 45th president, Washington National Cathedral performed one of its traditional roles in U.S. life by offering the new president and the nation a chance to come together in prayer.

A representative of the presiding bishop, the bishop of Washington and the dean of the cathedral led 26 representatives of Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, Baha’ism and Buddhism in the service. Many of the participants read, chanted and prayed in the language of their faith traditions and in English. Some 1,275 invited guests attended. The cathedral can seat 2,500.

Prior to the service, the cathedral noted on its website that the liturgy was an “interfaith service of prayer, music and Scripture readings, designed to reflect the diversity of our nation and to remind the president that he is called to lead all of us, not just a narrow few.”

The service went on while thousands of people flooded Washington for the Women’s March, including many Episcopalians. Companion marches occurred across the country and in other parts of the world. (Episcopal News Service plans coverage of the marches.)

Trump and his party were nearly 35 minutes late for the service, leaving the cathedral musicians to fill the time with music.

President Donald Trump and his party were nearly 35 minutes late Jan. 21 for the 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral. Photo: John B. Johnson IV via Facebook

After Trump arrived, former Arizona State Senator Carlyle Begay, a Navajo who is a member of Trump’s inauguration committee, began the service chanting the Navajo Way Prayer and Blessing as he walked up the center aisle.

The procession followed, during which the congregation sang “My country, ‘tis of thee.” Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde then welcomed the congregation “to this house of prayer for all people” and “to this hour of prayer for our nation, its leaders and all those who call this land their home.”

“As we mark this moment of political transition, let us all draw strength and courage from the sacred texts and songs and petitions, from the many traditions of our land, and may they inspire us always to seek divine assistance, care for another and live according to the highest aspirations to which God calls us as individuals and as a nation,” she said.

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

The Very Rev. Randolph “Randy” Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, then used the Book of Common Prayer’s “Prayer for the Human Family” (page 815) for the opening prayer.

The readings included 1 Kings 3:5–12 (read mostly in Hebrew), Romans 5:1-5 and Matthew 5:1-10 as well as the first seven verses of the Quran, known as the Surah Fatiha. The 1 Kings reading was introduced with a Jewish call to prayer; the two New Testament readings by a Christian call to prayer (a sung Kyrie Eleison) and the reading from the Quran followed a Muslim call to prayer.

President Donald Trump, his wife Melania, Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen since the National Anthem during the 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas, Washington National Cathedral

Prayers and music were interspersed among the readings. The prayers included for those who govern, for civil leaders, for those who serve others, for peace and for the country, as well as a form of the Prayers of the People. Many of the prayers had multiple biddings with responses echoing prayers for Morning and Evening Prayer, and the Prayers of the People in the Book of Common Prayer.

Among participants offering those prayers were Elder D. Todd Christofferson, member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Evangelist Alveda King, Priests for Life director of civil rights for the unborn and Martin Luther King’s niece; Narayanachar Digalakote, senior priest, Sri Siva Vishnu Temple, Lanham, Maryland; His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America, primate of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America; Jesse Singh, chairman, Sikhs of America; Anthony Vance, director of public affairs, United States Baha’i Community; Cissie Graham Lynch, Samaritan’s Purse and granddaughter of Billy Graham; and His Eminence Donald Cardinal Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington.

The Rev. Rosemarie Logan Duncan, cathedral canon for worship, chants the Kyrie Eleison as the Christian call to prayer from the cathedral’s pulpit. Photo: John B. Johnson IV via Facebook

In addition to the processional hymn, the congregation sang “Great is thy faithfulness,” as well as the national anthem, and joined the cathedral choir and U.S. Navy Band Chief Musician Antje A. Farmer in singing the final verse of “America the Beautiful.”

Blind Christian singer Marlana VanHoose, who had sung at the Republican National Convention, sang “How great thou art” and the United States Navy Sea Chanters sang “Let there be peace on earth.” The Liberty University Praise gospel choir from Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University sang “We’ve come this far by faith.” The gospel choir also sang during the choral prelude, as did the Sea Chanters and the choir from Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Roman Catholic Church on Capitol Hill.

Trump asked that there be no sermon, Budde told the Washington Post earlier this month. Budde said in a later blog post the choice of a preacher for the service and even whether to have a sermon traditionally belonged to the president. She acknowledged that some people felt agreeing to Trump’s request seemed “as if the church had surrendered its responsibility to preach truth to power.”

Budde had told the Post that the service was “not the occasion that we will use to address particular issues of policy or concerns we might have about the direction he’s taking the country.”

Cathedral Dean Randolph “Randy” Hollerith, left, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde and Bishop Suffragan for the Armed Forces and Federal Ministries James “Jay” Magness helped lead the 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. Photo: Danielle E. Thomas, Washington National Cathedral

Magness closed the service with a prayer used at the 2013 service for former President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, asking God to look graciously upon the country. “Where it is in pride, subdue it. Where it is in need, supply it. Where it is in error, rectify it. Where it is in default, restore it. And where it holds to that which is just and compassionate, support it,” he prayed.

Budde blessed the congregation, telling them to “go forth into the world in peace.”

“Be of good courage. Hold fast to that which is good. Render to no one evil for evil. As far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all, but make no peace with oppression,” she said. “Strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the afflicted, honor all people, love and serve your God whose spirit working in you can do infinitely more than you can ask for or imagine. And may the blessing of God Almighty, our creator, sustainer and giver of life be with you and remain with you this day and forevermore. Amen.”

The Rev. Darrell Scott, senior pastor of New Spirit Revival Center, Cleveland Heights, Ohio, a Trump campaign supporter and prosperity gospel preacher, gave the dismissal. “Go forth from this place in peace. Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous and strong,” he told the congregation. “Let all that you do be done in love.”

As the altar party recessed, Trump shook hands with many participants, including Budde.

The order of service is here.

To participate or not

Not everyone invited to participate in the service accepted and some of those who did faced criticism.

Rabbi Ari Plost of Congregation B’nai Abraham in Hagerstown, Maryland, wrote in the Washington Post that he declined because it would appear “callous” after he had spent 2016 helping congregants and others who were “overwhelmed and in tears from the constant rhetoric of antagonism and derision” of the campaign.

He said he planned to pray with his congregation on the Sabbath that day. “Each of us, in our own way, should use the occasion of this inauguration to rededicate ourselves to compassion and cohesion in our communities, lifted up by our creed of religious inclusivity and liberty,” he wrote.

Mohamed Magid, a Sudanese-American imam known for his interfaith work and who leads a network of 11 mosques in Northern Virginia known as the All-Dulles Area Muslim Society, faced critics on social media for agreeing to issue the Muslim call to prayer during the service.

Calling Washington National Cathedral “a modern day icon of unity and peace-building for our nation,” Magid said in a Facebook post that it is also “an institution that welcomes diverse representations of faith as a statement of our nation’s belief in the freedom of religious expression.

Tickets were required to attend the 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service. Photo: John B. Johnson IV via Facebook

“As we enter a new chapter for our country, faith leaders must seek out opportunities to elevate our shared principles, champion freedom, and promote civil rights for all Americans,” he said. “In doing so, we will demonstrate to all who witness this service that our nation is strengthened by our diversity, enriched by our common humanity, and sustained by our belief in God Almighty.”

The prayer service is a tradition dating back to the inauguration of George Washington and is considered the conclusion of the official inaugural events. A congressional resolution that relied heavily on the English coronation ceremony largely shaped Washington’s first inauguration in 1789 in New York City, according to information on the cathedral’s website. The resolution required that, following the oath of office in front of Federal Hall on Wall Street, the Senate and House walk a short distance to St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway to hear “divine service” by the chaplain of Congress, Episcopal Bishop Samuel Provoost. He acted in a role similar to that of the archbishop of Canterbury at English coronation services.

Beginning with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first inauguration in 1933, presidential inaugural prayer services have taken place at the 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. Washington National 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.

Prayer surrounded the 2017 Inauguration Day events

Trump, his wife Melania and about 300 people attended a private church service at St. John’s Episcopal Church near Lafayette Square across from the White House the morning of the inauguration. The parish has traditionally offered that opportunity to incoming presidents.Trump’s was the 12th such service.

Robert Jeffress, senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, preached the sermon at Trump’s request. The controversial preacher has spoken derisively of Muslims, Mormons, Roman Catholics and LGBTQI people in the past.

The Rev. Luis León, rector of St. John’s, told CNN that he was involved in logistical planning of the event but not the choice of speakers.

Jeffress used the story of Nehemiah to show why God blesses leaders. The text of his sermon is here.

Seven religious leaders participated in the inauguration ceremony later that morning. The program for that event is here.

The chaplains of the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate prayed during the luncheon that followed.

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


Comments (18)

  1. Len Freeman says:

    It is a good thing to pray for the president… especially when it is someone we have concerns about. For the prayers are not a blessing upon their personal agendas, but that they will find and seek out God’s ways for those he or she is to serve, to know that they are there in fact to serve, and also, if they have gone astray, for God to turn their hearts and actions to God’s purposes.
    As our Hebrew ancestors well understood, even if Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t a good guy, or believed in and followed the Lord, the Lord was still able to use him to the Lord’s purposes.
    As a former canon of the Cathedral, I say: May it be so.

  2. Philip M. M. Pavlik says:

    Anyone remember Amos 5:21?

    1. Lou Schoen says:

      As I’m sure Bishop Budde & others would note, verse 24 provides the pertinent response. Please, God: Help us find our way to justice and righteousness amidst the mayhem in which we live!

  3. Alison Ewing says:

    I hound the service moving and inspiring.

  4. Donald Heacock says:

    I th Ihunk President Trump wise not to name a po reacher. The sermon would have been analyzed for some imput from him

  5. Steve Catanich says:

    I wonder why they were so late? Thankfully the ample supply of excellent musicians was able to fill that time constructively. I personally hope that President Trump will be drawn towards and into the Church. St. Johns is a short walk from the White House and the Cathedral is a short limousine ride away, for those days when he might desire a bit of grandeur. Perhaps these things will enable him to open his heart a bit and moderate his rhetoric and behavior. No matter your opinion of him, he is a child of God and God might just find a way to accomplish God’s purposes through him

    1. H.Paradis says:

      Really? Rhetoric. A breath of FRESH air and real hope after Obama’s 8 years of rhetoric and lies.

  6. Kornaie Maoris says:

    This service shouts the Ecumenicalism of The Episcopal Church in America. Could we all stop and see
    that we have been shown the way to pray and sing together. Great thanks to Cardinal Wuerl, To Bishop Budde and Dean Randolph “Randy” Hollerith they didn’t duck and hide nor run. They presented our church beautifully.
    Blessings to all who took part in this glorious service. May God bless President Trump and give him the strength to lead this country to its greatest development possible.

  7. Anne Bay says:

    As a former church organist, I always enjoy the music from the cathedral. I think a better forum for acknowledging different religious groups with a new President in attendance would be to have a concert in a non-religious setting, and a low-key place with far Less persons attending. I can understand why the Rabbi said he wasn’t coming in light of the hate speech uttered by the now President Trump all during his campaign. Even the Texas Baptist pastor that Mr. Trump selected to speak at the morning service at St. John’s Episcopal Church is well known for his hate-speech rhetoric. In light of Mr. Trump’s hate rhetoric toward Muslims, undocumented persons, and his many disgusting and inappropriate descriptions of his behaviour toward women and his demeaning remarks toward women, and even mocking a disabled person, I don’t think this kind of service should be conducted at the cathedral as it has been. This is a different day than when President Roosevelt worshiped at St. John’s and also he was an Episcopalian. So, that was a different service by the nature of his being an Episcopalian. I think it’s time for a clearer separation of state than ever before. The amount of people -both women and men-who marched all over the United States today and in other cities of the world over Mr. Trump’s plans that may have dire consequences for universal health care, women’s health care, undocumented children and their parents, undocumented person in general, LGBT legal rights, deregulation of protections for the environment, and the list goes on- preclude any kind of atmosphere to have any positive purpose. This cathedral is an Episcopal Cathedral and should focus on maintaining its purpose to stand for an inclusive society, protection for the environment, women’s rights to their own decision about their own health care, and to stand for the financial well-being of its disabled and seniors with regard to medicare and social security, and the here too, the list goes on. I think it is valid that the cathedral value and protect its integrity. I can tell you that should not be compromised-it is a different day and many young people are more matter of fact and open and accepting than people my age-they can spot phoniness and discrimination very quickly.

    1. Kilty Maoris says:

      Perhaps the PB couldn’t face the truth that there is a real American in the Whitehouse. He well knew when this was to be held. Would he have appeared if Clinton had won? You bet he would have been there with bells on.
      Hopefully, you made the same statements when the prayer service was held for Ptez. Clinton! He was one of the most tainted men ever elected and all was known prior to his election. You could keep going back to our former miscreants. Including Kennedy and Roosevelt. They were all misogynists. President has been crucified by the lies from the press and presenting all these falsehoods as truth. Just like the Alred fiasco. This man is certainly no better nor worse than any of our presidents. Why not support him and pray for his success as that will be the harbinger of success for America. Get over it people we have a new president and he will be here for 8 years to guide and lead us and make us the most powerful nation on earth, again!

    2. RD White says:

      I am in complete agreement with Anne Bay’s comments. As an Episcopalian I was embarrassed by this show. It is time to stop this tradition in this church. I am certain Mister Trump was anxious to get the whole shenanigan over with and get out of there.

  8. Ian Montgomery says:

    Was the Presiding Bishop gravely ill? Should we be praying for his recovery and healing? If so, would someone please let us know? Otherwise, it is hard to take him seriously when he enjoined us to pray for the president when he chose to avoid the very first opportunity to do it in his very own primatial seat at a service which his predecessors traditionally attended and to which he sent a “representative” like the President sends to the Royal Wedding of the third son of the fourth child of the King of XXX? The PB’s excellent preaching would hold much greater sway if he did not appear to be avoiding the first opportunity to practice what he preached.

    1. Mary Frances Schjonberg says:

      As we reported in the story: Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asked 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.

      1. Doug Desper says:

        The Inauguration is always the same date. Every 4 years. The Prayer Service always follows.

  9. Marlin Dohlman says:

    You are right to pray for this President and this country. We need it. You are wrong to send the choir to participate in the inauguration, a secular event, over the objections of your community. You say some are called to show “hospitality”? He has a hotel for that, and he is welcome to visit the Cathedral any day of the year. Where was the Cathedral during the March or the days leading up to it? There was an outpouring of support by so many churches and organizations, but you stayed silent. Instead of standing with the people Trump has mocked and maligned, even threatened, you added the Cathedral to the entertainment bill at inauguration and ignored the protest. Please do not call that a “conversation” with him, Mr. Hollerith. He declined to hear you preach! Please do not equate your participation with those of presidents and their spouses. The Cathedral is not in the line of White House succession and does not belong in a ceremony installing someone who has pledged to do so much damage. Please do take a stand and be an ally to people he has targeted. Please reconsider the direction you have chosen for an institution we have respected our entire lives and looked to for moral leadership. This is not even a close call.

  10. MiMi Kole says:

    Watching the now President Trump at Saturday’s service was a painful experience. He reminded me of a restless schoolboy who seemed unfamiliar with church rituals. He didn’t seem able to follow the program, perhaps because he sat on his service outline a few times, he fidgeted, tried propping his feet on the kneelers, and sat with his arms folded across his chest (body language translation: closed, bored, not connecting), He absolutely looked like a fish out of water….he clearly was uncomfortable and out of his element!

    1. RD White says:

      Exactly my observations as well. That is why I said above that he wanted out of there as fast as possible.

  11. Steven Barrett says:

    I just read the text of the Rev. Robert Jeffress’ sermon during the early pre-Inaugural Service held at St. John’s Episcopal Church across from the White House. Since this is an official Episcopal parish, why wasn’t the Presiding Bishop the ultimate authority to decide who would conduct the service and preach the sermon? When pols, especially vain pols such as Donald Trump are allowed to pick n’ choose their preacher at any Service … or in the case of the Service at the National Cathedral, be allowed to say “no sermon,” who’s in charge? I just can’t imagine somebody like Trump, who. just before he began campaigning, openly admitted he never got on his knees to beg for God’s forgiveness … would be allowed to pick and choose his preacher, much less dictate if there’d be a sermon in Al Sharpton’s church, St. Patrick’s Cathedral or St. John the Divine or any parish/cathedral where the rector, bishop or Presiding Bishop was allowed to have the final say. Trump would receive at best, a polite laughing off: which is all he deserves given his long record of trashing what Scripture has said on a wide variety of subjects where his life has intersected with God’s Word. Prosperity preachers and cherry picking whether or not he’d be able to escape hearing what a preacher who’s far more interested in preaching God’s actual, not alternative truths, to him than giving in to custom and/or “security” and “protocol.”

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