U.S. President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama, Jill Biden and her husband, Vice President Joe Biden, stand at the start of the Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at the National Cathedral in Washington Jan. 22. CNS photo/Jonathan Ernst, Reuters

Multifaith prayer service starts Obama's first workday of new term

By  Patricia Zapor, Catholic News Service
  • January 23, 2013

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- President Barack Obama began the first work day of his second term Jan. 22 in prayer at a multi-faith service at the National Cathedral, where readings, prayers, songs and the sermon focused on the challenges of leadership and the need to face them with the bolstering of faith.

More than 2,200 people filled the cathedral church of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, where religious services of national importance traditionally are held.

The Rev. Adam Hamilton, homilist, began by thanking Obama and Vice President Joe Biden "for giving yourselves, for sacrificing, for living in glass houses, for accepting the constant barrage of criticism with very little praise, for being willing to risk everything in order to serve this country."

His sermon followed a sequence of Scripture readings and prayers for those who govern, for those who serve in various capacities, for the people and for all the nation. Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, who heads the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, set a minor bilingual theme for the service in welcoming participants first in Spanish, which was repeated in English by the Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the cathedral.

The prayers and readings were interspersed with traditional hymns and contemporary selections by two different choirs and Christian vocalist Wintley Phipps.

The song "Determined to Go On," performed by the Children of the Gospel Choir of the Washington Performing Arts Society, stirred Obama and his wife, Michelle, into rhythmic swaying in time with the music. Its lyrics include the lines: "The race is not given to the swift, nor to the strong; but to the one who endureth 'til the very end. Might not be able to feel it, nor even see it; Walk by faith, not by sight."

Rev. Hamilton in his sermon described the challenges faced by Moses and by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., on whose birthday observance Jan. 21 the inauguration was held, and how they overcame them with faith, and to tell Obama, "God actually has you exactly where God wants you."

Rev. Hamilton, the senior pastor of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., told the president that "God has given you a unique gift, Mr. President. Unlike any other president we've had, you have the ability to cast a vision and inspire people. ... You should've been a preacher."

He said that the vision laid out in Obama's inaugural address the previous afternoon "was very powerful and compelling," and that "we've got to find and forge one or two dreams or visions that people on the right and the left, the Republicans and Democrats, can come together and say, 'Yes, we can (shake) hands on this.'"

Rev. Hamilton explained that the biblical Book of Proverbs notes what happens when a people lacks vision -- they perish. Well, he added, "they don't literally perish. They just bicker and fight and become so polarized they can't get anything done."

The two-hour service included readings and prayers offered by a wide spectrum of religious leaders. Washington Cardinal Donald W. Wuerl read the second reading, a selection from II Corinthians that describes Jesus as the light out of darkness. Cantor Mikhail Manevich of the Washington Hebrew Congregation sang in Hebrew an invitation to prayer based on a reading from Deuteronomy. Imam Abdullah M Khouj, president of the Islamic Center of Washington also sang in Arabic the Islamic call to prayer.

Other selections were read by clergy from the Episcopal Church, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); the African American Clergy Network, the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches, the Rabbinical Assembly, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Islamic Society of North America, the Missionary Baptist Church of Chicago, the National Latino Evangelical Coalition, the Greek Orthodox Church in America, Windsor Village United Methodist Church of Houston, and Ebenezer Baptist Church of Atlanta, the church where Rev. King gave his last sermon.

Laypeople also read selections or prayers, including Steve Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America; Sapreet Kaur of the Sikh Coalition; Laila Muhammad of Ash-Shamsiyyah/The Umbrella Family Service in Chicago; and Kathryn Lohre of the National Council of Churches.

Music was provided by the cathedral's choir, carillonneur and organist, and by the brass ensemble of the United States Marine Band.


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