Presidential Inaugurals

“Keep this nation under your care”

The National Prayer Service of the 54th Presidential Inaugural

George W. Bush

On Sunday, January 21, George Walker Bush began his first full day as president of the United States by attending the traditional national prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. One of his first official acts after taking the oath of office the previous day, was to sign a presidential proclamation declaring January 21, 2001, a National Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving, calling on Americans to devote the day to prayer and to reflection on “all that unites us.”

The new president and his wife, Laura, slipped quietly into the nave at 8:28 am, preceded by Vice President Richard B. Cheney and his wife, Lynne, former president George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, the president’s twin daughters, Barbara and Jenna, and their maternal grandmother Jenna Welch. More than one hundred other family members also attended.

Secretary of State Colin Powell led the list of Cabinet members, members-designate, White House staff, and diplomatic corps who filled the Cathedral for the nationally televised service. Among the official party was attorney general-designate John Ashcroft, homilist at the 1989 inaugural prayer service for George H. W. Bush, at which George W. Bush read the Scripture lesson. Other invited guests included former secretary of state James Baker, and officials and staff of last summer’s Republican convention, the transition team and the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

The Rev. Daniel Coughlin, chaplain of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Rev. Dr. Lloyd John Ogilvie, chaplain of the U.S. Senate, returned to the Cathedral the first time since November 15, 2000, when the Cathedral established seats of honor in the great choir for the congressional chaplains. Noted religious leaders in attendance included the Rev. Jerry Falwell, chancellor of Liberty University, Dr. James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on the Family, Dr. Adrian Rogers, pastor of the 26,000-member Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee, and a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the Rt. Rev. Felton Edwin May, bishop of the Washington Episcopal Area of the Methodist Church.

Cathedral Chapter president John Shenefield led the list of Cathedral officials in attendance who included Honorary Canon Joe L. Allbritton, John Van Wagoner and Peggy Steuart. The National Cathedral Association was represented by Eileen Yago, immediate past president.

The Very Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, dean of the Cathedral, joined the Rt. Rev. Jane Holmes Dixon, bishop of Washington pro tempore, in officiating at the interfaith service of music, lessons and prayer. The Rev. Canon Peter F. Grandell, Cathedral precentor, prepared the service in consultation with representatives of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. Bishop Dixon warmly welcomed the president and his family to the Cathedral, and Dean Baxter delivered the invocation, based in part on A Prayer for Civil Rulers used at the inaugural prayer service for George Washington.

The Music

During the hour preceding the service an estimated 2,000 invited guests heard a musical prelude offered by the United States Navy Sea Chanters and Brass Quintet, the Triumph and St. Stephen’s Male Chorus, as well as presentations by contemporary Christian musician Michael W. Smith and country music singer Larry Gatlin & the Gatlin Brothers. Two young musicians, violinist Christopher Ballard and singer Tiffany Ameen, also performed.

Dr. Douglas Major, Cathedral organist and choirmaster, had charge of the music during the service, aided by Erik Wm. Suter, assistant organist and choirmaster, and the Cathedral Choir of Men and Girls, directed by Bruce Neswick. The Cathedral Choir sang Benjamin Britten’s setting of the Jubilate Deo (Psalm 100) and, at the offering, David Hurd’s arrangement of Psalm 92, “It Is a Good Thing to Give Thanks.” At the request of the Inaugural Committee, the offering was distributed among organizations in the Washington area that support after-school programs for boys and girls.

The worship service itself opened with a fanfare on the Cathedral’s majestic en chamade trumpets announcing the processional hymn, “God of Our Fathers,” whose stirring text was written for a July 4, 1876, centennial celebration of American independence. St. Francis of Assisi’s hymn of praise, “All Creatures of Our God and King,” preceded the homily; the gospel hymn, “How Great Thou Art,” followed the responsive prayers.

The Scripture Readings

The readings drew upon both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. Rabbi Samuel Karff from Beth Israel Synagogue in Houston read Jeremiah 29:11–13 in both Hebrew and English. The Rev. Beulah “Bubba” Dailey of Austin Street Center in Dallas, read Proverbs 3:1–8. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America led the people responsively in the Twenty-Third Psalm.

The Rev. Mark Craig of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, read 1 John 4:7–8. Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, who also delivered the benediction at the inaugural ceremony, read the Prayer for the Nation.

His Excellency, the Most Rev. Theodore E. McCarrick, Roman Catholic archbishop of Washington, read the Gospel lesson, Matthew 6:25–33, the parable of the lilies of the field. Serendipitously, the all-white floral arrangements, created by the Cathedral Altar Guild, featured white Casablanca lilies.

The Sermon

The Rev. Franklin Graham, founder and chief executive of Samaritan’s Purse in Boone, North Carolina, stood in for his father, Billy Graham, who was prevented by illness from participating in his ninth presidential inauguration. “We have gathered here today with renewed hope for America,” Rev. Graham said in a brief homily. “This prayer service demonstrates our recognition [of] and need for help from the Almighty. We affirm that we are indeed a free and independent people, but in a far more profound sense, we are a people that are dependent on almighty God.”

The Prayers

Responsive prayers for the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of federal and state governments were read by Archbishop McCarrick, Archbishop Demetrios, Bishop Dixon, Rabbi Karff, the Rev. Peter Grandell, the Rev. Luis León, rector of St. John’s Church, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Suzanne Love Harris, of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Dr. Jack Hayford, pastor of the Church on the Way, Van Nuys, California, closed the eighty-minute service with prayer.

During the singing of “America the Beautiful,” Dean Baxter and Bishop Dixon escorted President and Mrs. Bush and their immediate families from the Cathedral. They stepped into the brilliant sunshine of the cold January morning. As the presidential motorcade left, carillonneur Edward M. Nassor played joyous music that could be heard throughout the Close.

Inaugural Prayer Services Began with George Washington

The tradition of prayer services associated with the inauguration of the president of the United States began with George Washington. Immediately after President Washington took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, on the balcony of Federal Hall in New York City, the official party walked in procession to nearby St. Paul’s Chapel for services conducted by its rector, the Rt. Rev. Samuel Provoost, first Episcopal bishop of New York and the first chaplain of the United States Senate.

In 1933 Franklin Delano Roosevelt renewed Washington’s tradition of prayer services at the time of his inaugural. On Sunday, March 5, the day following his first inauguration, a “National Patriotic Service” was held at Washington National Cathedral at four o’clock. From 1934 through 1937, FDR attended prayer services at the Cathedral on the Sunday closest to the anniversary of his inauguration. Like many other presidents, on the mornings of his inaugurals Roosevelt also gathered his family and staff together for a private prayer service at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Lafayette Square, across from the White House.

For the 1981 inauguration of Ronald Reagan, an inaugural prayer service was held at National City Christian Church on Thomas Circle, Washington, D.C., also the venue for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1965 inaugural prayer service at which the Rev. Billy Graham preached. Like Lyndon Johnson, Ronald Reagan was affiliated with the Disciples of Christ denomination.

For his second inaugural in 1985, President Reagan reached back to the tradition renewed by Roosevelt and asked Washington National Cathedral to hold “A National Prayer Service in Thanksgiving for the 51st American Presidential Inaugural,” which was attended by the president, his family and guests.

In 1989 President George H. W. Bush succeeded Reagan in the presidency and, on Sunday, January 22, attended a similar inaugural prayer service at the Cathedral. The Cathedral’s 1997 inaugural exhibition included the handwritten prayer composed and delivered by President George H. W. Bush immediately before his inaugural address.

Presidential Prayers and Presence at the Cathedral

The Bush family has had a long association with the Cathedral. Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush (1895–1972) was actively associated during the 1950s with the building of the Cathedral. As vice president, George H. W. Bush often attended early morning prayer at the Cathedral. As president he participated in his grandson’s baptism in the Little Sanctuary at St. Albans School for Boys. Neil Bush, son of former president Bush and brother of the newly inaugurated president, is an alumnus of St. Albans. President George H. W. Bush represented the nation at several memorial services held at the Cathedral, including that of the Rt. Rev. John Thomas Walker, Cathedral dean and bishop of Washington, who died in 1989. One year later, on September 29, 1990, President Bush delivered the dedicatory address at the national celebration of the completion of the Cathedral Church of St. Peter and St. Paul.

President Woodrow Wilson is interred at the Cathedral. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s nationally televised state funeral took place in the Cathedral.

Every president of the United States since William McKinley in 1898 has made his way to Mount Saint Alban in his capacity as the nation’s ceremonial chief of state during times of national mourning and celebration. As the discussion of the role of faith in American life continues to develop, the Cathedral opens its doors wide as a National House of Prayer for All People.

—Margaret Shannon
Originally printed in Cathedral Age

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