Presidential Inaugurals

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Cathedral Hosts Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service

George W. Bush

On Friday morning, January 21, 2005, the day after George W. Bush took the oath of office for a second term as president of the United States, he attended the traditional Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service at Washington National Cathedral.

President Bush was accompanied by Vice President and Mrs. Cheney as well as administration officials, invited guests, and more than one hundred members of the Bush family, including First Lady Laura Bush, daughters Barbara and Jenna, former president George H. W. Bush, and Barbara Bush.

Snow lay on the ground and the sun shone brightly as more than 2,000 intrepid guests braved single-digit temperatures to make their way to Mount St. Alban, where they were greeted by patriotic hymns played by Cathedral Carillonneur Edward Nassor.

The Rev. Billy Graham (prevented by illness from participating in the first Bush inaugural in 2001) was escorted to his seat in the crossing early, where arriving members of the Bush family greeted him with gentle hugs and kisses. “I pray for [the Bushes] daily,” Graham said in a statement issued before the service, “and it is a great honor to pray publicly for our president, his family, and our nation as he begins his second term.”

Frail in body but strong in voice, the 86-year-old evangelist delivered the opening prayer: “Our Father and our God, we thank you that the last event of this historic week is a time of worship—a time to hear your Word, to pray, and to declare our dependence on you.” Since 1965 Dr. Graham has participated in nine presidential inaugurations.

The colorful vestments of the procession reflected the interfaith character of the service. Participants included Rabbi Morton Yolkut, Shaare Shamayim-Beth Judah, Philadelphia; Bishop G. E. Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ; Rev. Luis Cortés, Jr., president of Nueva Esperanza, Inc., Philadelphia; Metropolitan Herman, archbishop of Washington and metropolitan of all America and Canada, for the Orthodox Church of America; Archbishop Demetrios, primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America; the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas; and two Roman Catholic cardinals, Their Eminences William Cardinal Keeler, archbishop of Baltimore, and Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, archbishop of Washington.

The Rt. Rev. John Bryson Chane, Episcopal bishop of Washington, welcomed worshipers and gave the final blessing, while the Rt. Rev. A. Theodore Eastman, vicar of the Cathedral, delivered the dismissal. The Rev. Canon Mary Sulerud, Cathedral precentor interim, read the Prayer for the Nation. Sudden illness prevented Imam Yahya Hendi, Muslim Chaplain of Georgetown University, from attending; the Rev. Dr. Luis Léon, rector of St. John’s, Lafayette Square, site of the Bush family’s prayer service the day before, took the imam’s reading at the last minute. The Rev. Mark Craig, pastor of Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas, which the Bushes have attended, delivered the sermon.

The service marked a return engagement for Irish tenor Dr. Ronan Tynan, a Bush family favorite who sang at the state funeral for President Reagan. After an instrumental and choral prelude by United States Navy musicians, the Cathedral Choir of Men, Boys and Girls led the service music under the direction of Michael McCarthy and assisted by Cathedral organists Erik Wm. Suter and Scott Hanoian. Among the hymns were two—Faith of our Fathers and God of our Fathers—that reflected the unique relationship between presidential father and son.

Television cameras caught a humorous moment during the offering. Presidents do not always carry money. Quick thinking by the president’s father and Vice President Cheney resulted in bills being proffered by both men, one seated behind and one beside the president. As Jay Leno joked that night, “You’re never too old to ask your dad for a loan!”

Prayer services have been associated with the inauguration of a president of the United States since George Washington’s first term in 1789. Nearly 150 years passed before Franklin Delano Roosevelt renewed the tradition at the time of his first inaugural in 1933. On Sunday, March 5, the day after his first inauguration, a “National Patriotic Service” was held at the Cathedral. The Cathedral has hosted such services since Ronald Reagan’s second inaugural in 1985.

—Margaret Shannon
Originally printed in Cathedral Age

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