For President Obama, a Somber, Inclusive Inaugural Prayer Service

January 21, 2009

Author: Amanda Ruggeri

Source: US News

President Barack Obama began his first full day on the job at the National Cathedral's inaugural prayer service. But although the service is part of a presidential tradition that dates back to George Washington, it had the imprint of Obama, particularly in its emphasis on inclusiveness and community.

The president and first lady had been up late the night before, dancing through their 10 inaugural balls. Aside from the first lady's choice of flats, however, there were few signs that the day had taken a toll on the couple as they sat alongside Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State-designate Hillary Clinton and former President Bill Clinton in the front row.

Rev. Sharon Watkins, president and general minister of Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, opened her sermon on a note of optimism.

"With your inauguration, Mr. President, the flame of America's promise burns just a little brighter for every child in this land," she said. The phrase was met with applause.

The service marked the first time that a woman was chosen to deliver the sermon at the inaugural prayer service.

Twenty clergy members participated in the service, including representatives from the Islamic Society of North America, the Hindu Temple Society of North America, and the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism. Prayers were based on the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer but had been retouched to draw on George Washington's 1789 prayer service and Abraham Lincoln's 1865 inaugural address.