Just back from the National Prayer Service. [On demand video of service here.] The Rev. Dr. Sharon E. Watkins preached a heck of a sermon, but for me the high points of the morning were musical: the gently rocking harmonies of the Washington Performing Arts Society’s Children of the Gospel Choir (Annisse Murillo, soloist) singing He’s Got the Whole World in his Hands; the impassioned majesty of Amazing Grace as sung by Dr. Wintley Phipps, President of U. S. Dream Academy; and the sweet, serene tones of The Cathedral Choir whose version of America the Beautiful makes plain the profoundly prayerful essence of that song.
America the Beautiful
I was also taken by the jubilant elegance with which the Rev. Dr. Cynthia L. Hale of Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Decatur, Georgia read the first reading (Isaiah 58:6-12).
The Obamas are either prayerful folk, or expert mimics. From my seat in the Great Choir—The cathedral clergy and diocesan canons processed with the altar party, and then sat blessedly out of sight.—I could see them throughout the service and their attention never wavered.
Before the service, President and Mrs. Obama met privately with the Bishop John Bryson Chane, Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III, John H. Shenefield, chair of the Cathedral Chapter and their wives. Bishop Chane said the ten-minute meeting was as relaxed and informal as a quick get-together of this sort can be. He asked the president if he was tired after his hectic day yesterday, and President Obama said no, and that he was having a good time. “These are young people,” the bishop told me later.
Karen Chane and Michelle Obama talked about the Obama’s daughters first night in the White House. (I am withholding the details, not because they are especially revealing, but because the children are off limits.)
The bishop said the Obamas are an unpretentious couple. “It was like meeting your neighbors across the back fence,” he said. “That’s just how they carry themselves.”
After the service former President Bill Clinton stuck around for a long time chatting with the crowd, while people climbed the altar steps to get above the crowd so they could take pictures of him.
Mary Francis Schjonberg of Episcopal News Service is working on her story in the office next to mine. We will link to it later.
Related item: National prayer service: reports