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Point of View: Inaugural Prayer: Throwing Away Our Shot

Point of View: Inaugural Prayer: Throwing Away Our Shot

The Rev Janet Vinent offers her perspective on the controversy surrounding the participation of a National Cathedral choir in the upcoming presidential election based on her own experience of negotiating with Donald Trump


In “Hamilton” the song is Throwing Away My Shot. But a slight change in that title sums up what the Episcopal Church did when it agreed to hold an Inaugural prayer service at Washington National Cathedral.


I think that all involved are acting with the best intentions and have been guided by their consciences. Everyone I know is feeling conflicted as the inauguration and the events surrounding it approaches.


My concern is that we’ve missed an opportunity with the prayer service at Washington National Cathedral. When the decision was made, as in the past, to offer the WNC as the site of the prayer service our leaders could have requested a meeting with President-elect Trump. I’m thinking of the optics of our Presiding Bishop and the Bishop of Washington entering Trump Tower in New York for a 15-minute, confidential meeting, where they could have expressed their concerns about so many issues surrounding the Trump administration. After the meeting they could have issued a joint statement describing the gathering (leaving the particulars in confidence) and then presented their reasons for hosting the prayer service.


This would have afforded our leaders the opportunity to 1) be clear that our Gospel-based concern for the dignity of every human being had been clearly expressed and 2) allowed them the chance to get ahead of the story. The statements from the WNC and the Diocese of Washington have come weeks after the initial announcement following an onslaught of public criticism and genuine confusion. We serve best when we are clear and direct from the start.


Some might respond that Mr. Trump would not have agreed to a meeting. Having negotiated with him on a controversy involving his new Trump Tower and our shelters for homeless women and men (Grace Church, White Plains, NY, 2004) I know that it is possible to negotiate with him. But even if he had refused to meet or delegated the meeting to his transition team, it would have put our leaders in a better position to explain their reasons for hosting or not hosting the service. There is never a boundary to God’s love. But we have a responsibility to the truths that we must not abandon, even in the name of reconciliation.


I believe that we should pray for President Trump and his administration. I also believe that we have more power than we sometimes realize. Moving forward, my hope is that the Episcopal Church will not throw away our shot.


The Rev. Janet Vincent, Cottekill, New York



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Paul Woodrum

Jay, you must sharpen your sense of irony.

Paul Woodrum

If the Jefferson Davis Window is still there, seating Mr. Trump beneath it might be appropriate. Blank glass in the space might also be appropriate.

Jay Croft

There’s already blank glass where the Confederate flags were.

Seating for presidents is very carefully arranged. It’s on the left side as you face the altar, at the second or third row. The persons immediately around the president are Secret Service personnel, trying to blend in with the crowd.

A Presidential visit to the Cathedral involves very elaborate preparations. Everyone, even the bishop, has to go through metal detectors. And that’s just for starters.

Jean Lall

Dear friends, at this critical time we need to keep a firm grip on who we are as Episcopalians, and on the visionary purpose for which our National Cathedral was built. There is nothing to be gained by allowing ourselves to be drawn into Mr. Trump’s manipulative racket in which he gains power by creating chaos and polarization, defining everybody as either for him or against him, either winners or losers. We have a different perspective to offer. The fact that he or his supporters, or even the public at large, may imagine that the Episcopal Church or the Cathedral is being co-opted by him, bowing down to his power or being bought off, does not make it so. Our responsibility is to stay focused on the Kingdom of Heaven, which is not a zero-sum game but a banquet offered to all, and to offer hospitality to the nation in a time of need.

We should first of all have confidence in the power of prayer and intensify our own practice during this week as we approach the inauguration. We should also have confidence in the power of the Cathedral itself and the tradition it bears as an actual (not just hypothetical) place of prayer for all people, both for individuals of many faiths (or no faith) in everyday life and at times of national transition, crisis, celebration and mourning. Yes, we are in a perilous state as a nation. This is just the moment when we can be glad of our inheritance and lean on the promise it carries. Our peculiar gift, our charism, is to have preserved and continued to renew and extend the rich liturgical, architectural and musical heritage of the historical church as it came to us via our Anglican roots. Our theology lives and flourishes not only in books and sermons but in hymn and icon, stone carving and stained glass. This is not to discount at all the value of simpler approaches to worship, but to say that our particular calling has been to keep certain aspects of the tradition alive and available for everybody to call upon in times of need.

By custom, the post-inaugural prayer service is not an anointing of the new President, a vote of confidence in him or a blessing of his proposed agenda; still less does it amount to a ritual of capitulation to his power and influence. It need not (as past history shows) include a sermon; in this instance, the better course may be to let the readings, the prayers, the music, and the building carry the message. The architecture and ornamentation of the Cathedral are sermons in themselves, bespeaking the love of Christ and the greatness and mercy of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, the presence of the Kingdom, the history of the faith and the spiritual travails of the nation, the witness of the prophets and the saints, the cost of discipleship, and the call to justice and peacemaking. There will be plenty of time over the next four years for hard-hitting sermons from this and other pulpits, and for prophetic statements and actions!

Trump is leaving his Tower and coming under the roof of Jesus’s house. It will be up to him what he decides to do with the experience. There will be many other people present that day who will have an opportunity to pray and be prayed for and to receive the “sermons” being addressed to them from the very stones of the Cathedral. Let’s support them in prayer, from wherever we happen to be at that hour. And then, fortified by prayer, we’ll be prepared to preach and to march, to sing and to protest, to work for justice and mercy in the days and years ahead.

Lucia Robinson

I agree with Ms. Lall entirely. There is a chance (however slim) that the consecrated building, the scriptures, the music will move the new officials in some way, and it’s certain that the nation needs all the help from God it can get.
As to the choir, I understand that members are not required to participate.
Dean Hollerith said on Sunday that praying with someone today doesn’t preclude marching in protest tomorrow. I don’t think our Cathedral is about to be co-opted.

Anand Gnanadesikan

Personally, I will be praying for our president-elect through gritted teeth- guess I’m not as good at praying for my enemies as I thought I was. And so, even though it makes me uncomfortable, I don’t fault the National Cathedral or Bishop Budde for hosting a service. I think it is the right thing to do.

However- I will be interested to see what prayers are said, what songs are sung and what constraints the Bishop is willing to put up with. If one is cynical, one can see in the whole history of Anglicanism a willingness to overlook the sins of the elite in order not to offend the powers that be.

Geoffrey Watson.

Prayers are needed for all our leaders. We need to unite all Americans. May the good LORD bless us al….AMEN †

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