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‘Grant to Donald John Trump … Thy grace and favor’: What happened at the National Prayer Service

🕐 3 min read

WASHINGTON – On his first morning as president of the United States, Donald Trump prayed with leaders of almost every major religion.

The national prayer service, an inauguration tradition held at Washington National Cathedral, included a rabbi, an imam, a Baha’i leader, a Hindu priest and everyone in between – but with no sermon, the service included little topical content directly addressing Trump’s incipient presidency.

Instead, the service focused on biblical readings, patriotic music and Christian hymns, and prayers for the country and its leadership.

“As we mark this moment of political transition, let us all draw strength and courage from the sacred texts and songs . . . from the many traditions of our land,” said Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, the bishop of Washington for the Episcopal Church, as she opened the service in that church’s national home.

After President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and their families strode into the majestic nave of the cathedral, Carlyle Begay opened the service with a Navajo blessing. The words, the program said, mean in the Navajo language: “In beauty I walk. With beauty before me I walk. With beauty behind me I walk. With beauty above me I walk. With beauty around me I walk.” Then hundreds of worshipers sang of the “land of the pilgrim’s pride” in “My Country ‘Tis of Thee.”

The Rev. Randy Hollerith, the dean of Washington National Cathedral, read a prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer that asks God to “break down the walls that separate us,” among other requests – a contrast with the prayer service Trump attended the morning before, where the inflammatory Southern Baptist pastor Robert Jeffress preached in his sermon: “God is not against building walls!”

Participants and attendees at the service wore a colorful array of head coverings, from nuns’ habits to the rabbi’s kippah to Sikh turbans. Music ranged from the gospel power of Liberty University Praise to the disciplined beauty of the U.S. Navy Sea Chanters.

Muslim and Jewish clergy in the service – both from religious communities that voted heavily against Trump and have perceived him and his close associates as inciting acts of hate against their faiths – delivered prayers from their traditional liturgy in Hebrew and Arabic.

A Florida rabbi also read a passage in Hebrew from the Old Testament’s Book of Kings, in which King Solomon, just beginning his reign, asks God for wisdom – “an understanding mind to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and bad.” And Sajid Tarar, an American Muslim who is not a clergyman but delivered a prayer onstage at the Republican National Convention, read from the Koran.

Elder Todd Christofferson, the Mormon participant in the service, read a prayer adapted from an Episcopal text read at George Washington’s inaugural service rather than a Mormon text. The prayer, with Trump’s name inserted, asked God to grant the new president wisdom and a love of truth and righteousness.

Two evangelical pastors led prayers specifically for the military, diplomats, mayors, school boards, teachers, health-care workers, police and others who work in public service. And Sikh, Buddhist and Baha’i leaders prayed for the homeless, sick, refugees, prisoners and others in need of blessings.

Other participants included black prosperity gospel preachers Bishop Harry Jackson Jr. of Beltsville, Maryland, and the Rev. Darrell Scott of Cleveland Heights, Ohio, who were both vocal supporters of Trump during his campaign, and Alveda King, an antiabortion activist and niece of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

The Trump and Pence families, sitting in the front pews, represented considerable religious diversity themselves – Trump a mainline Presbyterian, Pence a self-described “evangelical Catholic,” Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner and their three children Orthodox Jews.

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