Obama planning inaugural prayer service

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is planning to participate in a special prayer service at the Washington National Cathedral the morning after he takes the oath of office, his inaugural committee announced Tuesday.

An inaugural service was first held by President George Washington and has been a tradition for most modern presidencies, including for Obama four years ago with religious leaders from across the country and patriotic-themed hymns. This time Obama and Vice President Joe Biden plan to attend an invitation-only interfaith service on Jan. 22 at 10:30 a.m. to close a weekend full of inaugural events.

"The beginning of President Obama's second term will be marked by the acknowledgement and celebration of the role of people of faith in American life," Presidential Inaugural Committee spokeswoman Addie Whisenant said in a statement. "President Obama's own faith has played an integral role in his life, his commitment to service and his presidency, and this important tradition will celebrate the values and diversity that make us strong."

Obama begins his second term at noon on Sunday, Jan. 20, and is planning a private swearing in at the White House with limited press coverage. His public inauguration will be on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, Monday, Jan. 21, since the ceremony is not traditionally held on Sundays.

Obama is kicking off the inaugural weekend by asking Americans to participate in a National Day of Service on Saturday, Jan. 19. The Presidential Inaugural Committee has yet to announce details of some other inaugural events, including the number of official balls the president plans to attend. Organizers have said there will be fewer parties than the 10 Obama had four years ago and that they will all be held at the Washington Convention Center.

The National Cathedral is a grand neogothic building four miles northwest of the White House that has been the site of many historic moments, including the final sermon delivered by King, state funerals for Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford and inaugural services for several others. Every president since Reagan has held an inaugural service at the National Cathedral except President Bill Clinton, who instead held both of his at the historic black Metropolitan AME Church in downtown Washington.

"The cathedral has come to be known as a spiritual home for the nation, and as part of living into that calling it is our prayer that the service will embody the hopes and vision of our nation, and that God's purpose might shine forth with new clarity in our lives," said the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the Cathedral.

The cathedral also announced an exhibit that will begin next month in its nave and on its website called "Presidents at the Cathedral" that will showcase presidential visits over its 105-year history.

Cathedral leaders took the rare step of weighing in on a contentious political debate this past weekend by calling for stricter gun control in the wake of the Connecticut school shooting. The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop, preached that civilians shouldn't own assault weapons. Hall, in his sermon Sunday, said that Christians have a moral obligation to work to end gun violence and the cathedral should become a focal point for advocating gun control.


Associated Press writer Brett Zongker contributed to this report.