A prayer service last month at Washington Cathedral combined Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and evangelical traditions to observe President Reagan’s second inauguration. Reagan, along with his wife, Nancy, Vice President George Bush, and Bush’s wife, Barbara, worshiped in the front pew of the Episcopal cathedral, with 1,173 invited guests in attendance.
The Episcopal bishop of Washington, John T. Walker, asked God to “defend our liberties and fashion into one united people the multitudes brought hither out of many kindreds and tongues.” For Reagan and Bush, he asked “wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will.… Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear.”
Rabbi Leonard S. Cahan, of Washington’s Congregation Har Shalom, read Deuteronomy 10:17–21, opening and closing with Hebrew chants. Washington’s Roman Catholic Archbishop James A. Hickey read 1 Corinthians 12:4–11, which, like the Old Testament reading, was selected by the Washington Cathedral staff.
At Reagan’s request, evangelist Billy Graham preached, offering a brief, intense sermon from an intricately carved stone pulpit. A wide grin spread across the President’s face as Graham recalled a time when Reagan, as governor of California, took his son Ron at age 11 to a Los Angeles Rams game. Afterward, they stopped at the locker room just in time to see the professional football players drop to their knees for prayer.
Graham said Reagan later told then-coach George Allen that nothing a father might say to a son could ever have the impact of seeing his heroes pause for prayer. The evangelist concluded, “Prayer should be the practice of everyone on this team we call America. We need to drop to our knees and acknowledge our dependence on [God].”
Graham began his sermon by mentioning America’s commitment to religious freedom and the separation of church and state. “Any and all religions have a right to exist and to propagate what they stand for,” he said. The evangelist added that people he meets the world over appear to be longing for spiritual leadership.
Citing Matthew 16:26 (“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?”), Graham said, “I believe that is true for nations as well as individuals. A nation that loses its spiritual moorings will grow old before its time.”
After the service, Reagan’s motorcade returned him to the White House for a private swearing-in ceremony. He said his oath of office with his hand on a Bible opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, just as it was four years earlier at his first inauguration.
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