This will make P. Z. Myers shake his head — apologies, P. Z. — but those of us in the “mainstream,” or “liberal leaning” sect of the Disciples of Christ are quite happy that our general minister, Sharon Watkins, will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service on Wednesday.
We’re such a politically polyglot group that we can be described as mainstream, liberal, or conservative with some accuracy. Three presidents have Disciples roots — James Garfield, who was a Disciples minister before becoming president of a Disciples college in Ohio; Lyndon Johnson, who was a life-long Disciple, and who built a chapel on his ranch; and Ronald Reagan, whose mother was a devout Disciple, and who attended one of several Disciples affiliated colleges, Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois.
Watkins is the first woman to preach at this service in the history of the nation.
The National Prayer Service is one of those events that underscores the separation of church and state. At the first Washington inaugural, it was held the same day as the ceremony, but after the official ceremony. The attendees concluded the swearing in and other official ceremonies, then adjourned to a church a few blocks away for a sermon, those who wished to.
This year the sermon will be held in the National Cathedral, a majestic building which is actually an Episcopalian venue (where Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller are interred), miles from the federal area at the National Mall, and a day after the inauguration.
But watch: There will be a band of religious radicals, fanatics, who will claim that the mere existence of this service somehow nullifies the First Amendment, and suggests that the government has a religious bias. Do not believe them. You know the history, and you know better. Our government has great tolerance for religious displays, but no tolerance for religious bias, in our government.
I’ve wondered sometimes what would happen were the three Disciples presidents to meet. If Reagan and Johnson ever met, I have not found the record of it. I wonder whether Johnson, Reagan and Garfield could have found between them some subject of common interest for talk of substance. It’s difficult to imagine Reagan and Johnson finding much common ground, one who revered FDR and the New Deal, and the other who campaigned against the New Deal almost from the day FDR died. And yet they shared concepts of faith, and they may have found there common ground on which to stand, and talk.
I marvel at a sect that embraces, and celebrates, such diversity. We think it makes for healthier theology, healthier congregations, and a healthier nation.
We can hope.
Below is the press release from Disciples News Service, with details about the service and how to view it or listen to it. There is also a plea for clips from local papers — maybe some of you could do a good turn and clip any article that appears in your local paper, with the date and page, and mail it in. It’s for the archives, you know — history.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
National Prayer Service UpdatesJanuary 17, 2009Dear Disciples,Earlier this week it was announced that Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins will preach the sermon at the National Prayer Service in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, Jan. 21. Her sermon will conclude Presidential Inauguration activities for our country’s forty-fourth President, . Dr. Watkins appreciates the outpouring of support, prayers and well wishes she has received from Disciples and ecumenical colleagues everywhere since the announcement.“I am so grateful that Disciples have a role in this historic moment,” said Watkins. “I am depending on your prayers for God to use me to deliver an uplifting and appropriately challenging message to our new President, vice-President and all those who will attend the service.”Watkins will be joined by a diverse group of religious leaders at the prayer service, which will take place at the National Cathedral, starting at 10 a.m. EST.A press release listing those who will participate in the service was released yesterday afternoon and includes another Disciples pastor, Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor ofin . Hale will be among those reading scripture. To read the press release that announces participants at the service, please go to:
Many of you have asked about opportunities to view the program. Our office has just learned that the program will be webcast in two ways. One is through the National Cathedral website at: www.nationalcathedral.org. The other option is to go to the at www.pic2009.org.We’ve also had a number of phone calls regarding the availability of tickets for the prayer service. Unfortunately, we have not been able to secure tickets for the service.Please note that DisciplesWorld Publisher and Editor Verity A. Jones will provide special coverage of many Inauguration activities, including the prayer service. Jones will blog from Jan. 18 to Jan. 21 at: disciplesworld.wordpress.com. She also will post news stories to the Disciples World home page and send short updates from the DisciplesWorld “twitter” account. To read more about ways DisciplesWorld will keep you informed, go to: www.disciplesworld.com/dynamic.html?wspID=501
Finally, Associate General Minister and Vice-President Todd Adams asks that Disciples send in hard copies of newspaper articles that have been covered in your community about Dr. Watkins and the prayer service, so that we might keep them in our official archives. Articles can be sent to: Dr. Todd Adams, Office of General Minister and President, P.O. Box 1986; Indianapolis, Ind. 46206-1986.To read the Jan. 11 press release from the www.disciples.org.that announced Dr. Watkins selection for the prayer service and to learn updates about events taking place during the , please visitPlease keep Sharon and the many other Disciples who will be attending the Inauguration, National Prayer Service and other events in your prayers.
Wanda Bryant Wills
Executive Director of Communication Ministries
Tip of the old scrub brush to Bill Longman, “Bill in the Ozarks,” and the DoCDisc Listserv.