My Inaugural Journal: January 21, 2009
7:30am: It’s not over yet. We’re about to head out for the National Prayer Service, which is being held at Washington National Cathedral. I’m really tired, and this is going to be a long day, but I’ve been looking forward to the prayer service all week. So I’m kinda excited. The National Prayer Service is an event that is held at every Presidential Inauguration, making this the 56th such gathering. The Cathedral has played host to many, many of these gatherings … so they know understand the importance of the occasion and handle it solemnity and professionalism.
12:00 noon: Nearly 3000 people attended the service, and it was wonderful. There were many, many Faith leaders present, including several who’d been active in the DNC’s Faith Advisory Council. The President’s Cabinet was in attendance, as was President Bill Clinton, who accompanied his wife. A sizeable number of Members of Congress attended, and they were seated together, all at once; newly minted Senator Roland Burris and Senator John McCain seemed to get the most attention from the crowd. Once President and Mrs. Obama, and Vice President and Dr. Biden were seated, the program began. There’s was a lovely processional of the Cathedral’s leadership and the program participants. The Cathedral’s choir was in fine voice, and the hymns they sang throughout the program seemed well suited to the marble grandeur of the Cathedral’s sanctuary.
There were many other leaders who participated through prayers and readings. All in all, it was a well-rounded, diverse and serious group of participants. Among the moments I’ll remember are Dr. Otis Moss and his opening prayer. He’s got a voice and timbre that just seem to invoke the Spirit and Presence of God. Dr. Wintley Phipps sang Amazing Grace, and received a well-deserved standing ovation. That man can just sing! Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, president of the Disciples of Christ denomination, gave the keynote address, making her the first woman to keynote an Inaugural Prayer Service. Her main theme was about the importance of community. She was excellent. At one point, she made a specific point of encouraging the President and Vice President to stay anchored to their ethical centers. So true! If more of us would act in concert with the voices of our better angels, our communities and our world would be a better place.
After the service, I high-tailed it out of the Cathedral to (a) beat the President’s motorcade; and (b) get to the DNC meeting site in time to brief Governors Dean and Kaine for the meeting. But I couldn’t leave without chatting with Reverend Kirbyjon Caldwell, one of my favorites — he was so supportive and encouraging to me during my time in Denver. (We’d met by phone and for several months, he would call me every few days just to chat, and if he couldn’t get me, he’d leave me some kind of funny or prayerful or encouraging message. And we’d never even met in person until he came to Denver for Convention. He’ll never know what a blessing he was to me during that time.) I chatted with several other friends, and my dad got to catch up with Dr. Moss, an old friend of his. We got out of the Cathedral, into the frigid air, and into the car before the motorcade tied up traffic.
7:00pm: Finally back home. After the Cathedral Service, we went over to the Marriott Wardman Park for the DNC meeting. This would be Governor Dean’s last meeting as Chair, and the first meeting of the new Chair, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. We went directly to the briefing room, and after all the hellos and greetings, my dad and nephew were escorted to the meeting room to get settled. Governor Dean was in good spirits; he reviewed the tic-toc (the rundown of the meeting) and his remarks; then he asked if I would introduce him at the meeting. I was very touched and then I went into a slight panic. I know I’m a preacher, but I detest public speaking and usually need a fair amount of time to prepare myself so I won’t go into a meltdown. (Now, five years into my pastorate, I actually appreciate this — it makes me spend time in preparation, and forces me to lean on God for strength, peace, and direction, and not get caught up and confused by talent, skill, and book-learning.) I grabbed a pad and started jotting down notes — I wanted to do justice to Dean and adequately convey the depth of my respect for him, his leadership, and what he accomplished.
Soon enough, Governor Kaine joined us and Phil McNamara, the DNC’s fantastic Director of Party Affairs, began the briefing. As usual, Phil had every “i” dotted and every “t” crossed. If you follow his script, you just can’t go wrong. After the briefing, we had the chance to chat informally with Governor Kaine. This was my second meeting with him, and it confirmed what I’d thought in the first meeting: he is a very warm, welcoming man and I immediately liked him. He seems to have a depth of center and integrity that I think is rare in politics. I’m certain he will be an excellent Chair for the DNC.
We went on to the meeting and all went exactly as Phil had planned. The time for my introduction came, and as usual I was a nervous wreck. But something happens to me when I actually get behind a podium/lecturn/rostrum: if I’ve prayed and if I’ve prepared appropriately and if I’ve committed the moment to God, a sense of calm comes over me and I can fly through my remarks with an all-encompassing sense of peace and confidence. And that is exactly what happened today. I just hope that Governor Dean was pleased with it.
The meeting went smoothly, the elections were uneventful, and we ended right on time. As I looked around the room at the DNC members, many memories raced through my mind — after all, I’d spent the last six years as DNC Chief of Staff. And now I was at the end of my tenure, and all I could think was “wow, this is my last meeting.” I spent a fair amount of time after the meeting chatting with the members about the week’s activities. Everyone is so filled with optimism and excitement about our victory and our future. When I was leaving the hotel, Reverend Gloria Miller offered me a ride home; she was accompanying Reverend Willie Barrow, a civil rights legend. The traffic was horrible and it took over an hour to get home, a ride that should have taken 20 minutes tops. But what a treat to be able to spend time with Reverend Barrow who has wisdom on so many subjects.
By the time I got home it was nearly 6pm. I decided to skip the Staff Party; the thought of dealing with crowds of people was just too overwhelming for me. So I settled in for the evening with my father and nephew. Lorenzo, of course, being young and full of energy, went out later that night with some friends. I watched one of my favorite shows, Top Chef, in my pajamas. Ah, the small pleasures! Such was the end of my Inaugural week adventures.
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