ROCHESTER — On the evening before President-elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, hundreds of people gathered at Sacred Heart Cathedral to pray for him and other elected officials during a service Bishop Matthew H. Clark termed a “wonderful solidarity of prayer and companionship.”
Local elected officials and religious leaders presented readings and reflections during the Jan. 19 interfaith prayer service, which took place on the annual observance of the birthday of civil-rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The service was not planned to celebrate Obama’s election, but rather to ask for prayers for the new president and all other elected officials, said Rose Davis, who helped plan the event.
“It’s a prayer that God will be able to help (Obama) with trying to lead us into a new time. He’s trying to pull people together, and it’s very important that we pray that he will be able to do that,” said Davis, pastoral associate at the Cathedral Community. “I think we’re at sort of a critical place now. I think it’s the perfect point to ask God to help us.”
Prayer-service participants Nancy and Carl Merritt agreed.
“We came because we thought it was very important to pray for our new president and our elected officials, because we’re living in times where we’re in desperate need of prayer,” Nancy Merritt said.
The prayer service brought together people from various backgrounds and faith traditions and from all walks of life in what Rochester’s Mayor Robert Duffy called “a great snapshot of our nation.” During the event, Duffy read an excerpt from a speech Abraham Lincoln gave in 1858, and Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks read an excerpt from a speech Susan B. Anthony gave in 1872. Local baritone Derrick Smith, the Holy Ghost Children’s Choir, and the combined Cathedral Community and Diocesan Festival choirs provided musical reflections. Dr. Devadasan Premnath, academic dean and associate professor of studies at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry, led a sung invocation in Sanskrit.
Rabbi Laurence Kotok, senior rabbi at Temple B’rith Kodesh in Brighton, read a passage from Deuteronomy; Dr. Muhammad Shafiq, imam and executive director of the Islamic Center of Rochester, read a passage from the Quran; the Rev. James Cherry, senior pastor at Rochester’s Aenon Baptist Church read Coretta Scott King’s eulogy for her husband; and Bishop Clark gave a short reflection about the importance of turning to God and about individuals’ responsibilities for one another.
Indeed, each individual has a part in making the country and world better places, and people should not be passive to one another’s needs, Rabbi Kotok said before reading the Deuteronomy passage, which focused on justice. This justice must be fair, impartial and universally applied, he said.
“Step up with courage to the call to bring change, to move from indifference and to come together to build a community that reflects the true values of justice,” Rabbi Kotok said.
Imam Shafiq prayed that the new administration would be guided along a path of compassion, reconciliation and forgiveness that would restore the nation’s image. The Rev. Cherry reflected on the appropriate timing of the inauguration of the nation’s first African-American president the day after the nation remembers a civil-rights leader who “paid the ultimate price that a day like this would come to be reality.”
“In the experience of these days as we celebrate the life and prophetic words of Dr. Martin Luther King, and we think with growing hope about the leadership of Barack Obama, what do you most desire for yourself, for our city, for our country, for our state, for our nation and for our world?” Bishop Clark asked rhetorically.
“We can leave here with a renewed faith that when all is said and done, we are in God’s hands, and we need to enter the compassion and support and love of God if we have any hope to complete this journey successfully,” the bishop said.