First woman to deliver inaugural sermon
- On January 21, the Rev. Sharon Watkins to deliver sermon at National Prayer Service
- Watkins is president of the 700,000-member church Disciples of Christ
- Her hope for the message: "To believe in something bigger than ourselves"
- Traditional service takes place at the National Cathedral in northwest Washington
(CNN) -- The Rev. Sharon Watkins will deliver the sermon at the traditional National Prayer Service on January 21, the day after Barack Obama is sworn in as president, the Presidential Inaugural Committee announced Sunday.
Watkins, the general minister and president of the 700,000-member church Disciples of Christ, will be the first woman to deliver the sermon at the inaugural event.
It takes place at the National Cathedral in northwest Washington.
"I am truly honored to speak at this historic occasion," Watkins said in a news release from the committee.
She added, "I hope that my message will call us to believe in something bigger than ourselves and remind us to reach out to all of our neighbors to build communities of possibility."
The National Prayer Service is a tradition dating back to the nation's first president, the inaugural committee said.The service includes prayers and hymns delivered by various religious leaders.
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Gay bishop will open inaugural weekend
The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, who was elected the Episcopal Church’s first openly gay bishop in 2003, will deliver the invocation for Sunday’s kickoff inaugural event on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Presidential Inaugural Committee said.
President-elect Obama is scheduled to attend the afternoon event, which is free and open to the public.
“The president-elect has respect for the Rt. Rev. Robinson, who offered his advice and counsel over the past couple of years,” an inaugural official said. “It also has the benefit of further reinforcing our commitment to an open and inclusive inaugural.”
Robinson remains the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire.
Many of Obama’s supporters were furious at the choice of Rick Warren, the evangelical pastor and best-selling author, to deliver the invocation at the swearing-in ceremony.
Warren had endorsed California’s Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage, with a statement saying: “There is no reason to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population.”
The furor has been Obama’s biggest clash with his party’s left wing since he was elected.
An Obama source said: “Robinson was in the plans before the complaints about Rick Warren. Many skeptics will read this as a direct reaction to the Warren criticism – but it’s just not so.”
Last summer, Robinson was united in a civil union with his longtime gay partner. The Concord (N.H.) Monitor reported at the time: “The day marked the five-year anniversary of the New Hampshire election that, once ratified, made Robinson the first openly gay bishop in the Anglican church.”
Robinson’s bio on the diocese Web site says: “Gene enjoys entertaining and cooking, gardening, music and theater. He is the father of two grown daughters and the proud grandfather of two granddaughters. He lives with his partner, Mark Andrew, who is employed by the State of New Hampshire's Department of Safety.”