Because of high security, guests at the service had to arrive an hour or two early. By midmorning, the ornate nave looked like the merger of a Washington political gathering and a conference of notables from the clerical community. Heads of think tanks, in sober suits, mingled with clergy from every imaginable faith community wearing a variety of colorful robes and head coverings, from the white wrap of the Bahai to the Jewish yarmulke.
Among the political heavyweights were Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, House
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Massachusetts Gov. Deval L. Patrick (D).
The cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church in the United States, is often chosen to host memorial services and events honoring prominent U.S. leaders from across the political spectrum. But the cathedral’s leaders have made news in recent weeks by taking progressive social stands.
The Rev. Gary Hall, the cathedral’s new dean, announced in December that the cathedral would begin hosting same-gender weddings, and he also has taken up the cause of gun control in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., school shootings.
Inaugural prayer services have been held consistently at the cathedral since 1933, with the exception of those after the inaugurations of Bill Clinton in 1993 and 1997.
Clinton chose Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, a historic black church in downtown Washington, as the site for his prayer services. The Obama family worshiped at Metropolitan on Sunday.
Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.