Donate to RNS

The Rev. William Barber II to headline interfaith inauguration prayer service

Patti LaBelle and Josh Groban will offer musical performances.

The Washington National Cathedral on June 12, 2015. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

WASHINGTON (RNS) — The Washington National Cathedral will host a virtual iteration of its traditional interfaith worship service the day after Joe Biden’s inauguration, with activist and pastor the Rev. William Barber II preaching the sermon.

The gathering, a long-standing inaugural tradition, will be hosted by the Rev. Randy Hollerith, the cathedral’s dean, and Bishop Mariann Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington.

“This Cathedral is a House of Prayer for All People and a sacred space where America gathers in moments of deep significance, and we are honored to welcome the nation to pause, give thanks and seek God’s help in the hard work ahead,” Hollerith said in a press release. “We thank President Biden, Vice President Harris and all our leaders for beginning this work in prayer as we strive to become the people God calls us to be.”

During his campaign for president, Biden delivered remarks at two events hosted by Barber, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign. Barber also personally endorsed Biden, and his group met with the president-elect’s transition team. But the activist pastor — who is known for his fiery sermons and bold rhetoric — told Religion News Service in November that he stands ready to demonstrate against Biden should the need arise.

The Rev. William Barber II, co-chair of the Poor People’s Campaign, addresses a crowd outside St. John’s Episcopal Church on June 14, 2020, in Washington, D.C. RNS photo by Jack Jenkins

Neither the president nor the vice president will be in attendance, but organizers say they expect the newly inaugurated leaders and their families will watch the service from home — just as millions of Americans have throughout the pandemic.


RELATED: Joe Biden and other candidates speak to diverse faith leaders, activists


Faith leaders representing a wide array of American religions and traditions will also appear during the service, including the Rev. Jim Wallis, founder of Sojourners, and Rabbi Sharon Brous, senior rabbi of the IKAR community; Otis Moss III, pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ; Debbie Almontaser, senior adviser for Emgage NY and president of the Muslim Community Network; Greek Orthodox Archbishop Elpidophoros; and Anuttama Dasa, global minister of communications for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The most prominent evangelical to speak will be not a clergyperson but Jen Hatmaker, evangelical author and speaker. Valarie Kaur, Sikh activist and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project, will speak, as will Jonathan Nez and Phefelia Nez, president and first lady of the Navajo Nation.

The Rev. Rob Fisher, rector of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Washington, D.C., where President Donald Trump stood outside holding a Bible during the Black Lives Matter protests last year, will also make an appearance.

Patti LaBelle, Josh Groban and the cathedral’s choir will provide music.

While hosting the service online is a break from tradition, the inclusion of a sermon is a return to form abandoned during the 2017 inauguration of Trump, when the Rev. Gary Hall, a former dean of the cathedral, publicly criticized the decision to host a prayer gathering for Trump, saying the then-incoming president “violates any possible norm of Christian faith and practice” and that holding the gathering for his inauguration amounts to “legitimizing his presidency, which is something I don’t think the Christian community should give him.”

Biden is also reportedly slated to attend church at St. Matthew’s, a Catholic church, in downtown Washington with a bipartisan group of lawmakers on Wednesday (Jan. 20), the day of his inauguration. That, too, is something of a break from tradition: Many presidents (including Trump) have attended church at St. John’s the morning of their inauguration.


RELATED: Biden talks faith and poverty at Poor People’s Campaign event