The Rev. Adam Hamilton looked down from the soaring marble pulpit at Washington’s National Cathedral on Tuesday and saw most of the nation’s political leaders — including President Barack Obama — looking back at him.
He had prayed to find the right words for hissermon
, the Kansas City-area pastor began.
“To be a leader is to invite criticism,” he said. “If you’re a Sunday school teacher, they’ll criticize you. If you’re a supervisor at McDonald’s, they’ll criticize you. If you’re a pastor, they’ll criticize you.”
Then the preacher with the almost-too-perfect political name looked at Obama.
“I don’t know how you’re still standing,” Adam Hamilton said, to knowing laughter from Washington’s elite.
Half a continent away, more than 1,500 congregants at the pastor’s United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood chuckled too.
They watched their clergyman’s sermon, via Internet connection, on three giant screens inside the church’s sanctuary. They applauded when Hamilton first appeared on the screen. They clapped after hearing spirited gospel music and joined in on the national anthem.
And they, too, had prayed — that their friend and religious leader would find words to equal the solemn occasion of the National Prayer Service, a tradition dating to back to George Washington.
They weren’t disappointed.
“It was definitely Adam,” said Tiffany Smith of Kansas City. “Adam spreads the message of unity — what Christ is about is helping others, and treating others the way they want to be treated.”
Hamilton’s sermon was the highlight of Tuesday’s 90-minute interfaith service, which included Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, their spouses, and scores of other dignitaries. The service is meant to provide a spiritual boost to the newly sworn-in president. Prominent national clergy — from the Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Sikh traditions — offered prayers.
Hamilton was invited for his work with the Kansas City-area church he founded in 1990. It has since grown to become the largest United Methodist Church in the nation, with more than 18,000 members spread across four campuses in the metropolitan area.
The cathedral, the seat of the Episcopal Church in the United States, is frequently chosen to hold memorial services and events honoring prominent American leaders from across the political spectrum. But its 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 holding same-gender weddings, and he also has taken up the cause of gun control in the wake of last month’s Newtown, Conn., shootings.
Hamilton’s congregation could serve as a model for the nation’s governance, the preacher said.
It includes Democrats, Republicans and independents who worked together to realize a common vision of service and community improvement — including gifts of more than $1.2 million to the poor and hungry.
He urged lawmakers to find one or two similar “goals or dreams” to overcome political polarization.
“We find ourselves desperately longing to find common ground, to find a common vision, to be one nation,” he said. “In this city — in this room — are the people who can help.”
He compared contemporary political challenges to those of the biblical Moses, who also faced questions about his leadership.
Watching on a screen at the Leawood church, Kay Novak, a congregant from Kansas City, called the sermon “awesome. ... They do need to come together for the good of America.”
Joe Greeson of Overland Park agreed. “He knocked it out of the ballpark,” he said. “Hopefully ... our leaders will listen to him, and abide by that.”
Hamilton’s talk contained more than political advice. It also suggested a career path for Obama when he leaves office four years from now.
“God has given you a unique gift, Mr. President,” the pastor said. “Unlike any president we’ve ever had, you have the ability to cast a vision and inspire people.
“You should have been a preacher,” he said.
Washington — and Leawood — laughed some more.McClatchy newspapers contributed to this report.