Remembering Presidential Inaugural Prayers: Part 1


The inauguration of the new president is a remarkable time. The Constitution of the United States calls for the inaugural vows to be taken by the new president on January 20. It is customary, extending back to George Washington, to call upon a clergyman to offer a public pastoral prayer and to solemnize the inauguration of the president with such prayer. Prayers have been offered by such diverse clergyman as The Rev. Billy Graham, his son, The Rev. Franklin Graham, Jewish rabbis, Catholic priests, and local pastors, whose only association with the nation was that they were the spiritual shepherds to a presidential family.

This was the case when the Rev. Donn Moomaw (1931-) gave the pastoral prayer at the inauguration of Pres. Reagan, his famous parishioner from Bel Air Presbyterian Church, in Bel Air, California (Although many in the nation also knew this man from his exploits in college football at the University of California at Los Angeles and his professional football career). He offered a pastoral prayer at both the first and the second inauguration. I’ve chosen the second pastoral prayer, in 1985, as an example of an inaugural prayer that is offered without hesitation or ambiguity as to its Christian nature. We would expect no less from a clergyman from a different faith. There is also a sense of crying out to the Lord for the anointing of his Holy Spirit upon the president and on our nation. Upon examining the prayers extending back to the very founding of our nation by the pilgrims, this prayer is very much centered in the main flow of a public theology by Christian pastors. He represents himself as coming from another kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and speaking into the kingdom of man. I’ve chosen this prayer, also, because of the life of the one who prayed it. I’ll have more to say about the ministry of President Reagan’s home church pastor after I present his inaugural pastoral prayer.

Prayer by The Rev. Donn Moomaw, Bel Air Presbyterian Church, the 1985 Inauguration of President Ronald Reagan by his home church pastor

Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us. Come, Father, with cleansing power and remove all things from us that would impede your purpose and thwart your plan. Forgive our pride and arrogance before each other and other nations of the world. May we with Godly grace weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who work for a just and free world. Grant us, oh, Father, the courage and the compassion to stand in solidarity with the poor, the needy, the dispossessed, and the disadvantaged. May the President and the Vice-President of these United States and all who stand with him in his desire for peace receive first the peace of Christ and in all things seek first not the kingdom of plenty or the kingdom of political superiority, but may they seek humbly first the kingdom of God and his righteousness. In the name of the King even Jesus Christ our Lord we pray. Amen.

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Following the Rev. Moomaw’s inaugural prayer and continuing robust ministry at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, he sadly confessed moral failure, resigned from public ministry, and submitted to the discipline of his Presbytery. This began a journey of confession, of penitence, and a demonstration to the Presbytery, to the churches, and to the world of what Eugene Peterson has called, “a long obedience in the same direction.” After a long season of oversight leading to restoration, he preached a sermon upon his return to the pulpit, which I find be one of the best of its kind. It is called “Thank God for Crowing Roosters.” I offer this sermon preached by the Rev. Donn Moomaw here as a resource for churches, presbyteries, judicatories of various denominations, and as a model for all believers on their journey toward restoration with God in the church after a fall. His sermon is here.