Bishop Marc preaches at interfaith prayer service before mayor’s inauguration

On Thursday, January 7, the San Francisco Interfaith Council hosted an interfaith prayer service for Edwin M. Lee, on the eve of the inauguration of his second elected term as Mayor of San Francisco. The service was held at Old Mission Dolores, lasted approximately an hour, and saw around 50 people in attendance. Representatives from various faith traditions spoke, led prayers, and coordinated meditation. The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus, bishop of California, offered the reflection and charge to Mayor Lee for his upcoming term.

After a welcome by the mission’s pastor, the service began with the ringing of the mission’s bells and the ringing of a drawing bell by the Rev. Ronald Kobata, resident minister at the Buddhist Church of San Francisco. Fatih Ferdi Ates, director of the Pacifica Institute – San Francisco and Bay Area sang the Muslim call to worship.

As the interfaith clergy processed in, the congregation sang “America the beautiful.” An ensemble from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints accompanied the congregation in all its singing at the service. After the clergy were seated, Deacon G.L. Hodge, chair, San Francisco Interfaith Council offered a welcome on behalf of the interfaith council and read the interfaith statement — which begins all San Francisco Interfaith Council events. The statement celebrates the diversity required for interfaith work and encourages those asked to lead prayers to explicitly pray or speak from their tradition.

Andrew A. Galvan, curator, and Vincent Medina, assistant curator, of Old Mission Dolores briefly shared a history of the building and offered an Ohlone blessing for the mayor, the city, and all assembled. Rabbi Beth Singer, senior rabbi at Congregation Emanu-El offered a prayer for the city.

This prayer was adapted from a prayer for the country that has been prayed during the High Holy Days since the Babylonian Captivity of the Hebrew people. Rabbi Singer noted that San Francisco is a “haven for perspectives and a beacon of hope.” She prayed that Mayor Lee and interfaith council members would have “courage and conscience as we aim to support city’s highest values.”

Sister Chandru Desai, director of the Brahma Kumaris Meditation Center offered a meditative moment, including leading the congregation in a contemplative “om” before Teresa Morales shared a prayer from the Baha’i tradition. The Rev. Elizabeth Ekdale, pastor, St. Mark’s Lutheran, led a litany that she and the Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor, Glide Memorial Church, wrote. Oliveto was unable to attend due to her father recently facing health issues. The litany reminded God and the people gathered that in all of San Francisco and the United States’ progress, “we’ve come this far by faith.”

Noah Griffin, founder of the Cole Porter Society sang “Amazing Grace,” before Father Stephen Kyriacou, dean, Annunication Greek Orthodox Cathedral shared part of the dismissal prayer from the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil, “Grant peace to Your world, to Your churches, to the clergy, to those in public service, to the armed forces, and to all Your people. For every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from You, the Father of lights.”

The Rev. John Weems, pastor and head of staff, Calvary Presbyterian Church, offered words from Jesus that Jesus learned in his upbringing as a first century Jew and that were also commended by the Apostle Paul, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

In his reflection, Bishop Andrus said, “All these varied traditions have offered immeasurable wisdom over time to civil leaders — wisdom that I do not know the full breadth of, but that represent good and good for all people. My tradition has taught me how to look at leadership, and the way all of us faith leaders engage our sacred stories shapes how we see the world. Jesus, the suffering servant mentioned in Isaiah, teaches his disciples that those who wish to become great must be servants of all.

“Mayor Lee’s art of servanthood is having compassion — suffering with people on their level, not above them but with them. His long history of being a civil servant, to me, qualifies him for mayor, but his suffering with those on the margins in this city exemplify his leadership capability. People come to San Francisco for freedom that they can’t find other places. Dreams are born here and grow into fruition here.

“As a city, we have greater challenges than other places, and we’ll find a way to address them to make our city ever more just. Mayor Lee cannot and will not do that alone — that is not the nature of leadership. When Jesus’ disciples asked Jesus to send the crowds away for dinner, Jesus directed his disciples to give the crowds something to eat. The interfaith community offers prayers for the the mayor, but not just prayers. We offer a prophetic voice to challenge you and resources to aid you, all of which is part of our prayer for you in your second term.”

After Andrus’ reflection, Michael G. Pappas, executive director of the San Francisco Interfaith Council introduced the mayor and shared presenting symbolic gifts to the mayor with Rita R. Semel, who founded the Interfaith Council. Pappas acknowledged that the Interfaith Council had made a gift to the mayor’s fund for homelessness, and the mayor was invited to view and hold the original key to Mission Dolores because when the mayor offers dignitaries a key to the city, it is a (working) key to Mission Dolores — which now has a padlock on the inside. Mission Dolores also offered the mayor use of the alcalde staff sent to the Ohlone people from Spain for the Ohlone elected leader to note his position.

Mayor Lee responded after hearing all the prayers and charges, and being presented with the gifts. Lee expressed deep gratitude and emotion at the offerings of the religious leaders, particularly valuing how finite life is, having recently experienced the loss of a family member. “This reminder of the shortness of life,” he said, “motivates me to help all the people of San Francisco have the fullness of life possible.”

“Seeking a second term was not about political aspiration,” Lee continued, “but about a priority of convictions and wanting to help more people. What we’ve accomplished in the last four years has to spread to help more people. We must have more compassion and deeper compassion. I know far better at this prayer service than I did at the one four years ago what I need to do — because time gives clarity and direction.”

Lee expressed gratitude to Andrus for the bishop’s understanding of leadership and remarked that at his inauguration for the second term, he takes the office of mayor up with a deeper sense of responsibility. He committed to seeking the guidance of the members of the Interfaith Council and thanked them for their persistent voices — even when they made his job more difficult. Lee committed that in his second term, he will continue his aspirations to be a servant to all, even as he leads them.

The service’s concluding rites — which followed Lee’s response — involved the congregation singing “God bless America,” a benediction from Bishop William Justice, Archdiocese of San Francisco, and the Latter-day Saints Ensemble singing Rob Gardner’s “Fill my soul” during the clergy recession.

For photos from the event, click here.