Episcopal leaders urge prayer, patience as nation awaits outcome of presidential election

By David Paulsen
Posted Nov 4, 2020
Washington National Cathedral

Washington National Cathedral in the United States’ capital hosted an online “Service of Healing, Unity and Hope After an Election” on Nov. 4.

[Episcopal News Service] As Americans woke on Nov. 4 with the outcome of the presidential election far from decided, Episcopal leaders called for prayer and patience as the process unfolds over the coming days and weeks.

The incoming results from several key battleground states still could tip the Nov. 3 election either toward President Donald Trump or former Vice President Joe Biden, especially as election officials work to finish counting the large volume of absentee and mail-in ballots, driven to record levels by the coronavirus pandemic.

The remaining uncertainty adds to an already tense political climate. Washington National Cathedral, which on Nov. 1 hosted a pre-election online interfaith service featuring Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, followed up the day after the election with a noon-hour “Service of Healing, Unity and Hope After an Election.”

“The campaigning is done. The votes have been cast. And now we wait for our democratic process to fulfill itself; and during that time, as people of faith, we gather to pray,” the Very Rev. Randy Hollerith, dean of the cathedral, said at the beginning of the service. Hundreds of people watched the livestream on YouTube, and video of the service is available on replay.

“Regardless of who wins, we have so much to do to bring us together as a nation, to better understand one another, to honor one another as the children of God that we are,” Hollerith said. “So today we come together, praying for unity, healing and hope, in expectation, waiting patiently and faithfully, knowing that God’s grace is doing greater things than we can ask or imagine.”

In the lead-up to and through the election, The Episcopal Church mobilized in various ways.

TryTank chaplains prayed with callers in English and Spanish through Election Day. The Episcopal Public Policy Network organized a nonpartisan Election Night Prayer Vigil – a livestream on Facebook that lasted from election night into the early hours of Nov. 4. It featured a simple visual arrangement of candles and Christian icons, as well as occasional musical performances.

“We will hold space for prayer and reflection throughout the night and into the morning,” EPPN’s post said. The livestream and video replay have topped 25,000 partial views, with nearly 600 comments.

Some Episcopal churches served as polling places during the election. Others, such as All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, opened their doors to people looking for a few moments of spiritual peace amid the anxiety of the election. And some Episcopal clergy spent election day serving as poll chaplains as part of a faith-based coalition promoting peaceful exercise of Americans’ democratic rights.

“For many people voting is a spiritual matter,” the Rev. Liz Edman told the Associated Press as she blessed voters at a polling place in Harlem in New York City. “And I don’t mean their opinions, that’s a political issue for them. What I mean is standing up, taking responsibility for our role in our country, being accountable for the community in our county – that’s a spiritual experience.”

The poll chaplains included the Rev. Stephanie Spellers, the presiding bishop’s canon for evangelism, reconciliation and creation care. She posted an update on Facebook with the Rev. Winnie Varghese, a priest at Trinity Church Wall Street in New York, saying they had been around Harlem offering support to voters and found the election proceeding smoothly.

“Praying for everyone who worked hard, stood tall and kept prayerful vigil today across the land,” Spellers said.

As of midday Nov. 4, the Associated Press reported that neither Trump nor Biden had nailed down the 270 electoral votes needed to claim the presidency for the next four years, with much attention focused on the updating totals in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Georgia.

“Without a doubt, we have been living through what has been an extraordinarily divisive and fraught election season. The lack of a clear result means the stress and anxiety that many of us are feeling is likely to continue for some time,” the Rev. Phillip Jackson, priest-in-charge and vicar of Trinity Wall Street, said in a letter to his congregation.

“The results of the election will not, however, change our mission. … If anything, because of the inevitable scars this election will leave on our country, we will need to do even more – to love one another more, to serve those on the margins more, to fight for racial justice more.”

Washington Bishop Mariann Budde, in her sermon for the Nov. 4 service at Washington National Cathedral, invoked the metaphor of a scar not fully healed as she prayed for healing and unity after the election. She cautioned that unity “often comes at the expense of those whose inclusion is too costly for the dominant group.”

“That exclusion is often forgotten by those who have settled for what the Prophet Isaiah calls ‘peace where there is no peace,’” Budde said. “May we remember that the kind of unity represented in the kingdom of God and the mosaic of this nation is not one that will come by exclusion but with the hard work of reconciling.”

– David Paulsen is an editor and reporter for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at dpaulsen@episcopalchurch.org.