Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) General Assembly Stated Clerk Gradye Parsons joined a number of U.S. religious leaders April 19 for the second annual Holy Week prayer breakfast at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama.
Obama is the first president to host a prayer breakfast in the White House marking Easter and Holy Week.
“It was a meaningful gathering,” Parsons told the Presbyterian News Service, adding that Obama seemed “very real and natural talking about his faith.” Parsons also said it was helpful “to be reminded by a person of great power about the passion and sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”
Those participating in leadership of the service included Wintley Phipps and the Washington Performing Arts Center’s ‘Children of the Gospel’ Choir; scripture readings by the Rev. Timothy Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York and Sister Kateri Mitchell, executive director of Tekakwitha National Catholic Conference; prayers by Bishop Vashti McKenzie of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and Rev. Sharon Watkins of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); and a homily by the Rev. T.D. Jakes, pastor of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member non-denominational church in Dallas.
Obama said he wanted to host the breakfast “because as busy as we are, as many tasks pile up, during this season, we are reminded that there’s something about the resurrection ― something about the resurrection of our savior, Jesus Christ ― that puts everything else in perspective.”
In the drama of Holy Week, the president said, “we are reminded that … [Jesus] took on the sins of the world ― past, present and future ― and he extended to us that unfathomable gift of grace and salvation through his death and resurrection.”
That “magnificent grace,” Obama said, “calls me to reflect. And it calls me to pray. It calls me to ask God for forgiveness for the times that I’ve not shown grace to others, those times that I’ve fallen short. It calls me to praise God for the gift of … His Son and our Savior.”
In both his personal words with the president and in briefings held by White House officials after breakfast, Parsons said he raised the issue of immigration reform. “I reminded them of the Bible’s insistence on extending hospitality to the ‘resident aliens’ among us,” he said, “and of Christ’s call for compassion.”