Donald Trump chewed gum all through the Christmas Eve service at the Washington National Cathedral. This is the same magnificent church where Washington D.C. and the nation recently said goodbye to President George H.W. Bush. Trump was far more involved in the Christmas service than Bush’s memorial. Yet, he was still far from presidential.
Given how badly the president takes constructive criticism, it is possible that he will not return to church soon. Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, Mariann Budde, led the service, and like Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, she may have had a mere audience of one.
Both POTUS and FLOTUS attended the service. The president dozed off at times and did not appear to know the words to the songs. He was far more interested in the people there.
Budde spoke with NPR‘s Ari Shapiro at the airport. She said that the parallels between Mary and Joseph and the current refugee story were unavoidable:
‘It begins with an emperor who could move people around on a whim. And two people were forced to obey the emperor’s edict, and they set out on a long, arduous journey in the last month of the young woman’s pregnancy. And they were denied a place of comfort in the hour of her greatest need, and she had no choice but to lay her child in the trough reserved for animals.’
The bishop continued:
‘I didn’t explicitly mention any of the immigrant crises that are facing us, although I was just at the U.S.-Mexican border a few days ago and can’t get those images out of my mind. But I didn’t have to. It was the text that called that to us, and I simply touched upon it pretty lightly, actually, at the end of the sermon. But it’s an unmistakable part of the story.’
Shapiro noted that the Trump’s’ plans had changed:
‘Of course, President Trump was scheduled to be at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and is only in Washington because of the shutdown. So you must not have anticipated that he would be there.’
Budde said that the Pences attended the first service. However, she did not know that the Trump’s were coming until minutes prior to the beginning of the service.
‘No, no. We didn’t know that either the Pences, who were at the first service, or the Trumps were coming to the later service until – I mean, I found out 15 minutes before the first service.’
The NPR host commented on the similarities with today’s refugee issues at America’s southern border:
‘As you talked about migrants and refugees, as you talked about nationalism, could you see any reaction from the president?’
The bishop said she did not notice the president during the service:
‘No. No, no. And I wasn’t – to be honest, I wasn’t looking. Apart from my mother, who was sitting in the front row, across on the other side…I try not to focus on other people. Other than that, I try to look, actually, to the farthest part of the room so that the people in the back know that I am equally speaking to and for them.’
Shapiro said she had the president’s undivided attention at times. Then, the NPR host asked her whether she was giving the sermon to Trump alone:
‘I’m sure there are a lot of people in this country who would like to be able to have the president’s undivided attention for as long as you spent delivering that sermon. Do you feel like you delivered the message that you wanted him to hear, even though you had many purposes beyond just speaking to the president in this one sermon’
Budde demurred, saying she believes “it’s dangerous” to use her sermons to manipulate an individual:
‘Again, I’ve learned in preaching that it’s dangerous to use a sermon to get a point across to a specific person like that. That makes it more of an agenda-laden message than I think is true to the art or the craft of preaching. I hope he heard what I wanted everyone to hear.’
The bishop continued:
‘I don’t think I changed his mind on the issues about which he and I would disagree because most of us come into a sermon or any other encounter with our biases fully in place. But one never knows. I hope that all of us – I mean, it wasn’t just for the president. It’s for all of us. I mean, we have a responsibility. And we have infinite ways that we can respond. And so that’s what I hope he and everyone heard.’
Shapiro asked the bishop whether giving the sermon when a “high profile” person attended made her nervous. Her response was humble:
‘It is. It is. It’s so humbling. So very humbling. And some years you feel like, as I’ve often said, you know, it’s like baseball. You know? You go up to the bat and you swing. And you give it your best and you try to offer what is in your heart and what’s in the, you know, the essential message of the moment, and then you leave the rest in God’s hands. As someone once said to me, there’s a lovely gap between the preacher’s mouth and the listeners’ ears, and you pray that the spirit does what the spirit can do.’
Featured image is a screenshot via YouTube: