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Different Than the Day Before: UUA President Shares Reflections on Washington, DC, and the Inauguration

Rev. William G. Sinkford, who traveled to Washington, DC, for events keyed to the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th President of the U.S., reflected on the dramatic shift he has observed over the last five days in the nation’s capital. Sinkford arrived in Washington on Sunday evening, January 18, direct from the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) Board of Trustees meeting in Boston.

That evening, Sinkford was honored by All Souls Church and Unitarian Universalists of the Washington area for his leadership and ministry as UUA President. The atmosphere was festive, with the church full of music and packed to overflowing with attendees. Sinkford said, “This was so gratifying and humbling. I was so thankful to Rev. Rob Hardies and the All Souls folks.” Speakers, who praised Sinkford’s ministry, included Hardies, Rev. Meg Riley (UUA Director of Advocacy and Witness), Thomas Hargrave, Susan Milner, Paula Cole Jones, and UUA Washington Office Acting Director Adam Gerhardstein. Sinkford said that while it was gratifying to hear such praise, “I am keenly aware that there are no solo acts in religious life… this is what we do, together.”

On Martin Luther King Day, Sinkford participated in an Interfaith Peace Revival service at All Souls Church, Unitarian, along with Rabbi Michael Lerner, Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, and other progressive faith leaders.

On January 20, Sinkford had the experience of trying to get to the National Mall to see—at least through Jumbotrons and speakers—the inauguration ceremony. While he and his spouse, Maria, held tickets, they found themselves unable to enter their assigned area. Even so, Sinkford said, “The most striking thing is the sense of community that I, and we, have experienced here. On the street, in the hotel, on the Mall, the attitude is one of friendliness, of people trying to help one another. It’s as if we allowed our hopes to come true, around a different way of being together.” Sinkford also noted: “The presence of people of color here is different…. Whole families have come with their children. People have come representing generations long gone, all wanting to be able to say, ‘We were here.’ The importance of Barack Obama as a symbol of those hopes is not to be denied.”

Sinkford also attended the National Prayer Service, held on January 21, at the National Cathedral. Sinkford, seated less than fifteen feet from the President, said, “The intent is for the new administration to start out on a prayerful footing. Rev. Shannon Watkins, President of the Disciples of Christ, preached a wonderful sermon using the Native American story of the grandfather telling his grandson about how we have two wolves inside us: one of greed, avarice, hatred, fighting the wolf of generosity, compassion, and love. In the story, the grandson asks the grandfather, ‘Who wins the war?’ And the grandfather answers, ‘The wolf you feed.’” The service was, Sinkford said, “just what it should have been as a tone is set for this new administration…. If you feed compassion, love, generosity, that is the world you build.”

The language in Washington, Sinkford said, “has changed, almost overnight. We are now in a conversation about how to bring people together, not about what keeps us apart, and it is dramatic, and powerful, change that we need to pay attention to. Years from now the question of ‘Were you there?’ will become a question on everyone’s lips. And the mere fact of seeing all those people standing as far back as the Lincoln Memorial to be there on that day…the hope pinned on these times, is huge.”

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Last updated on Thursday, June 3, 2010.

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