Ecumenism Will Return to Presidential Inauguration

Times Religion Writer

Four years ago, the Rev. Donn Moomaw, pastor of Bel Air Presbyterian Church, was asked by one of his former parishioners, Ronald Reagan, to be the lone clergyman to say prayers at his presidential inauguration.

This time, Reagan is returning to the pattern set by President John F. Kennedy in 1961 by restoring an ecumenical religious dimension to the public swearing-in ceremony Monday.

“I think that’s an important step, once again underscoring the unity that is sought for in our country,” said one of four clergymen participating, Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk, president of the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati.


Moomaw will return, joined by another Protestant, Baptist Chaplain Peter J. Gomes of Harvard. Roman Catholicism will be represented by Father Timothy S. Healy, Jesuit president of Georgetown University.

Before the ceremony, a “national prayer service in thanksgiving for the 50th presidential inaugural” will be held Sunday morning at the Episcopal Washington Cathedral.

Evangelist Billy Graham will deliver the sermon amid ecumenical prayers and litanies. The congregation of 2,800 is to include Reagan, Vice President George Bush, their wives, cabinet officers and members of Congress.

After the private swearing-in Sunday noon in the White House, with Moomaw offering the prayer there, another church service has been scheduled at St. John’s Episcopal Church for Monday morning for Reagan and about 250 Administration officials.

The indictment of 16 people involved in the religious sanctuary movement on alien-smuggling charges only served to bolster the determination of local church workers committed to aiding and harboring Central American refugees they feel would be in great danger if deported to their home countries.

But besides the 23 churches from LaVerne to Santa Barbara that identify themselves as belonging to the movement, there are many congregations which have contemplated joining but have not.


Rabbi Sanford Ragins of Leo Baeck Temple in Bel-Air said he thinks the federal indictments handed down in Phoenix last week are “going to make those of us considering involvement in the sanctuary movement be very cautious.”

The activist New Jewish Agenda conducted a meeting last November at Leo Baeck Temple to encourage synagogues to join the movement. Leo Baeck Temple, a Reform congregation which has been active in the peace movement, has also considered joining. “Our own exploration will continue,” Ragins said.

Thirteen of the 23 religious bodies in this region that participate in the sanctuary movement are Unitarian Universalist churches and fellowships. About 45 Unitarian Universalist ministers at a regional meeting in Palm Springs deplored the coordinated arrests in a statement that said, “The use of government spies in our churches is destructive of religious freedom and contrary to constitutional guarantees.”

The Rev. Farley W. Wheelwright, minister of Sepulveda Unitarian Universalist Society, which has granted sanctuary to refugees, said he did not recall his fellow clergy ever agreeing so completely as they do on this issue.

Wheelwright said he thought the arrests were timed to intimidate an interfaith sanctuary conference scheduled next week in Tucson. “Far from scaring us off, we’ll come in bigger numbers than ever,” he predicted.

The arrests were called “a further challenge to our Christian faith and our commitment to those who are oppressed” by the Rev. Fernando Santillana, pastor of the Pico Rivera United Methodist Church.

Over the last three years, that congregation has helped 28 families. The aid has ranged, Santillana said, from providing clothes and a place to stay for a couple nights to helping a family find housing and jobs for up to four months. “We know that 28 families is nothing compared to the thousands of refugees in Los Angeles, but we want to do our part,” he said.

The pastor of Pasadena’s First Congregational Church, the only United Church of Christ congregation in the Los Angeles area to join the sanctuary movement, wrote a letter Tuesday to his ministerial colleagues, asking them to raise the issue in their own churches.

Pastor Jeffrey H. Utter said not everyone at Pasadena First Congregational “agrees with the step we took in 1983” but his church council has repeatedly affirmed the stance. The church has provided sanctuary in the past but has no family at present, a spokesman said.

“I consider that the provision of sanctuary in this sense is not only required by Christian conscience and commended by Christian tradition but also has a basis in American values and even in our law,” Utter wrote.

Evangelist Billy Graham, who was in Anaheim this week to further plans for a crusade in late July, said the ethnic immigration into Orange County since he last conducted an evangelistic campaign there in 1969 will be acknowledged with simultaneous translations in 10 languages. “It is a new population, a new generation,” Graham said.

Local leaders estimated that the July 19-28 crusade will attract as many as 600,000 people. The 1969 crusade drew 384,000 listeners when Anaheim Stadium could accommodate only 43,400 people. It now holds 70,500.

“This stadium lends itself to our type of crusade,” Graham said. “It is the easiest place to preach in that I’ve been to.”