Browsing in the Lincoln Bedroom

on August 22, 2006

Jim Tonkowich


President and Mrs. Bush are Methodists.  Tim Goeglein, Deputy Director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, is a Lutheran.  And I’m Presbyterian.  Everyone else in the room was, I believe, Roman Catholic and I was deeply honored to be among them.

The occasion was a White House dinner celebrating two arrivals and one departure.

Theodore Cardinal McCarrick recently retired as Archbishop of Washington, DC.  His replacement, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, from Pittsburgh has just been installed.  And in addition, Archbishop Pietro Sambi, the apostolic nuncio (ambassador) of the Holy See to the United States, has only been in Washington a few months.  And so President and Mrs. Bush held a dinner party.

Photo Courtesy White House.

I had the opportunity to thank Cardinal McCarrick for the story he told after returning from Rome and the election of Pope Benedict XVI.  He related how each cardinal walks to the front on the Sistine Chapel to vote for the next pope.  There, standing before Michelangelo’s painting of the Last Judgment, each cardinal cast his ballot for the one he believed God had selected.  McCarrick described the deep sense of responsibility and awe he felt standing before the painting of Christ judging the world.  We Presbyterians talk about living coram Deo (“before the face of God”), but I’ve never heard a clearer illustration of what that means than the cardinal’s story.  Perhaps if we prominently displayed full-sized copies of the Last Judgment at Presbytery meetings and General Assemblies….
The cardinal also asked me to pray for him as he retires and this I have done.

Assistant Episcopal Bishop Henry Scriven of Pittsburgh encouraged me to get to know Archbishop Wuerl now that he has moved to Washington.  While I have yet to be put on his calendar for an appointment, Archbishop Wuerl and I had a wonderful opportunity to meet each other.  Archbishop Wuerl was a powerful force for ecumenical cooperation in Pittsburgh.  Since the IRD is at its core an expression of ecumenism centered on shared truth, I look forward to getting to know the archbishop and working with him here in Washington and beyond.

President and Mrs. Bush had just returned from Russia and the G8 meetings, but were, nonetheless, as hospitable and gracious a host and hostess as we could have asked for.  Mrs. Bush conducted a brief tour of the Lincoln Bedroom highlighting some of the art in the bedroom and the surrounding rooms and hallways.

The president greeted each guest warmly.  It was as if we were all old friends and he was delighted that we could come to his house for dinner.  Before the meal, the president toasted the cardinal and his ministry.  The cardinal said grace and prayed for all of us and for our country.

The meal was delicious, the service remarkable, and after dinner members of the U.S. Army Chorus sang for us.  One of the songs, a spiritual sung by a booming bass voice, reminded us—many of us ordained—that we have made vows on which we must follow through.  They are vows, whether made by Protestants or Roman Catholics, that obligate us to follow and serve Christ faithfully and according to his Word wherever we find ourselves.

It was something of a fairy tale evening that ended as a group of us discussing the cloning legislation that the president vetoed the next day and the Iraq War walked out into the hot, muggy Washington night.

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