Presidential Inaugurals

Presidential Inaugural Prayer Services
at Washington National Cathedral

George Washington

Three days before George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States, Congress passed the following resolution:

Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear divine service. (Annals of Congress, Vol. 1, p. 25, April 27, 1789)

The Right Rev. Samuel Provoost (1742–1815), newly appointed chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal bishop of New York, performed “divine service” at St. Paul’s Chapel on April 30, 1789, immediately following Washington’s inauguration.

In the aftermath of the Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the Rev. John G. Butler, pastor of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., and chaplain of both the U. S. House of Representatives (1865–1875) and the Senate (1886–1893), organized interfaith inaugural prayer meetings in the nation’s capital commencing in 1869. These services continued well into the twentieth century.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
March 5, 1933 & January 24, 1937

FDR

In 1933, the Right Rev. James E. Freeman, third Episcopal bishop of Washington, revived the tradition of a national prayer service in conjunction with the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The service was held at 4 o’clock on the afternoon of March 4, 1933. FDR did not attend because the Inaugural Parade did not conclude until 6 o’clock.

President Roosevelt attended annual national patriotic services at the Cathedral held on the anniversary of his first inauguration from 1934 to 1936, and after his second inauguration on January 20, 1937. Prior to FDR’s third and fourth inaugurations during wartime in 1941 or 1945, Roosevelt confined his attendance to the private prayer service held at St. John’s Church on Lafayette Square.

Beginning with Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985, presidential inaugural prayer services have been held at the Cathedral. The exception was President Bill Clinton, who chose Metropolitan AME Church, the historic black church in downtown Washington, for both of his inaugural prayer services.

  1. Ronald Wilson Reagan
    January 21, 1985

    Attended by the President and Mrs. Reagan, and Vice President and Mrs. Bush
  2. George Herbert Walker Bush
    January 22, 1989

    Attended by the President and Mrs. Bush, and Vice President and Mrs. Quayle
    Learn more »
  3. George Walker Bush
    January 21, 2001

    Attended by the President and Mrs. Bush, and Vice President and Mrs. Cheney
    Learn more »
  4. George Walker Bush
    January 21, 2005

    Attended by the President and Mrs. Bush, and Vice President and Mrs. Cheney
    Learn more »
  5. Barack Obama
    January 21, 2009

    Attended by the President and Mrs. Obama, and Vice President and Mrs. Biden
    Learn more »

Parking at the Cathedral

Parking in the Cathedral’s underground garage is free on Sundays for services and organ recitals; parking for concerts and programs is available for an event-parking fee. Learn more about parking options for individuals and groups.