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Religion News Service WASHINGTON — Years from now, when researchers wonder what people preached about at the time of President Obama’s inauguration, they’ll know what the Rev. Christopher Rodkey of Lebanon, Pa., had to say.
He’s one of more than 250 people who sent in sermons and orations to the Library of Congress, whose American Folklife Center requested them for a new collection marking the historic election.
“I was intrigued by the idea of collecting sermons as a way of documenting the inauguration,” said Rodkey, who sent an audio and written version of his sermon at Zion Goshert’s United Church of Christ.
“I wanted to be a part of something historical. I think rural Lebanon, Pa., might not be the place which people think of as being a center of attention for the inauguration.”
Peggy Bulger, director of the American Folklife Center, said the library expected to receive about 200 submissions but may receive as many as 300 by the time all the mail postmarked Feb. 27 makes it through Capitol Hill’s mail security systems.
“They are a hugely diverse, wonderfully diverse group of submissions,” she said of the speeches given between Jan. 16 and 25.
Mailings from dozens of states — and one from Brazil — have been sent by Jews and Unitarians, humanists and Baptists and rural and urban congregations.
“I think that every American, no matter what their religious persuasion, was very, very excited about the inauguration and the fact that the United States really does have the ability to get over some old baggage,” Bulger said, referring to Obama’s election of the nation’s first African-American president.
Rodkey, who lives in a county where the majority of voters selected Sen. John McCain, started his sermon by noting that not everyone who marked the inauguration had voted for Obama on Election Day.
“We are privileged in this country that we don’t riot when our guy loses,” he said he told his congregation of about 70 people on Jan. 18, two days before the inauguration. “That’s part of being American, supporting the guy you didn’t support when it’s time (for him) to take office.”
Other recordings and manuscripts came from such wide-ranging sources as Come As You Are Community Church, a predominantly black Southern Baptist congregation in Fort Wayne, Ind., and The Memorial Church of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass. The center specifically sought, and received, materials from “humanist congregations and other secular gatherings.”
David Silverman, national communications director of American Atheists, submitted a video recording of a speech he gave to a group of humanists and atheists in Philadelphia on Jan. 25. In it, he noted how he appreciated that Obama mentioned nonbelievers in his inaugural address and has discussed his “relatively secular upbringing” in the past.
“He doesn’t shy away from calling his mother an agnostic or his father a skeptic,” Silverman said. “He is the first black president but he also is the first president in a long time who actually champions the separation of church and state.”
Bulger expects key excerpts of the sermons will be featured on a Web site by summer, and some texts might become the subject of a book or radio program. All will be available for researchers in the library’s reading room.
Comparable projects in the past have included “man-on-the-street” interviews with people reacting to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“A lot of what we’ve done on the spur of the moment–getting people’s immediate reaction–has been in response to tragedy,” she said, “so it was wonderful to be able to put out the call for something that was more of a celebratory moment.”
By Adelle M. Banks
Copyright 2009 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.

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