Washington – The president has picked a neighbor to deliver the closing prayer at the inauguration.
The Rev. Luis León told CNN on Tuesday the White House and the Presidential Inaugural Committee invited him last week to deliver the closing prayer at the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
León pastors Saint John’s Church, an Episcopal parish just across Lafayette Park from the White House, dubbed the “Church of the Presidents.”
"I found out last week,” he told CNN in an interview on Tuesday.
A source close to the inaugural committee confirmed León would be delivering the benediction and said a formal announcement would be coming later in the week.
The historic church León has pastored since 1995 has been connected to every president since its founding in 1815. Inside the historic building, Pew 54 is reserved for presidents whenever they come to worship.
President Barack Obama and his family have worshiped at the church numerous times during his first term. They have visited the church more times than any other during his presidency, and the president and León are said to have a good relationship.
León’s benediction will mark his second appearance on the inauguration stage. In 2005 he delivered the invocation for the President George W. Bush’s second inauguration.
"You don't get used to this. I'm just as nervous now as I was the first time,” León said. “From the moment someone asks you to do that, your wheels are spinning with what to say. So my wheels were spinning now."
León was the president’s second choice for the benediction.
The selection comes less than a week after Louie Giglio, an evangelical pastor from Atlanta, bowed out of the closing prayer after a sermon he delivered in the mid-1990s surfaced that critics called “vehemently anti-gay.” Giglio’s sermon has been defended by some socially conservative Christians as ardently as critics have opposed it. Giglio, known for his work in raising awareness of and combating global slavery, withdrew the morning after the sermon was posted by liberal advocacy website Think Progress. Giglio said in a letter to the White House and the inaugural committee, “it is likely that my participation, and the prayer I would offer, will be dwarfed by those seeking to make their agenda a focal point of the inauguration.”
After Giglio withdrew, a spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said they were "not aware of Pastor Giglio's past comments at the time of his selection and they don't reflect our desire to celebrate the strength and diversity of our country at this Inaugural."
“I don't mind being in the bullpen; relievers are very important," León said, smiling. He added, "I was delighted to be asked and honored to be asked."
León said it will be important for him to craft a prayer for the present time. He said he’s talking and listening closely to those around him for inspiration on what he will say when he steps up to the microphone.
“I think when we're asking a blessing for this country,” he said, “I think we're asking God to lift us up, to lift up what's good in us. To remind us of what's good in us and remind us to do what's proper, what's the good, the right thing for the country."
León, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in Guantanamo, Cuba. He came the United States in 1961 at age of 11 as one of the "Peter Pan children.” At the time, many Cuban parents sent their children out of Cuba fearing Fidel Castro's regime would take them and put them in camps. León’s mother eventually joined them in the United States.
There are large issues facing his adoptive country, León said. "The thing that I think is on everyone's mind is, how are we going to work together? You know, everybody, after each election, talks about mandates. My perspective is the American people's mandate is to work it out. And somehow we need to be drawn together by that which binds us and not that which separates us. I think that's mostly on everybody's mind."
León also said the president and the vice president will be attending a pre-inauguration service at Saint John’s on Monday morning.
The Episcopal Church, the American branch of the Anglican tradition, voted at their annual convention in July to approve the blessing of same-sex ceremonies. Such services are not considered marriage ceremonies, media affairs representative Nancy Davidge told CNN at the time.
"We have authorized a blessing, and a blessing is different than a marriage," Davidge said. "A blessing is a theological response to a monogamous, committed relationship."
The move makes the church, with 2 million adherents, the largest U.S. denomination to sanction such ceremonies. Earlier this month the Washington National Cathedral announced it would begin hosting such ceremonies immediately following the implementation of a Maryland law allowing same-sex marriage.