By Rick Wolcott*
The eyes of the world were once again on Cleveland Thursday.
Almost a month to the day after the Cavaliers were feted June 22 with a championship parade down E. 9th Street, delegates to the Republican National Convention (RNC) celebrated their candidate for the White House.
The RNC was held inside Quicken Loans Arena, where speakers – who were not presidential hopefuls – waited inside the decorated Cavaliers locker room for their chance to take the stage.
The first speaker on the penultimate night of the convention was the Rev. Dr. Steve Bailey, who had been invited to give the invocation.
“The biggest challenge was trying to articulate a prayer for all people, rather than just a political candidate, and trying to be inclusive and represent my own thoughts and beliefs, as well as those of The United Methodist Church,” said Bailey, who was asked less than a week ago to give the opening prayer.
He was offered the opportunity when Bishop John L. Hopkins was unable to accept the original invitation due to the short notice from the Republican National Committee, and an already-planned trip.
“I jotted down some notes and phrases that I wanted to include in the prayer, and then I wrote it on Monday,” Bailey said. “Then on Tuesday, I wrote a completely different prayer.”
He was told that the prayer should be no longer than 3 minutes and that he needed to have it submitted by 4pm on Tuesday so that it could be reviewed and loaded into the teleprompter.
What he wrote and submitted is what he delivered live Thursday night to an international audience watching on televisions, smart phones, and various social media platforms.
No changes were made to the invocation … ultimately.
Bailey told me that after sending in his script he later received two e-mails from the production team. The second one informed him that he would deliver the prayer he wrote and that he should ignore the first e-mail, which he hadn’t seen when it initially arrived.
Good thing, because when he went back and read the first e-mail it stated that he had been given bad information initially, and because of the long list of speakers on Thursday’s schedule, that his invocation could be no more than 100 words. As a producer, I can tell you that the average read rate for delivering speeches is three words per second. So a 100-word prayer would have been less than 40 seconds!
“One of the speech writers came up to me backstage afterward and told me I did a good job,” Bailey said. “He said they discussed shortening the invocation but he told the team, ‘there is not one word I want to cut out of this.’ I thought that was a great compliment.”
The three-minute prayer was well received.
“So far the response has all been positive,” Bailey said at the end of an evening spent checking posts to his Facebook page and receiving texts from other clergy, family and friends. “I think a lot of people were craving a more inclusive word rather than an exclusive one.”
His time on stage may have been brief, but the invocation consumed his entire day.
He was picked up at his home early Thursday morning by one of the black SUVs in the RNC fleet. The volunteer driver took him downtown, where the vehicle was inspected by police and bomb-sniffing dogs in a makeshift security checkpoint in the Thirsty Parrot parking lot outside of Quicken Loans Arena. After being wanded and having personal items inspected by Secret Service agents in the arena parking garage, he was driven by another volunteer on a golf cart up to the bridge that connects the garage to the arena. There he was met by additional security who escorted him to rehearsal on the floor of the convention.
After being driven home at noon, the process began again when a different SUV arrived back at the house at 4:30pm to take Bailey, his wife Marcy, daughter Emma, and me back to The Q for final night of the RNC.
It was 12:45am when the third driver of the day returned us to the parsonage.
“This really has been a humbling experience,” Bailey said.
*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Read the full text of Rev. Dr. Steve Bailey’s RNC invocation:
Eternal God, we invite your spirit to come into this room and guide our actions tonight. Our faith traditions are united in recognition that you are the creator of all that is. You move on a scale and in ways we can scarcely comprehend but your grace and love reach through space and time to claim us, guide us, and make us your own.
We are not here to ask you to bless what we have designed. We are here to ask you to transform us: To Make us better. Make us courageous. Make us tireless in seeking a more just nation for all who live in this land.
We are united in our discontent for we know that our world can be made better:
-We know that it’s not right – that racism continues to wound and destroy the lives of many in this land. From judgements made in response to language or ethnicity, to inadequate schools that fail to serve their students, to incivility received at the grocery store or on college campuses; we know that we will only be a great nation when we are a good nation – when every citizen is fully vested in the promises of citizenship and fully shares in the opportunities of this great land.
-We know that it’s not right – when lives are destroyed by addiction; when our justice system favors some and punishes others; when children and women are trafficked in the streets; or when people are denigrated because of whom they love.
-We know that it’s not right – when we stand in the streets and shout insults at each other: When we attack those who risk their lives to protect us: When we harden our hearts to those we call the enemy: When we can no longer find common ground, upon which we can build a better future, forgive us O God.
-O Eternal God, hope of all who call out to you; work through our leaders who have been entrusted to act on our behalf. Remind us that as we wield great power we also bear great responsibility. And remind us that each of our lives matters – our voice, our example, our values, and our service – may we each be one pivot point where the world swings from what it is to what it can be.
We may call you by different names, we may pray in different languages, we may come from a multitude of perspectives – but tonight we share this moment in history – as we live together on this fragile planet. Give us grace, give us courage, give us compassion, and give us hope. Amen.