At Yesterday’s Interfaith Prayer Service for Boston’s Mayor-Elect, a Humanist Delivered the Final Remarks January 6, 2014

At Yesterday’s Interfaith Prayer Service for Boston’s Mayor-Elect, a Humanist Delivered the Final Remarks

Later today, Marty Walsh (below) will be inaugurated as the new mayor of Boston and he was also the guest of honor for an interfaith prayer service yesterday hosted by Rev. Jeffrey Brown:

“I think what you’ll see in the celebration tomorrow will be the width and depth of support within the city for the new mayor,” Brown said. “It’s not just the communities of color — it’s also part of that — but it is the big tent of supporters. People may have different ideas for the city but coming together we can find ways we can be one in the city.”

We’ve seen these sorts of events before, with atheists pushed to the background as people of faith come together and offer words of encouragement to the new leaders. Even in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings this year, atheists were excluded from the city’s major interfaith service.

But this ceremony was different.

After more than a dozen clergy members spoke, Harvard’s Humanist Chaplain Greg Epstein was invited to address the crowd, representing the non-theists in Boston. He shared his thoughts afterwards on Facebook:

… [Rev. Brown] said that there would be one final set of words for the evening. Rev. Brown mentioned that not everyone in Boston is a believer — that in fact a quarter of the city may not be. And that despite such seeming differences, we are all still one Boston. And then he invited me up, as a representative of the Humanist, secular, and nontheistic community, to close the ceremony. I’m still shaking: from feeling the weight our community’s hopes for a more inclusive city and world, and from the dizzying experience of standing on your shoulders.

The speakers were asked to share words of inspiration and this is what Greg said to them:

Mayor-Elect Walsh, and distinguished and honored guests of all backgrounds and beliefs: it is my great honor, on behalf of the Humanist, secular, and nontheistic community, to share this poem, “To Be of Use,” by contemporary Massachusetts poet Marge Piercy, in honor of the important work you and all of us will soon be called to do.


The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.

I asked Greg how he was given the chance to speak at this event and he told me that they invited him to the ceremony, not the other way around. It seemed that Mayor Walsh’s staff took note of Epstein’s CNN article lamenting the exclusion of Humanists at the interfaith service after the bombings and didn’t want to make that mistake again. The invitation itself came directly from Rev. Brown, and, as I mentioned earlier, Greg gave the final remarks of the night, just after the last gospel choir sang and right before the processional.

Talk about ending the ceremony on a high note 🙂

It’s worth pointing out that this incredible event comes a week after the death of Greg’s predecessor, the original Humanist chaplain at Harvard (and possibly anywhere), Tom Ferrick. The inclusion of atheists at yesterday’s event was made possible in large part because of the hard work of people like him.

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  • Jeff

    Wow, so appropriate of poem. Truth regardless of belief. Very nice.

  • Choose_Freewill

    “…who are not parlor generals and field deserters
    but move in a common rhythm
    when the food must come in or the fire be put out.”
    Man, do I love that!

  • This really is a surprising and encouraging development. Well done, Marty Walsh.

  • Rationalist1

    That is so good, especially after non believers were shut out of the “inter-faith” service after the Boston bombing. It’s so important to have good representatives like Greg Epstein to present a message that represents the community in a positive way. Secondary and this is not the purpose (in my view) of such representations but it could influence many believers to change how they feel about non believers and possibly many luke warm or reluctant believers to realize that you don’t have to believe to find purpose and values.

    Thank you Mr. Epstein.

  • nkrishna

    Nice. I think I might like our new mayor.

  • OCRazor

    I’m glad you posted this. I live outside of Boston, and I saw video clips on the news about the interfaith ceremonies. They didn’t show, and I wasn’t aware of the secular part of the service. Thanks for sharing.

  • Maybe the mayor noticed that in New England the religiously unaffiliated now outnumber strongly religious Christians, and decided he couldn’t afford to pander to the smaller voting block by continuing to exclude the larger.

  • Neil F

    Very good to hear. It is progress.

  • Awesome, let’s hope this will be the beginning of an Inter-Values movement.

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