Phil Murphy is the first Governor to hold an inauguration day prayer service at the Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton since Jim Florio did it in 1990. At least he didn’t pick the Princeton University Chapel, where Jim McGreevey and Jon Corzine prayed just before they took office. All three were one-term Governors.
The new Governor is taking nothing for granted, including Essex County. He’s also planning an interfaith prayer service in Newark on the Friday before his inauguration – perhaps the first Governor to pray twice before taking the oath.
Pre-inaugural prayer services have been the norm for decades, though there have been some exceptions. Gov. Charles Edison opted for a no-frills inauguration in 1941, cutting the budget from $2,500 to $500. He told the Hudson County Democrats that they were on their own for lunch; they had been accustomed to being fed whenever a Democrat served as Governor. That was also the last time the Governor of New Jersey was inaugurated on the same day as the President. Franklin Roosevelt took the oath for a third term on January 20, 1941.
The prayer service attracted some controversy in 1998, when pro-life activists tried to block pro-choice Gov. Christine Todd Whitman from holding a prayer service at the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart in Newark prior to her second inauguration. Theodore McCarrick, then the Archbishop of Newark, sided with Whitman. Several dozen protesters showed up.
Rev. Joseph Hughes officiated at an early morning mass at the Blessed Sacrament Church in Trenton on the day his brother, Richard Hughes, became New Jersey’s first Catholic Governor.
The Shiloh Baptist Church has some political pedigree: S. Howard Woodson, who was the first Black Speaker of the New Jersey State Assembly, was the pastor there for more than fifty years. The only other black Speaker, Sheila Oliver, will become the state’s second Lt. Governor this month.
Sites of past New Jersey Gubernatorial Inauguration Prayer Services:
Harold Hoffman: Methodist Episcopal Church, Trenton (1935)
Walter Edge: St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Trenton (1944)
Alfred Driscoll: First Presbyterian Church, Trenton (1947 and 1950)
Robert Meyner: First Presbyterian Church, Trenton (1954 and 1958)
Richard Hughes: Blessed Sacrament Church, Trenton (1962); St. Mary’s Cathedral, Trenton (1966)
William Cahill: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Trenton (1970)
Brendan Byrne: St. Mary’s Cathedral, Trenton (1974 and 1978)
Tom Kean: Trinity Episcopal Church, Trenton (1982 and 1986)
Jim Florio: Shiloh Baptist Church, Trenton (1990)
Christine Todd Whitman: Trinity Cathedral, Trenton (1994); Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark (1998)
Jim McGreevey: Princeton University Chapel (2002)
Jon Corzine: Princeton University Chapel (2006)
Chris Christie: Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart, Newark (2010); New Hope Baptist Church, Newark (2014)