board smileywho, under the city charter, was officially sworn in as mayor of Providence at 12:01 a.m. on the first Monday in January, began a day of opening ceremonies attended by faith leaders from around the city Interfaith Prayer Breakfast In the Providence Public Library Auditorium in downtown Providence.
A dozen faith leaders from different denominations prayed for the success of the new mayor. Towards the end of breakfast, Mayor Smiley made some closing remarks and gave a sneak preview of the more detailed comments he would make later that day during his inaugural address, but also recognized the importance of faith communities in our state.
“Government alone cannot solve all of our problems and cannot reach all of our citizens,” said Mayor Smileywho reflects on his time as governor of Rhode Island Gina Raimondo‘s chief of staff during the height of the Covid pandemic. “So when we have big problems and opportunities for people to come together, it takes the faith community. Only together can we meet the needs of our entire city…
“Several people spoke about how we live in a place where interfaith dialogue is strong, where the peace between our communities is real and genuine,” Mayor Smiley said. “It’s not like that everywhere. In a nation facing real challenges where we are seeing a rise in antisemitism and so much hate, we have been shielded from some of these. But I’m aware and humbled that that doesn’t always have to be the case. We must remain vigilant…
“We must, as so many people raised this morning, continue to protect the most vulnerable among us,” Mayor Smiley said, moving on to social justice issues. “We have to take care of the poor. We must educate our children. We must provide safe environments [children] grow up. [We need] economic opportunity to lift people out of poverty, give dignity through work and provide a platform through which this generation can raise the next generation.”
After the opening prayer breakfast uprising RI Mayor Smiley could ask about the optics of holding a prayer breakfast in the very city where the concept of separation of church and state was enshrined in law for the first time.
“I actually think that’s entirely appropriate,” Mayor Smiley said. “This state was not founded on no religion, it was founded on no state religion and freedom of religion for those who choose not to pray. What you saw this morning aligns with my belief that in our community there is a role for everyone.
“We have had the widest possible selection of faith leaders here today – none of whom is the city’s religion – and yet they continue to provide moral clarity and comfort to their communities and I respect and appreciate their work,” continued Mayor Smiley.
Mayor Smiley went on to note the important role churches have played in spreading vaccination and masking during the height of the Covid pandemic, echoing comments he made during his public comments minutes earlier.
Here are all of the comments made by religious leaders at the opening prayer breakfast, beginning with Reverend Rebecca L Spencer, Prime Minister at Central Parish Church, United Church of Christwho acted as moderator.
- Raymond Two Hawks Watson, Chippinuonk Sagem, Mashapaug Nahaganset Tribe
- Swami Yogatmananda, Minister of the Vedanta Society of Providence
- Imam Muyideen Abiyemi, Rhode Island Muslim Community Center
- Bishop James Keith, Beloved Tabernacle of God
- Reverend Antonio Aquino, President of the Interfaith Dialogue Coalition
- Reverend Israel Mercedes, Iglesia Vision Evangélica
- Reverend Kenneth Sicard, OP – President of Providence College
- Bishop Nicholas Knisely, Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island
- Emmett Goodridge, Trinity United Methodist Church
- Rabbi Michael Few, Chief Rabbi of Temple Emanu-El, introduced Mayor Smiley.
- Rabbi Barry Dolinger, Congregation of Beth Sholom, administered the final blessing.