In a rousing prayer session in a small brick church in Dorchester Sunday evening, Senator-elect Elizabeth Warren asked the city’s black ministers and church members to pray for her as she heads to Washington, D.C., and vowed to fulfill her duty to represent the least powerful.
The hourlong service at Pleasant Hill Baptist Church reflected the close relationships Warren built with black church leaders during her campaign, and her presence cemented their faith that she will fight for them, they said. Preachers and members from a dozen churches gathered for the send-off.
“We prayed for her all along, before every debate, before her speech in Charlotte, and I’m confident prayer works,” said Rev. Miniard Culpepper, whose grandfather founded Pleasant Hill Baptist 70 years ago. “I’m convinced the spiritual side of her made a difference.”
About 100 people attended the service at the Humboldt Avenue church, near the Roxbury line, filling a dozen rows of plain wooden pews. They listened intently when Warren came to the pulpit, thanked them for their prayers, and asked them to continue praying for her.
She said she considers it her duty to represent those with the least wealth and power, and cited a Bible story from the book of Matthew, when Jesus divides the sheep and goats and sends the sheep to heaven, because they fed and clothed “the least of my brethren.”
Warren called the story her favorite Bible passage, one she memorized as a child and taught in Sunday school. She said she has returned to it as she prepares for what’s next, and she asked the churchgoers to keep her mindful of it.
“This is the perfect time to remind myself, and everyone here, why I got into the race,” Warren said. “It’s written on my heart, and I want you to call on me to do it, every day that I’m in the Senate . . . I have this chance because your prayers lifted me up.”
Warren, who will resign her tenured position at Harvard Law School to serve in the Senate, was elected Nov. 6, defeating Scott Brown in the nation’s most expensive Senate race. She will be sworn in Jan. 3.
Criticized for a sometimes cautious approach in her campaign, she seemed at ease in the Dorchester church, interrupting her own remarks to ask, “Can I have an ‘Amen’ on that?” (The crowd responded with laughter and a loud “Amen.”)
Church members, some of whom hugged Warren and ate cake at a gathering afterward in the church basement, said they came to wish her well and to channel their hopes for the future.
“That’s all you can do, is cast your vote and pray for them,” said Eleanor Chalmus, another minister at Pleasant Hill. “We don’t know what’s coming across their desks. We have to believe and trust in them.”
Standing outside on the church steps in the chilly dusk, Gwendolyn Smith, a church member charged with cleaning the small sanctuary, said she believes Warren will try to help the poor.
“I’m hoping for a change, a light at the end,” she said, “I’m hoping to see progress in the next four years, and I think she’s someone sincere who will work for us.”
Warren’s husband, Bruce Mann, and several staff members accompanied her to the service, and received their own set of prayers. “We ask your blessing for those who will counsel her, serve her, and speak for her . . . those who will hold up her arms when she is weary,” said . the Rev. Liz Walker, interim pastor at Roxbury Presbyterian Church.
A dozen ministers in dark suits and silver and purple robes circled around Warren at the close of the service, arms entwined, and hands on her shoulders, calling on God to give her strength as she stood in the center of their circle with her eyes closed.
The clergy’s prayers will continue, said Culpepper, the Pleasant Hill minister.
“We have a senator who prayed her way through, who’s going to Washington for the little people,” he said. “She needs prayers, with the battle she’s going into.”