The Sunday service at Bethel A.M.E. Church, in Jamaica Plain, began with a bright surge of gospel music that seemed to push away the anxiety of this election season for a time. But just for a time.
“I can’t remember the last time I was so anxious for an event — in this case the election — to be over,” said the Rev. Ray Hammond, shortly after taking the pulpit, to a sprinkling of “mm-hmms.”
All the scandal, deception, and sexual impropriety had left him with a feeling of nausea, he said. All the racial stereotypes, high-priced speeches, and innuendo had left the country with a nasty stench.
“The country of which I am a part,” he said, “smells awful.”
Preachers and congregants across the region Sunday took stock of one of the ugliest, most unsettling elections in modern American history and, with just two days to go until Election Day, tried to find a little redemption.
It was hard.
Elsa Martinez, 30, leaving the Spanish-language Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, said parishioners have been hesitant even to talk to each other about such a divisive election.
“People talk about it amongst people that they know well and people that they trust,” said Martinez, who supports Democrat Hillary Clinton for president. “But I think people are actually scared to share a ton about how they feel in this election. ... People just don’t know what they’re going to hear. There’s a lot of hate that has gone around.”
Bennett Hardee, 18, a high school senior from Atlanta visiting Boston, showed up for the cathedral’s English-language Mass just as Martinez was leaving.
He said he voted early for Donald Trump in his home state, even though he is not the “ideal candidate.” Hardee said he backed the Republican nominee mainly because he is opposed to abortion and hopes Trump will appoint a Supreme Court that would overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure.
Hardee said there was “a lot of controversy” when the chaplain at the Catholic school he attends delivered a homily suggesting a vote for a politician who supports abortion is a mortal sin.
“It’s a divisive election, I hate it,” he said. “I’m a hard-core conservative, but I hate that America’s getting divided like this.”
If national politics weighed heavily in churches Sunday, local debates surfaced, too.
The Archdiocese of Boston has donated to the campaign opposing Question 4, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana in Massachusetts. And a blue poster hanging in the vestibule of the cathedral urged worshipers to vote “no” and “prevent marijuana companies from targeting our kids.”
Neither pot nor presidents worked their way into the service Sunday, just a brief prayer asking that the Holy Spirit guide voters on Election Day.
But across town at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in South Boston, the Rev. Burns Stanfield wrestled openly with the divisions wrought by this rough-and-tumble election, asking that the faithful “not give in to fear.”
“I’m also preaching to myself,” he acknowledged after the service. “I feel anxiety about this election. So that’s what’s good about preaching — it’s self-persuasion.”
At Congregation Lion of Judah in the South End, Pastor Roberto Miranda stood before two engravings, one on the left that read “government” and the other, on the right, that read “church.”
Lion of Judah’s immigration ministry works with 3,000 people per year. And many in Miranda’s flock are worried about what the election will mean for their status in this country, given Republican Donald Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration.
Miranda tried to soothe frayed nerves.
“God has control over every continent, every aspect, every president,” Miranda said. “Every prime minister, every house or state. ... God loves drama. He thrives on tensions. He sets up these beautiful narratives and then he unwinds them.”
Camilo Merchan, 37, a Colombian immigrant who attends the church, bristled at Trump’s call for a wall on the Mexican border.
“Even if [the wall] happens, it sends the wrong message,” he said. “It’s telling us they don’t want us here, even if you’re legal.”
But he said he does not trust Clinton to handle the immigration issue and is concerned about her positions on gay marriage and other social issues. He said he plans to skip the presidential election when he votes on Tuesday.
Back at Bethel A.M.E. in Jamaica Plain, Hammond told the congregation to search for what he called “divine treasure” in the trash heap of the election — something lasting and true: a concern for the poor, the homeless, and people of different viewpoints.
“I’m urging you to vote,” Hammond said, “not for parties or even for people, in the first instance, but for principles — for principles of treasure for which we must stand, even in this trashy political season.”
Then, referring to the organization that released e-mails from a top Clinton campaign official, he urged the assembled to “send out some WikiLeaks of your own.”
“Tell somebody that life ain’t fair, but God is good,” he said. “Tell somebody the times are dark, but there’s still light in the world. Tell somebody that death and terror are alive and well, but so too is the spirit of God.”